They call it the Hard Truth Soldiers Tour, the all-star collection of independent underground hip hop artists making their way across the U.S. and Canada, starting out on May Day in Eureka.
The Soldiers have a bullet-point manifesto with promises to "be strong and irreverent in the face of oppression," "to encourage and support efforts by those adopting a conscious stance, who reflect positivity in an ongoing climate of ever-increasing intolerance and suppression of counter-establishment thought," "to reject information, products, entertainment, popular media and music that are damaging to our communities, and that further support and reinforce negative stereotyping," "to routinely question authority" and, paraphrasing Superman, "to stand up for truth, freedom, justice and equality for all people."
The rapper Oscar Jackson Jr., better known as Paris, does not exactly claim leadership of this Hard Truth guerilla action. "I'm the organizer of it all," he says humbly as he wheels around S.F. preparing for the launch of the HTS insurgency. "The tour is supposed to represent artists that have a progressive leaning viewpoint, that often times are marginalized in the world of entertainment. We give a platform for them to be heard."
And these are voices not often heard in the mainstream. "Music has become very corporatized," says Paris. "Hip hop is now pop music, and once a form of art has become embraced by corporations, it's homogenized to make it acceptable by as many people as possible. That's what we've seen: an attempt by the corporate guardians to keep the music artificially young and dumb.
Corporations simply focus on the bottom line. They want to sell you things with music. They want to sell you burgers and Toyotas and sneakers and whatever else, so they keep it as safe and simple as possible. That's why you see safe, idiotic programming on TV like Dancing with the Stars. That kind of shit has become the norm. What we're doing is trying to counteract that in our own way."
Paris got his start back in the ’90s, when hip hop tended to be a bit more political. His first records came out on Tommy Boy, a Warner Bros. subsidiary. "I ended up being released [from my contract] because of a song I did about assassinating the president. 'Bush Killa' was in ’92 [the target was Bush Sr.]. That entire chain of events made me recognize the importance of independence, so I started my own record company and I've been independent ever since."
Most recently he heads the Guerilla Funk label with what he describes as "a who's-who of politically and socially aware acts," which is also a good way to describe the Hard Truth Soldiers Tour.
The kick-off date, Friday, May 1, at Nocturnum, features Paris and alt. hip hop mainstay Talib Kweli, who got his start in Brooklyn in the ’90s with Black Star alongside Mos Def. Then there's Planet Asia from Cali Agents, jazzy DJ/rapper Pete Rock, T-K.A.S.H., Kam, Conscious Daughters and Humboldt's own Selecta Prime. Be there or be un-conscious.
The night before, Thursday, April 30, at the Red Fox, catch B Swizlo's Humboldt Hip Hop All-stars, with some of the best local rappers, including Garth Vader, Elision, Hiway, members of Dirty Rats and Meeting of the Minds, all backed by The Acid Jazz Experiment band (members of Sub Sab, Moo-Got 2, Ishi Dube). Says Swiz, "The idea is to integrate our ever-evolving hip hop scene with live music and showcase the crews. Our small community can use something like this to bring together groups who would normally not perform together."
I hear the drums almost every day -- and I don't mind at all. Students living across the way are enrolled in some class (or classes) in HSU Prof Eugene Novotney's famed percussion program, and fortunately they're on the beat. This Saturday the percussionists show off their chops with their annual year-end concert at the Van Duzer. Included in the program: The Percussion Ensemble, playing Edgard Varese's experimental classic "Ionisation," Third World folkloric music by the HSU Marimba Band and Cuban carnival music by Howie Kaufman's World Percussion Group, then topping it all off, the Humboldt State Calypso Band, with the unmistakable, pure power of a bevy of steel drums -- sound that goes straight to your soul. Rhythmic bliss.
On a semi-related note, Mark O'Hare of Papa Houli and The Fleas tells me the uke-ish band is embarking on The Ten Mile Tour "wherein we will be playing venues within a 10-mile radius of our home. The next stops include Wednesday, April 29, at Six Rivers [also the following Wednesday, same place], and Friday, May 1, at The Logger Bar in Blue Lake." How does that relate to percussionists? Well, multi-instrumentalist Rebekah Zdunich is a new Flea. She and Flea drummer Paul Spanninga both studied percussion "under the tutelage of guru Eugene 'Dr. No' Novotney." Rebekah will play steel pan and percussion with the Fleas (and with The Calypso Band during their show on Saturday).
Sunday morning it's another local tradition, the 18th annual Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir Community Prayer Breakfast at the Arcata Community Center, with a continental breakfast and the stirring songs of the AIGC, plus special guests, The True Gospel Singers, a spin-off from the choir originally formed to back soul-man Earl Thomas.
Jeneda Benally of Blackfire (with her brothers Clayson and Klee) writes to say, "Ya'at'eeh Friends!" and invite all to hear the awesome "Alter-Native" band from the Navajo Nation as they reflect, in song, on "the hopes, freedoms, and barriers of today's world" on Thursday, April 30, at the Bayside Grange. Hosting is the local organization Sustainable Nations, which is working toward re-creation of Ah Pah, a sustainable Yurok village. Aztec Dancers and Humboldt's own 7th Generation Rise fill out the show.
Arcata Theatre Lounge has a full weekend planned, with DJ Downbeat spinning conscious dancehall, reggae, ska and so forth on Thursday; Mike Kapitan and his Miles Ahead crew doing their M. Davis reimaginings on Friday. Magnetic metalheads Magnum offer "May Day Weekend Mayhem" Saturday night at ATL with two like-minded bands, Arcata's Nipplepotamus and, from L.A., Professor (formerly known as Trigger Renegade). "It's May Day weekend, a time for rock solidarity. And fog machines. Pagans are welcomed, but maypoles are not encouraged," says the magnanimous T. McNally. The show flyer implies a political side. What does May Day mean to Magnum? "Party. Mostly just party," says T., "but party even if it's communist party. Society should be classless and the band already is."
It's a familiar refrain: The first Saturday in the month means Arts Alive!, which in turn means music amid the art in Eureka's Old Town. Huckleberry Flint is in town for the Blue Ox Millworks May Day old time shindig (see May Day item in the calendar for full details), so they just might be in front of Eureka Books (where our garden columnist Amy Stewart is launching her new book, Wicked Plants). Scatter the Mud plays Irish jigs, reels etc. at Old Town Coffee. And at the Graves it's The Sari Baker Trio, with the lovely, folky chanteuse backed by guitarist/harmonist Joel Sonenshein and joyous bassist Marla Joy.
Also on Saturday, The Dimes, an indie pop confection (this week's band from Portland) play the Wave. Also worth noting: The Passion P. show on Friday at the Red Fox with BLVD, a "livetronica" electro-jam outfit from S.F.; the High Art Nocturnum show Saturday with trippy "electro-hyphy-phuture-phunk" duo Lazer Sword; a bass-heavy electro-dub Cinco de Mayo show, Tuesday at the Red Fox with Colorado's Bassnectar, and last but not least, and in a totally different vein, the Wednesday, May 6 show by Strings For Industry, an all-star combo led by fiddler/newgrass pioneer Darol Anger with Scott Law on guitar, Tye North from Leftover Salmon on bass, Carlton Jackson on percussion, plus special guest, guitarist Bill Nershi from String Cheese Incident. Jam on ...