Monday, September 28, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

GUSU #5: Berlining for a Living

It’s been said before on the road and I’ll say it again: “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is a lifestyle. After smashing the set at Chapeau Rouge and rocking the dance party till early morn, I had about 2 hours to get my things packed, vacate DaSka headquarters, say peace to Kuzhell and Locita, and get to Prague Holsovice to meet the fellas for an 8:40am train. We were heading back to Berlin for the last run of shows, beginning almost immediately upon arrival with an afternoon outdoor jam on the Alexanderplatz. I felt surprisingly good in the voice, considering we played a mosh-pit status show the previous night.

Berlin has emerged as the European epicenter of positive Hip Hop music, progressive culture, community and social justice through the arts and elements. Not just in our eyes, but really in the context of the EU at large. There is a significant Old School history dating back to 1980 (if not earlier), a True School aesthetic that drives youth development, arts education and freedom of expression, and a New School generation that possesses cutting edge skills. Farbeon deserves all the credit for plugging us into this scene. He has put in serious work, both this past February and the early part of the summer tour, not to mention building meaningful online relationships. It felt like family immediately upon meeting heads. I had actually gotten familiar with some of the big dogs (and dog-esses) when I was in Berlin before Kemp, but this time around was more extended, in depth and performance-based.

HG and I slid back to “Hotel Mary-land” to drop our bags and freshen up before the jam. I understand the benefit of hospitality as much as anyone (especially when it comes to international rap travelers) and Maria Kapix held us down way beyond good old-fashioned crashing. Some peoples’ generosity is really humbling; I’m glad I’ve put some good hosting karma out into the world, cause it came back in spades in Berlin.



We didn’t really know what to expect upon rolling up to the Alexanderplatz for the show. It was the warm-up party for the big EOW benefit the next day, was being held down by the EOW Berlin crew and was supposed to be a “live mixtap” cypher style event. What we discovered was a classic outdoor Hip Hop bash in the middle of one of Berlin’s most historic sites: two turntables and a PA getting power from a generator, a grip of MCs, DJs, and a lovely mid-day crowd. DJs Bulet and IGadget took turns holding down the decks as the host, Furious (current EOW Berlin Champ) kept it moving with a variety of acts and some incredible freestyles. You know it’s a bonkers rhyme when you don’t understand 80% of what an MC is saying but the flow is so ill that you’re enraptured. It was hours of that, between Furious, Amewu, S-Rock, Rino MC…







This event was actually a collab between EOW and Gangway Beatz, a Hip Hop Youth Development organization run by this cat named Olad. We got to build with Olad for a minute while some of the young folks from Gangway Beatz rocked the mic. This man has a firm grasp on Hip Hop activism and is a real global visionary; in fact, he’s bringing a group of young Berliners to NYC this fall and we’re working on connecting them to some of the folks we work with here.

Having the kids rock the mic at Alexanderplatz was a really beautiful aspect to the event, and tempered the almost incessant and extremely hilarious stream of drunk dancing old men. All in all, it was enough inspiration, comedy and skilling to keep the endurance coals stoked. 3P rocked a couple of joints and a bunch of freestyles as the rain held off and the crowd stayed with it. There’s some great video of this day floating around Facebook.

From the jumpoff we went to catch some dinner and rehearse for Saturday with DJ Bulet, who was going to hold us down at Cassiopeia. Bulet lives (and grew up) in the Kreizburg section of Berlin, a predominantly Turkish neighborhood with lots of flavor and underground energy. He’s a husband, papa of 2 and has been DJing for over 30 years. The man is a living library of German Hip Hop history, and has been in the mix for most of it. His understanding of the power of this culture is inspiring, as are the incredible beats that he produces. We had a mellow night of building and chilling in preparation for the final 3rd Party show of the tour.



