Hanging with the Cuf’s N8 at Cr8s, his record store in downtown Davis
The T-shirt said it all. When I caught up with N8 the Gr8, he was mixing beats in the back of his new record store, Cr8s. The store, catering to hip-hop and vinyl enthusiasts, is in Davis, but N8’s purple and gold “Hate the Fakers” T-shirt made it clear where he was from.
“I was born and raised in Sacramento,” he said. “[Brotha Lynch Hung], C-Bo, Gab [from Blackalicious] and RJ were the four hardest rappers then, and they would travel from school to school and battle each other.” RJ joined N8 in the Cuf in 1993, along with MCs Crush and Pete and DJ Mad G. Things were a lot different in those days. “There was the Cattle Club, Café Montréal helped out; that started a lot of what now is Sacramento’s independent scene. They had an open mike every Monday night.”
The Cuf rose to the top of that scene, by scoring a minor hit with the 12-inch EP I Love this Game in 1998 and landing a deal for the CD with Tower Records’ Bayside Distribution web. Getting a deal is a lot easier than getting the right deal, something the Cuf learned the hard way when Bayside refused to release the Cuf Baby album because of the cover art, an extremely graphic photo of Pete’s newborn baby.
Since then, N8 and the crew have kept it strictly DIY. After self-releasing Cuf Baby, they released Cuf Daddy on their own Mr. Pen Ink imprint in 2000, and it was easily their best work. The music may be improving, but, after a decade, independence has lost some of its luster. “We need to make some money; that’s for sure,” N8 said. “We’re getting older, and we’re not going to be this underground, independent group forever. We’re not all living off it.”
To that end, N8’s worked hard to establish his name beyond the Cuf. He’s produced albums by Hollow Tip and Dre D, and he’s worked with Portland’s Old Dominion and Myg. Last year, he collaborated with Pete on Nothing 2 Lose. N8’s fluid production, blending old-school beats with heavy doses of mellow jazz and deep funk, paved the way for the album’s success.
More interesting, though, was that N8 relocated to Davis. At first, it was mostly about the promise of better schools for little N8. The idea for Cr8s came later. “I’ve been wanting to open this store for about four years,” N8 said. “People are eager; there’s hunger in Davis.” Local acts get good exposure on KDVS, and places like D.I.S.C. and the G Street Pub are willing to book hip-hop shows.
N8 sees something different in his hometown. “There’s plenty of rock clubs and plenty of country and jazz clubs downtown,” he said, “but not one place where you can see live hip-hop. The bureaucracy of Sacramento has been set in their ways for so long, and it’s hard to shake things up. They’re just out for anything that has anything to do with hip-hop.” N8 points to the recent closing of the venue Joe’s Style Shop as an example of the difficulty artists and club owners encounter when taking on that bureaucracy. “The lack of interest that the city does have for hip-hop is kind of what drove us to find other ways of doing things.”
Still, things may be changing. The Colonial Theatre on Stockton Boulevard has become a viable option for bigger acts. Del tha Funkee Homosapien and KRS One played there recently, and the Cuf will be there on February 15 with Sage Francis and Awol One. And there’s hope for a resurgence in Sacramento’s independent scene. “There’s a growing interest in this stuff,” N8 explained. “The radio is turning a lot of people off. Videos are turning a lot of people off. If there was one place that was all hip-hop, that would be the spot.”
In the meantime, although N8’s store is in Davis—at 227 E Street, Suite 3 to be precise—there’s no doubt about where his heart is: It’s as plain as the message on his T-shirt. “That’s where I’m from,” he said. “That’s always going to be my home.”