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Up All Night

P.M. Power: The night time is the right time for aspiring local rapper and after-midnight expert Nocturnal.

San Jose rapper Nocturnal comes alive when the sun goes down

By Nicky Baxter

ALTHOUGH SOME pretty scary stuff can and does occur under the harsh glare of the sun, the light of the silvery moon has prompted the meek and unassuming to sprout fur, claws and incisors capable of ripping even the thickest hides to shreds. On the other hand, nothing beats the tranquillity that the night brings; it's an excellent time for a little introspection--and where would nightclub bosses be without it?

Most of us don't consider these things; we are too immersed in the hectic days of our lives to give conscious thought to the powers of darkness. The one who calls himself Nocturnal, though, thinks hard and often about these things. You could even say it's an obsession of his. Nocturnal, a local rapper of no meager talent, is convinced that his abilities derive from the midnight hour.

Just now, Nocturnal--a.k.a. Noc-1--is reeling off interesting trivia concerning life after hours. "You know what nyctophobia is, right?" he quizzes, knowing full well I've never even heard of the term. "It means 'fear of the night'; look it up."

Other people, he says, suffer from nyctalopia, commonly known as night-blindness. But not Noc-1. He claims that he can see for miles and miles, even on those occasions when the moon is a sliver of itself and the stars have turned to coal. "See, I'm a sleepless insomniac; I don't slip, 'cause I don't sleep. I was born on the P.M."

Nocturnal is on a roll. His "rap" is as tight as his five-song demo tape, which mysteriously found its way into my mailbox a couple of months ago. Sprinkling crazy darkman flavor on numbers like "Nyte Dweller," the San Jose native doesn't let up, although the deuce tune "Blood Ain't Thicker Than Cream" and the searingly autobiographical "Bad Luck" rise to the top.

Refreshingly, although the 26-year-old emcee claims San Jose, and the broader Bay Area as his turf, the style he rocks is more complex than the sex-grind of rappers 'round this way. Which may explain why three years ago, Nocturnal, then known as Havoc (but that's another story), was invited to compete in New York City's "MC Battle for World Supremacy," where he finished a very respectable third. His return visit won him the No. 4 slot.

Having caused so much, ah, havoc on the East Coast, the rapper has painstakingly created a marvelous superhero style/character that is so flamboyant and unique that no one here or in the Big Apple would dare bite it. Nocturnal claims he's in character every minute--24/7 in the rap lexicon. I'm shadowing him to find out if that claim holds up.

THE RAPPER, clad in black and silver, and his "shadow," are lounging at a sidewalk cafe on San Jose's South First Street. Inside, the alternative-rock equivalent of elevator music blares. It's even noiser outside; every few minutes, beer trucks and buses lurch to a wheezing halt just in front of us and then rumble off, drowning out our conversation.

"It's all about realness; I'm comin' totally real," Noc-1 explains, hunching forward to emphasize his point. I cringe--not the "real" deal, again. Having been hijacked by the 9mm kids of rap, the term is as much a cliché as a punker's safety pin. But hear Noc-1 out. His idea of the real is not, he assures me, about seek-and-destroy missions. The Nocturnal one is more interested in the "sur-real."

"The moon controls how we act," he says. "I mean, there's a whole mythos about that. So I have an endless source of material." Like a professor of metaphysics, he reasons that seekers of self-revelation must look within--that inner-vision thing. What's the best and quickest way to get there? Close your eyes and swim around in the darkness of your soul.

The insomnolent one declares that he is the Freddy Krueger of rhyme, killing sound-boys while they sleep. "I'm the hip-hop demon, an infiltrator of dreams ... and to all you werewolf emcees woofin' at the moon, I'm handin' out silver bullets, and I'm not the Lone Ranger." Is there no stopping the Nocturnal? Who knows? Certainly not the Shadow.

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From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of Metro

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