Saturday rolled around and we took it easy, to say the least. Maria took HG and I to a dope Thai spot in Mitte, and we leisurely made our way to Cassiopeia for the soundcheck. 3rd Party was rocking the bill with Smith & Smart (an upbeat electro-Hip Hop duo that incorporates V-drums and turntablism), 4XSample and the Berlinutz (two local crews, the former a beatbox group and the latter 3 MCs and a DJ who rocked a mash-up set of the two in combination) and special guests Qwazar and John Robinson. IGadget, Fresh Fluke and a couple other DJs were rocking upstairs as the live acts were on the main stage downstairs. It was a packed packed house and everyone brought the thunder. Smith & Smart were extremely dope and fun, moving back and forth from the front of the stage to the instruments at the back and turning the party out. My man Mando from 4Xample might be my favorite beatboxer in the world right now (2009 German champ). The combo of 3 beatboxers and 3 MCs with a DJ was sick. They balanced it all out smoothly and put on a skills clinic with a nice dose of theatrics.





John Robinson and Qwazaar dropped guest solo sets before we hit the stage. It was great to build with some American MCs with a work ethic bigger than their expansive reputations, hearts in the right place and years of experience. Really disparate styles, but both outstanding performers and mic controllers. Once we hit the stage we were ready to take the energy through the roof. We literally left it all out on the stage. I even took a shot to the back of the head from a hanging speaker when HG and I were stage jumping. The set ended with a massive freestyle session featuring a bunch of EOW MCs and us. But that was hardly the end of the night…



I’d heard that Berlin parties till forever, and got to experience it on Saturday night. IGagdet and Fresh Fluke had the upstairs jumping till 8:00am! It was surreal and slightly emotional getting outside to a cloudless Sunday morning feeling the end of the tour on the horizon and getting hit by instant nostalgia. And the knowledge that we had a studio session at 5pm that evening☺

So Far and I caught some Z’s, woke up late afternoon and rolled over to Feuwasche, which is part youth community center and part recording studio. EOW MCs throw an open mic called “Cypher Camp” every Friday there. Bulet had put the call out to Berlin MCs to come through for a recording session and they rolled up en masse: Diamond Dog (who brought to BBQ to us!), S-Rock, Rino, BadKat… in fact, more rappers than names I knew. In the studio, iGadget was running through potential beats and we settled on an uptempo breakbeat joint. While walking around outside, I noticed some graffiti that read “Aste Blat” in the shape of a tree. When I asked for a translation, someone told me “leaves and branches,” which then became the topic for the song, appropriately enough recorded in a community center studio. Peep the fire:

http://soundcloud.com/igadget/no-means-no-eow-collabo-ny-berlin

When the session and BBQing wound down, it was time to bid farewell to my 3rd Party comrades, who were heading back to NYC the next day. I had two more days to kick it in Berlin and relax, record, rhyme and DJ. Monday was a consummate recovery day; Kapix and I walked the streets of Berlin, caught some live music and called it a night. Tuesday I spent all day with Bulet, writing and recording with BadKat, John Robinson, Rebel 1; got to meet Bulet’s two kids and have some ice cream☺ Then to wrap it up, we headed to Vinyl Lesson, the weekly EOW open mic, where I DJ’d and rhymed for the last time on this trip. It was a remarkable stretch run to the end and kind of a mental blur. When Wednesday finally rolled around and I began my epic journey home, I was looking forward to some reflective isolated time in transit.



And so it was: 8 hour train from Berlin to Paris, Gare du Nord to Charles DeGaulle, 7 hours in the airport, 8 hours from CDG to JFK, Airtran to the LIRR to the R train to BK. Still kind of reeling from all the travels, the weight of the tour, and the look down the road at the impending school year. Recollection and reflection comes in many forms, hopefully musical and grooving for me. But it was symbolically appropriate that while traveling from Berlin to Paris at the end of this tour, I edited the video to promote our “Skillz to Take Brazil” album coming this fall. As one voyage ends, the next begins, and the vision is always forward and expansive…

Thursday, September 3, 2009

GUSU #4: Praha-ha-ha: the Whole Soundset's 3P

I was looking very forward to getting back to my European homebase in Prague. This was going to be my 5th time in Prague in less than 2 years, and the 3rd Say Word tour visit in 12 months (Far and Core Rhythm’s “Winter Soulstice” tour passed through back in February). Individually and collectively, we’ve put a ton of work into building a rep there. We work with DaSka Records out of Prague, who organized the European release of “Building the Better Bomb,” and has produced and promoted both Jaro Cossiga releases that feature myself and 3rd Party, “Beat Apetit” and “Hob-n-Nob.” Everytime in Prague it’s a non-stop hustle of radio promo appearances, street teaming, freestyling, interviews… This time around we were scheduled to rock 2 shows in 4 days: “Freestyle Nandej” at Pantheon (the Prague version of Freestyle Mondays), and Chapeau Rouge on Thursday with Beatburger Band, Philip TBC and Alesh One. After an ultra-tranquil Sunday of recoup, we hit it hard on Monday for the Prague leg of “Get Up Stand Up.”

