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Adding Up to a 10

10BassT
Christopher Gardner

Do They Know the Way?: Slim Daddy Milo (left), Selector G and Solrac contemplate a return to the form that once made them the area's hottest rappers.

After a year of accolades and two of apathy, San Jose rap trio 10Bass T hopes to stage a comeback with a new CD and video

By Todd S. Inoue

A VINTAGE CAMARO roars toward San Francisco. Emcees Solrac and Slim Daddy Milo--two-thirds of the once-acclaimed, then-forgotten, San Jose hip-hop group 10Bass T--feel every bump from the worn-out shock absorbers and every groove from the tinny car stereo blasting Earth, Wind and Fire.

Two steel canisters are nestled inside a black backpack. The precious cargo--film masters from a June 6 shoot for their latest song, "10Bass Hit"--rests protectively in Solrac's lap. The goal: drive to a South of Market video-editing house and transfer the film to video. A parking space parlayed, driver and producer Ruben Martinez dumps a load of quarters into a Ninth Street meter.

Milo and Solrac take seats inside the film-transfer room. The celluloid wraps around the take-up spool, and crisp images--sans music--come to life on a small projection screen. In the foreground, Solrac and Slim Dad trade rhymes. Behind them, DJ Selector G hovers over two turntables and a mixer, laying down some mock scratches for visual effect. Tracking shots pull in and out. Words flash in the background: "positive," "tribal," "hip-hop."

Milo and Solrac watch transfixed, until Solrac breaks the ice. "Yo, man, you got some big-ass teeth. Is that Sidney Poitier?"

Milo takes his screen time very seriously. Cross-looking lines invade his furrowed brow, adding fire to his features. "You look angry," comments Solrac.

"I'm in pain," retorts Milo. "I remember the shoes were so tight, I had no circulation."

Despite the crushing pain, Milo, Solrac and Selector G look relaxed and confident on screen, as if they've been doing this for years.

Truth be told, they have. The video marks 10Bass T's official re-entry into a local rap arena they once dominated. In 1993 and 1994, the jazz/rap trio garnered plentiful accolades from

the music press (earning a Metro cover), landed high-profile gigs (performing on Lollapalooza's side stage) and attracted fans, including Counting Crows' Adam Duritz.

Today, the most common rejoinders to the trivia item 10Bass T are: "I thought they got signed" and "What the hell happened to them?" The band never signed to a major label, and they're working overtime to answer number two.

10BassT
Christopher Gardner

No Longer Runnin' in Place: 10Bass T vows not to turn its back on success this time around.

LIKE ATHLETES, musicians are remembered for the choices they make at key junctions. A goalkeeper will constantly wonder if by diving left instead of right, he could he have saved the championship penalty kick. The early-'90s success of Guru (Jazzmatazz) and the Digable Planets was a dinner bell for major labels to troll for jazz/rap acts.

In the initial feeding frenzy, 10Bass T was offered lucrative deals from Tommy Boy, Jive/Zomba, Ruffhouse, Sony and others. Many insiders felt that the band waited too long to sign, while the genre played itself out. (Anyone remember Us3?) In retrospect, Solrac believes that if 10Bass T had snapped at the major-label bait, the group would have ended up worse than Us3--aimlessly fulfilling impossible contractual obligations or selling its music for Designer Imposters body-spray advertisements.

"We would have made a video or two, sold some records, and today we'd be where we are right now," figures Solrac. "Digable Planets made some change, but they're not living in Beverly Hills. We now have independence to do whatever we want."

And what they want is to get their fans excited again. The new CD, Do You Know the Way? (San Jose Sound Recording Company), is finally out, T-shirts and hats have been printed up, and the video and vinyl for "10Bass Hit" will be available in two weeks. The video will be shipped to sympathetic ears at Black Entertainment Television, The Box pay-per-view video channel, MTV and the California Music Channel. A CD-release party is planned for San Jose's Agenda Lounge next month.

Solrac believes the title of the new album goes far beyond the obvious Dionne Warwick reference to the city that gets no respect. "We're saying, especially to the younger kids, do you know the way? Do you know the way out of a bad situation? Do you know the way to consciousness? Do you know the way to inner peace? Do you know the way to solve your problems?"

10Bass T's 1993 hard-to-find debut, Of Human Balance and Steamed Rice, thrilled area rap fans with its synergistic blend of lyrical skill and street rhythms. Do You Know the Way? continues on that path, adding technical improvements to smooth out the rougher spots.

"To me, even the new CD is a demo," says Milo. "Once we get motivated again, we'll kick it into the next level."

The two-year hiatus between recordings added considerable gloss to the material. "10Bass Hit" is a luscious multilayer cake of bobbing beats, vibraphone rings, trumpet loops and smooth raps. "Good Times" highlights Solrac's rugged Brooklyn style and Milo's original blend of dance-hall and West Coast patois. Some Coltrane-ish horn hits weave through "Definition of a 10Bass T," while a beat elastic and jumpy as a trampoline bounces in the background.

Although timeless and fresh-sounding, five of the 12 tracks were actually recorded up to three years ago. Charizma, a rapper and close friend who passed away two years ago, appears on "Scratch and Sniff." A reference to an ancient fashion trend threatens to date-stamp "Hip Hop Culture" ("daringly, plastic tags dance attached to bright indigenous sports caps"). Save the Charizma track, why not junk the past and record 12 all-new jams?

