Newspaper Column

The Berkeley Times

As appeared in the Berkeley Times on January 14, 2016:

“CONSCIOUS HIP-HOP” AT 924 GILMAN

Just as expected: a concrete floor in a warehouse at 924 Gilman, and on a black wall “Hectic” and “Gloom” in block letters. But overhead? “Welcome to Woodstock” in stark white on a girder, alongside “Sweet Children.”

Two performers on mics paced back and forth, interweaving, waving in rhythm. One guy at a sound console. “Another Chapter” introduced themselves, “Drove out from Las Vegas, ready … to get this shit off my chest.”

Come from streets so foul, leave ya’ all on ya’ back.
I have to sleep in the cab.
I have to be who I am.

We’re pushed around by our own culture, the gangsta style an apt metaphor. “Between you and me, I hate people … I love life but I hate people.”

Three folding chairs and a stack of ladders against the wall. Opposite the stage, the sound room enclosed in netting with small red lights.

The audience fluctuated from forty to a hundred, preteens to twenty-somethings, a third African-American. A scattering over thirty, another scattering in goth dress.

B. True lived by his motto, “Be True.”

We don’t know where we’re going, we know we got to get better.
You don’t have to imitate everything you see.

On one black wall a white tree growing a monster with horns, holding an ax and a salt canister, roots growing into rocks and pigs and skulls.

“I’m shooting for the moon. I’m aiming at the sky.”
“I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before … this is how we grow.”

The wall pulsed with the dinosaur bass, solid notes paced for dancing, overlain with church chords.

“You were second to none, you were number one.
Love has the ability to be the most beautiful worst thing you do in life.”

He exhorted the audience to wave their hands, call and response, up! Down! “When I say ‘Love’, you say ‘Maze’” and that meant to shout!

“Spread your wings, let the whole world see. Spread your wings and fly.”
“Take off, take off. From the cockpit of a 747. Catapult myself closer to my dreams.”

Onewerd rapped extremely fast, how could words be mouthed so quickly? And Feliciano countered with insistent, cogent lyrics.

The unacknowledged problems spoken out loud. :Conscious hip-hop challenged the dominant consensus.

“Fail, everybody, fail! Come on, everybody, fail!” Then the tape messed up and the sound went screwy. Felaciano hit the refrain harder, laughing. “Come on, everybody, fuck shit up!”

White letters on the black wall, “entitled” stronger by half in pig-German: “Fuckin’ a, you are entitlen.” To do what you need to, especially if it s counter to what’s expected.
Will the next performance be as exciting? Take a guess at www.924gilman.org.