Monday started with an appearance on Radio DJ. We promoted both shows and had a great interview with host Mary. We met up with Philip TBC for the interview and discussed the history of our NYC/Prague collaboration, and the new single from his album, “Czech Yourself.” It was also the first time a radio DJ asked us about the education work we do in NYC and globally; very refreshing and invigorating. It was a wonderful conversation that we capped off with a dope on-air freestyle. What’s really hilarious is that she was playing a beat, but we couldn’t hear it on our headphones, so I started beatboxing. The beatbox was coincidentally nearly layered on top of the beat, so she thought it was supposed to be an added rhythm. Makes for a great in-studio video, but must’ve been a funny listen for the folks at home. (Sidenote: Mary is a badass electric violin player, and on Monday we planted the seed to have her roll thru Thursday’s show for a jam session…)






Monday night, Far and I caught some vegetarian Indian food with TBC (vegetarian eats in Prague? What? Spare the dumplings and goulash, at last!) before rolling over to Pantheon. The big homey Dowis started an event modeled after Ill Spokinn & Mariella’s “Freestyle Mondays” at Sin Sin in NYC, the 7-year running Lower East Side staple that has been the breeding ground for some of the illest cats I know, and the hub of my Hip Hop family. The Prague event goes down at Dowis’ club, Pantheon, which is a 24/7 Hip Hop venue. Sketch battles, open mics, DJs every night, a white gallery; it has evolved into THE place in Prague for the underground Hip Hop community to build. Freestyle Nandej differs from Sin Sin in that it is a sign-up open mic, rather than a cypher. Each MC gets 2 minutes to rock, and the host, Constantin, holds up a “Stop” sign, with “Keep Going” on the flipside. So, if you’re ripping it, you get to continue rhyming longer.








The house was packed. The main homey Jaro Cossiga was in the building. The roster of MCs that rocked the mic really put it down, especially young cats like Jimi, Shark Ass (the 16 year-old female phenom!) and Lucie (promoter/manager and MC?!?). The room was jumping by the time we hit the stage. I pulled double-duty for the first and only time this tour as MC/DJ, but the Pantheon stage is so small, it was a breeze. We really had our rhythm and instincts aligned after 3 shows in 3 days. The set at Pantheon was extremely tight and extremely well-received. It was a shorter music set, serving as promo for Thursday, and was capped off with a long freestyle. I then spun instrumentals for the rest of the open mic session, bringing some BK underground flavor to the cypher. After the freestyle session, some incredible B-Boys hit the floor and ripped it until after 3:00am. The novelty of seeing top-notch breakers up close never wears off for me. Helicopters, headspings, the whole nine… We were primed for the big show on Thursday at Chapeau Rouge, and looking forward to a couple of mellow days before to re-energize.





Tuesday began with a lunch rehearsal with Philip TBC. He’d be holding us down on the decks and rocking a showcase, as Thursday’s party would also serve as the release party for the first single from his upcoming album, “Audible Thoughts.” TBC is a legendary Drum-n-Bass producer/DJ in the Czech. We got to build last summer during Hip Hop Kemp and later in Prague. I went to Budjeovice to rock a D-n-B party with him last September; we really hit it off on the MC/DJ tip as well as the interpersonal. He is fascinating dude and has spent extensive time traveling India, Tibet and the Himalayas. A spiritual man with a knack for the uptempo banger. Kuzhell had facilitated the collab between us (as DaSka artists), and I’d written and recorded “Czech Yourself” in Brooklyn during summer 2008. It was now mixed, remixed and ready to hit the airwaves.