"We felt that people needed to hear it," answers Solrac. "It was the first stuff that came out of our heads. It may be old, but it's our roots. We feel we have to give people the history of 10Bass T. We could have spent all last year recording all new songs or re-recording the old ones, but we just said, Let's put out our old stuff and go from there."

10BassT

THERE ARE two distinct sides to 10Bass T. In this corner: mirror-gazing existentialism. Like the Beats before them, the group openly explores for a sense of authentic identity. With "Third World/First Person" and "Some Say We're Spanish Some Say We're Black," 10Bass T probes inward. Jack Kerouac's Beat Bible, On the Road, clearly influenced Do You Know the Way?, and it's no wonder the CD begins with a question: Is there a Beat generation? "We feel like we're lost," explains Milo. "We're trying to find our way, and we recognize that."

In the other corner: hip-hop bravura aimed at nonbelievers. "Good Times" and "10Bass Hit" dispute the received wisdom that the group's early success was a fluke. On the classic battle rhyme that closes "Scratch and Sniff," Solrac boldly challenges, "If you don't like my style, scratch and sniff my ass."

"I go to a lot of these clubs and see kids freestyling, and it's old hat," said Solrac. "Any day of the week, I can get up and battle any emcee, because I have a million styles. I'm never afraid to say that, because I can back it up onstage. It's hip-hop; you have to brag about yourself. I can go against you any day. I can flow to anything. I'll kick anybody's ass."

NEWTON'S THIRD LAW of motion states that for every action, there is a reaction. For 10Bass T, one year of glory was followed by two years of inaction and apathy. At its creative and critical peak, 10Bass T performed every show and showcase it could land, from opening for the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Shonen Knife to playing the lauded underground Bomb showcase and flooding the stage with 10 musicians opening for Counting Crows. ("It was like Earth, Wind and Fire," cracks Milo.)

10Bass T quickly earned a reputation for its live act, but the band had no product to push. All it possessed was 200 copies of an eight-song demo tape. Fifty were sent to labels, another 50 went to DJs, and the rest went to newspapers and friends, leaving nothing for new fans to pick up. Learning from the experience, 10Bass T vows to do things differently with Do You Know the Way?

"We wasted our time doing shows and didn't make any money so that's when we decided to put this record out," Solrac explains. "Now, when we hit the clubs again, we'll have a record to promote. And we have T-shirts and hats. It's a business. We want to make music, but we also need to support ourselves."

Milo, who labels himself "hypercritical," doesn't think that the demo properly captured the band's sound: "It was our baby! We weren't really practicing; it was us just screwing around. Then, all of a sudden, the labels called saying they want to see a show, and they saw us at the embryonic stage when we weren't really hitting it. Later, as we got better, they stopped coming."

Even some of the fans stopped caring. During a 1993 Oasis show opening for then red-hot Digable Planets, Milo took a penny to the face. Visibly shaken, the group quickly wrapped up and scurried offstage. Opening for the Fugees at the Ajax Lounge in San Jose, Solrac nearly set off a riot by repeating "Fuck San Francisco" during a freestyle rap. He was kidding, of course, but many didn't see it that way.

The love affair came to an abrupt end during a 1994 headlining show at the Ajax. Solrac bent backup band Congo Square in odd shapes, killing any spontaneity, while repeating the line "I'm runnin' and I'm runnin' and I'm runnin' and I'm runnin'." The night became a running joke among those unlucky enough to catch it; 10Bass T was runnin' and runnin' and runnin' out of things to say. This lackadaisical attitude toward its live show had fans pronouncing the group dead.

Solrac defends his displays, making an allusion to Kerouac's legendary free-form style. "Artists want to be liked," says Solrac. "It's easy to fall into that and do whatever the crowd likes. We want to stay true to what we want to hear and what we like."

The comeback started June 13 of this year, when 10Bass T opened for the Greyboy All-Stars at the Usual in San Jose. After so many sold-out crowds in the past, the empty dance floor was a wake-up call. The 10Bass T trio was augmented by a bassist, drummer and keyboardist for the unrehearsed five-song set. It wasn't a 10, more like a six and a half, but it was a start.

Pinning a label on the sound that night isn't easy. Hardcore, freestyle or acid jazz--none really fits. It was 10Bass T's unique rhyme-by-design style, free of jingoistic "West Siiiiide!" pride.

"There's room for other styles," intones Milo. "I don't like it when people say you gotta be dreadlocked, wearing Tommy Hilfiger [clothing]. I think if you're conscious, other conscious people will turn on to what you're into. I do it because I like the music. You just got to be true to your music. Be positive, and positive things will happen. That's keeping it real. We want to be respected as who we are."

All this positivity didn't go unchecked. Newton's law was in full effect at the video-transfer session: the Camaro got towed. Rather than submit to the solemn omen, however, Solrac quickly countered by selling a 10Bass T CD to a guy waiting in the towed-car pickup area. 10Bass T has battled emcees, snaky major-label A&Rs, music trends, their own diffidence and a fickle public--Newtonian physics better step elsewhere.

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From the July 25-31, 1996 issue of Metro

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