A.S. Presents kicks off the school year with a free hip-hop show
An entire decade has passed since a Japanese M.C. and a Filipino DJ entered the annals of rap by releasing the first Asian-American hip-hop album.
Producer/rapper Key Kool (Kikou Nishi) and world famous beat junkie DJ Rhettmatic (Nazareth Nirza) caused a stir with their independently released Kosmonautz. The album received slight accolades yet impressed the nation’s two most popular rap magazines, The Source and Rap Pages. The album was nearly lost when the talented duo’s distributor filed for bankruptcy, but fortunately Kosmonautz was picked up and distributed by the Wherehouse music chain.
A collaboration on Kosmonautz entitled, appropriately enough, “Visionaries” united the future members of the Visionaries crew—2Mex, Dannu, Lord Zen, LMNO, Key Kool and DJ Rhettmatic—on record for the first time. The group will be appearing in a free A.S. Presents-sponsored concert Saturday, Aug. 21, at the Chico State Rose Garden.
“Hip-hop brought us together, but when we all first met, I recognized everyone in the group as kind-hearted, good people. They felt like family members from the start,” recalled Key Kool from the offices of Up Above Records. A former English major at UCLA, Key is an insightful, talkative individual whose positive demeanor guides our correspondence.
The strong brotherhood bonded the Visionaries and led to the recording of the first of three albums. Released in 1998, Galleries focused on both the individuals who comprised the Visionaries as well as the group itself. Everyone brought something to the table. Solo songs were placed between songs by either a handful of members or the whole group. This approach provided insight into where everyone was coming from and how they related to each other.
Laid-back production by Key Kool, Rhettmatic and others gave the album a contemplative feel. What could have been a wild mish-mash of styles and ideologies manifested as a cohesive 20-song double album.
Topics included typical fare about their dedication and respect for hip-hop music and culture, but the members also delved deeper into more philosophic and spiritual manifestations of life and religion. These metaphysical explorations were always what stood out in my mind as the compelling appeal of the group.
In “Pope Mobile,” 2Mex raps, “I believe the invention of actual strife/ is the religious intervention of natural life,” which fuels his dream/nightmare in which he assassinates the pope in fulfillment of his destiny to “create the ultimate separation of church and state.”
Even on songs like the breakdance anthem, “Love (Hip Hop),” Key Kool rhymes, “I reflect culturally duality/ my locality is my spirituality,” illustrating the everyday quest for balance driving the music. Through the strength of the album, which sold about 20,000 copies, the Visionaries gained a loyal fan base worldwide and began extensive touring in the United States and overseas.
The foundation for the Visionaries’ wide range of approaches is DJ Rhettmatic. As Key Kool explained, “Rhett is the sound controller of the group, and having the strength of a world-class DJ like Rhett, who controls the show, makes it as powerful as it is.”
DJ Rhettmatic has some serious credentials. He has twice won the International Turntable Federation team world championships with his DJ crew the Beat Junkies and has taken first in a West Coast DMC championship as well as an array of smaller competitions. Rhettmatic has proven to be one of the best competitive DJs in the country, and his presence and compositional abilities are heard on all the Visionaries’ releases through his production and scratching and also his solo songs.
Much has changed since the Visionaries began. Their newest album, titled Pangaea, which refers to the super-continent that existed before the land masses drifted apart, is filled with criticism of a political world perceived to be drifting apart.
Conversely, the strongest tracks on this latest release are about people coming together, as they do in the successful new single “If You Can’t Say Love.” An ode to love, the song’s video is beginning to get some airplay on BET and seems destined for the MTV2 audience. There couldn’t be any more appropriate topic for a multicultural rap group ("We’re Mexican, Islander, Euro, African, Asian,” rhymes LMNO in the song) that considers itself family and is grateful for having been “able to ‘tread water’ for the last 10 years.”
The live show has become the pinnacle of the Visionaries experience, "a pure celebration of life and hip-hop. … Pure energy," exclaimed Key Kool. Come show your love as the Visionaries take the stage with the rapper Aceyalone at Chico State. For free!