We had a relaxed rehearsal, an excellent home-cooked lunch and good build session. Afterwards, we met up with Nasty from the Beatburger Band to catch up. He took us to the Prague “Beach Bar,” which is a summer hotspot for the young and nouveau riche. There was some pretty hilarious Czech Dirty Dancing going down to keep up entertained, but we were all spent. Farbeon had about 60% of his voice, I had about 75% of mine, and Hired Gun was sick as a dog, literally falling asleep at the bar table. I kicked it with Nasty back to his place, where I got to sleep on a real-live mattress, which was an extreme upgrade from the doghair-covered studio floor I’d been sleeping on for the previous 2 nights.






Wednesday was a heavy promo day: we hit Radio Spin with Poeta in the afternoon, then rolled back to Radio Spin in the night to guest on DJ Trusty and DJ Negativ’s show with Alesh One. We dropped a dope freestyle and Alesh did a hot 30 minute funk guest set. Gotta love the DJ who shows up with 20 records in a grocery bag to rock the spot. We stopped by Chapeau Rouge to check out the performance space before calling it an early night. We were looking at the beginning of a 3-shows-in-3-days slalom from the chute and wanted to be on point for all of it. Other than Kuzhell’s car catching a flat (donut changed and ratcheted on in 6 minutes!), it was smooth day.




Thursday was all about tempered preparation. Kuzhell and I finished mixing and mastering the single, and did some CD duplicating. I took a nice long run through Zizkov park, overlooking central Prague on cloudless 85 degree summer day. We loaded in for soundcheck at 8:00pm and had a couple hours to catch up with the Beatburger Fam. Chapeau Rouge is one of those prototypical European venues: very old space with 3 levels, the lowest being a cave-like stage space. That’s where we’d be rocking. It’s also a heavy tourist watering hole, with a bunch of pub crawls stopping by each night.

The stage room itself is capacity 100, and by the time the Beatburger Band hit the stage, it was 60 deep. Beatburger Band is the Vice-World Champion beatboxing team, having placed 2nd at the 2009 World Championships. Everytime I see them rock, they are growing and improving. Jaro, Nasty, Ivanhoe and En.Dru were representing (minus young buck Johnny Typek). Their stage show is a brilliant mix of team and individual showcases, and their cover song selection is a hilarious trip through the “Jock Jams” catalog. “Pump Up the Jam,” “Whoomp There it Is,” “I Like to Move It;” and then they hit you with “In the Air of Night.” You haven’t lived till you’ve seen Ivanhoe crush the Phil Collins’ vocals. By the time they finished, the room was packed and a number of tourists from upstairs had paid entry to the show and were wildin’ out in the front row. Fantastic warm-up.






This was going to be our most extensive set of the tour. We had a full hour planned, and knew we’d rock longer. The crowd needed a breather from the steamy hot room after Beatburger, and after a 15-minute intermission, we took the stage. After 10 minutes, the crowd that was there had returned and grown. The room was packed out, and the front rows were simply going crazy. It was so hot and humid that shirts were coming off all over the place. We were feeding off the crowd and they were eating up the energy and giving it back tenfold. It was great to see some kids that knew “Building the Better Bomb” get crazy to “People of My Nature” and “The Better Bomb,” not to mention the fantastic reactions to doing “Time Travelin’” and “Justwhatodo” from Jaro’s projects. This was one of those shows that you dream about, where you can’t give the crowd enough. We had a ridiculous guest appearance from Mary (from Radio DJ) on the ELECTRIC VIOLIN, which evolved into a beatobx D-n-B jam with Jaro and TBC. After our set, we freestyled for a bit, then announced the premiere of “Czech Yourself.” When TBC dropped the beat, the bounce was in the air. I ended up rapping the second verse from the floor, jumping around with the sweat-mob of Prague teenagers. It was a tremendous debut for the song. After that, HG and I freestyled over TBC’s original D-n-B beats, then I finally took over the turntables and rocked the dance party for another hour. The breakers were back, and the bulk of dancers from upstairs at Chapeau had slid downstairs. By the time all was said and done, it was 4:00am. I was drenched, spent, psyched and totally fulfilled. Farbeon said it best: “It’s crazy when you do all this promotion, have a team of peeps posting and re-posting on Facebook, flyers, posters, hype… and then the people actually show up!”








We had the intent of making this a quicker, more efficient hit of Prague. 2 insane shows, a bunch of new Say Word family members, new music dispersed to the media… and travel back to Berlin bought for us? Sure made getting on the train on zero hours of sleep a lot easier. Till the next time Praguers: “DaSka Records DaSka Records DaSka Records DaSka Records DaSka Records DaSka Records…” ☺





Tuesday, September 1, 2009

GUSU #3: Hip Hop Kemp

(Notes: check out the video highlight reel I cut in the previous entry for the A/V experience. And also check out the amazing Kemp pics by Farbeon (http://www.myspace.com/farbeon) and Lokey Photography (http://www.myspace.com/lokeyphotography) They are simply bananas.)

The key prefix here is “RE-:” REmembering, REcapping, REflecting, REvisiting, REliving, REconnecting, REcollecting, REviewing and REfreshing. It’s REally wild to REcall how much has happened in the span of 2 weeks, let alone an entire month, and hard to separate days from nights and shows from shows, but that’s why I take life notes and blog chronologically. So take it back to the Czech REpublic for Hip Hop Kemp…

Hip Hop Kemp is the second largest Hip Hop festival on continental Europe (and vying to be the first). A 3-day all-element extravaganza on an old air force base in the Czech, outside of a lovely town called Hradec Kralove. Last year, Farbeon and I painted the festival Brooklyn with Baba Israel, Yako 400 and the Beatburger Band. We vowed to come back large in 2009 and rock it super official (check the “Summer Breaks Hip Hop Kemp” video on youtube for last year’s take). So this year we came back wth J-Live and Truemaster, a hotel room, transportation and momentum.





We arrived in Hradec Kralove after 3 hours sleep and a 6-hour train from Leipzig. We were greeted at the rail station by a driver with a sign for all of us, and were quickly buzzed to the luxurious Hotel Podvice. Leather couches, flat screen TV, a bed for everyone… this was living! I had an extreme super-rap-fan moment within 15 minutes of checking in: out in the hallway, I bumped into our nextdoor neighbor and introduced myself. He was like, “Peace, my name is Chee,” and I was like, “cool.” And his voice echoed in my head for a moment and I was like, “oh, as in SONNY CHEEBA from CAMP LO” and my college freshman self had a mild heart attack. This was obviously going to be a fantastic experience.

J-Live was rocking the mainstage at 7pm on Friday night, and 3rd Party was rocking the Music City hangar at 12:30am, so we headed out to the festival for soundcheck. Lamping backstage we bumped into Blu & Exile, B.O.B., Reef the Lost Cause, Torae, German DJ Marc Hype, Maria Kapix, Le Bob, John Robinson, DJ That Fucking Sara, Qwazzar from Typical Cats, Alesh One, Lokey Photography, Ghonzales, The Berlinutz… a nice mix of Hip Hop luminaries and our European extended family. It was pretty humbling and amazing to see J-Live reconnect with the circuit of underground heroes, here in the middle of Central Europe. Wild to think that you’ve got to some halfway around the world to catch up with peoples from back in the day.

By 5pm, the mainstage crowd was about 1,000 deep. Blu & Exile rocked a butter set. “Below the Heavens” has obviously made tracks around the globe. We got to catch up with Exile and reminisce over rocking The Pussycat Lounge in NYC with Aloe Blacc back in 2005 (hard to forget playing a strip club/music venue to a crowd of 10 people). On stage, this guy freaks the MPC like very few. He plays the pads with one hand and it sounds like a DJ rocking doubles, cutting and scratching while being backed by a band. Unbelievable skills flex. Blu has a real easy vibe on stage and works the mellow jams to perfection. Great performance, up and down.






J-Live was rocking after Blu & Exile. By the time Justice hit the stage the crowd was 1,500 deep. J had Truemaster on the wheels and Hired Gun to help hype. He was going to rock a self-proclaimed“competition set” (raising the bar and making it hard for the next acts to follow). The man has endless classic records, which makes it easy to pack them a 40-minute set with sing-a-long gems. Words can’t really capture the frenzy he had the crowd in, but fortunately I’ve got it on video. It was really heart-warming to see HG rock the hype-man role (perfectly suited for his raucous stage style) and to have J & True drop “Get Up Stand Up” and give 3rd Party a shout.







We had a few hours to kill before our set time. As big and dope as this festival is, it is quite a logistical spiderweb. We had a hell of a time getting fed, getting our meal stipend, really getting any kind of info… note to artists: make sure you advocate for your damn selves! Farbeon is the man when it comes to looking out for us, and delivering straight-talk in a most admirable way.

Now, the hitch in all of this was that we were scheduled to play directly after Method Man finished headlining the mainstage. In a perfect world, he would wrap up, the crowd would roll to the Hangar and we’d rock a packed house. In the Hip Hop world, we knew Meth would start late, finish late, and we’d be left rocking to a smaller crowd. It’s a Hip Hop world baby. So, we delayed for a bit and started to rock to a thin crowd, but with all of our dear friends in attendance. Method Man hadn’t even started on the mainstage yet, meaning folks waiting to see him could have caught us, but hey, it is what it is. We rocked a super-tight 30 minute set with J-Live in the front row holding down the crowd, along with Maria Kapix, Maria from Dresden, Le Bob, Ghonza, Marc Hype, K984, Alesh Uno, John Robinson and a bunch of heads we’d get to meet later. Truemaster held us down airtight on the decks, and as we blazed through the set, the crowd doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size. By the end, we had built a very nice sized audience, which unfortunately was catching the last 10 minutes of our show. As we closed with a freestyle, the “More! More! More!” chants came out of the crowd, now really filling in. The stage manager gave us the emphatic thumbs up to rock for another 15 minutes. Having only planned a 30-minute set, we had Truemaster drop instrumentals and we freestyled/jammed for 15 more minutes, working the crowd and still leaving them wanting more. Every show we’ve done on this tour has finished with a bigger crowd than it started with; I can’t be mad at that.


(Unfortunately, Truemaster's camera had all the photos of this set and the flash memory card died. Lost to the rap g-ds...)


We stuck around for a bit Friday night and caught a late-night set from Berlin super-emcee Amewu with DJ Werd. I was totally entranced by this cat’s flow and breath control. Simply astonishing (more on the Berlin EOW fam later). We called it a night after an epic Friday and headed back to the hotel. We all slept until after 2pm on Saturday, caught a late lunch courtesy of J, and got geared up to head back to Kemp for the closing night. We kicked it at a restaurant in the Centrum, getting busy on Pilsner and Becherovka before finally heading back to the Festival at 6pm or so.




While we were gone, our main homegirl Maria Kapix had worked some magic. Peoples were really feeling our set from the previous night, and feeling bad that we didn’t get to rock the whole set for a bigger crowd, so Maria worked it out for us to do a special guest set with Marc Hype and Jim Dunloop at the closing party for Kemp, also their record release party (this woman is unrivaled in generosity, warmth, and hospitialty). So after all of it, we were going to be doing another full set at 4am to wrap up the whole jam. We spent the evening checking out Devin the Dude, Killa Kella, wildin’ out to Camp Lo, and trying to maintain till 4am. We ended up going back to the hotel for a couple of hours to chill before coming back to rock. Yes, we passed up seeing La Coka Nostra to kick it in the hotel room freestyling with J-Live and catch laughing fits. Good trade☺





We got back as the mainstage was shutting down and the closing party with Marc Hype, Jim Dunloop and Lady Daisy was jumping off. Marc is a siiiiiick DJ (former German DMC & ITF champ, ITF World Finalist), and Jim crushes the keys. They put on a tremendous dance party, lacing irresistible uptempo funk/breakbeat joints. Lady Daisy guested on the vocals to take it to a next level. The dance floor was jamming, the vibe was amazing and I danced my ass off. The break circle was in effect and everyone got busy in the middle (even Far and J). We were invited to the stage to follow all this, and rocked a balls-out set till 5am. At the end of our set, 3rd Party invited J-Live to the stage, and the late-revelers got a special treat as J did “Them That’s Not” for about 65 people at 5am. Out of this world.






So, we got back to the hotel at 5:30am, packed, slept till 8am and jumped in the van to Prague. We dropped off J, True and Torae at the airport, said peace, took the group photo and headed to DaSka headquarters to begin the Praha stretch of the tour. J and True were off to London to rock one last show that night. Superheroes in the most genuine sense. A week for the record books and the personal Hip Hop annals. My 19 year-old self is freaking out somewhere in 1998, beaming with pride, staring in amazement and loving every minute of it.