How does Sac really feel about its hip-hop scene?
“I want my city to be the epicenter of California / state Capitol / the only stars is Mike Bibby and Arnold / Fuck your feelings, homeboy, if you ain’t feelin’ my reasons / that’s why every artist in Sacramento is always leaving” —Mahtie Bush
Why are people staring at Mahtie Bush? Because he’s black? Nah, that’s cliché. Maybe it’s his shirt, the one that reads in a huge font: Sac hates hip-hop. Yeah, that’s probably it.
Some call it a gimmick, some call it a movement and some say it’s just a kid acting out. But one thing’s for sure: Bush and his crew, the Alumni, are frustrated with the way their community gets treated. They’re certain that Sacramento has it in for hip-hop—and they’re letting the world know, via mixtapes, flyers, spoken-word performances and the Internet.
The dialogue covers all the bases, from the diminishing venues that let hip-hop artists perform to their lack of radio exposure. Bush, normally an even-tempered, fun-loving man of 25, says he’s had enough. Even in a brief conversation, he’s quick to spew a list of things that, well, he’s sick of. Ready?
He’s sick of going to colleges to hand out flyers, only to be chased off by administrators. He’s sick of getting mixtapes sent back by local radio stations. He’s sick of not being able to promote his shows at clubs. He’s sick of Tesla and Cake being the only names people know out of Sacramento. He’s sick of lazy artists sitting on their asses hoping people like their music without actually doing any work to get it out there. He’s sick of hip-hop groups not doing benefit shows for the community. He’s sick of Avalon and Empire’s dismissive attitudes and he’s probably sick of tons more stuff that he hasn’t even expressed yet.
“Even Malcolm X got pissed and was like, ‘Fuck this shit,’” he says.
That’s one way to put it.
Sammie nominee and 15-year microphone veteran Mr. P Chill agrees with much of what Bush has to say. He too thinks the city neglects what could be one of its greatest cultural assets. But he has another, slightly more laid-back, perspective.
“I wouldn’t say Sac hates hip-hop,” he says, “but we don’t have the support from home … like they do in the Bay Area.” It’s virtually the same thing punk and hardcore kids were saying in the ’80s about the Bay Area: basically that it’s better—more accepting of underground culture. Most of the problem here in Sacramento, according to P Chill, is complacency.
“It irritates me when I hear cats talking about how the Sac hip-hop scene sucks,” he says. “It sucks because you make it suck.”
Not “you,” personally, but more in the universal sense.
So instead of Sac hates hip-hop, P Chill’s shirt might read, Sac is under-appreciative of the hard-working conscious hip-hop groups who bring armfuls of talent and beauty to the game. Or something.
Random Abiladeze, of the Neighborhood Watch crew, sees a problem, too. To him, it’s that “hip-hop is being misrepresented a lot of times,” by artists and fans alike. Point is, it’s easy to blame others for a lagging scene, and harder to pull together and take action. Many artists, at least, seem to agree on what’s needed: a tight community, one that’s willing to sift through the muddy negativity to find the precious stones. In part that means separating the “rap,” from the “conscious hip-hop,” because there are important differences.
“From Vallejo to Sac … we roll strapped, lounge wit’ the money from the game of crack” —C-Bo
It’s pretty safe to say that C-Bo doesn’t consider himself a conscious rapper. Along with fellow artists X-Raided and Brotha Lynch Hung, among others, C-Bo helped cultivate Sacramento as a city with some of the most hardcore “rap” in the nation. While it’s always nice to carry a badass title, the stigma casts a real shadow on underground artists who don’t necessarily have a gun, nor all they’d need even to play the “game of crack.”
The pace of a conscious emcee can be much slower. Usually it involves, first, the actual music and, next, such topics as how well you can rhyme, how dope your crew is, weed, locale, drinking, politics, girls and, uh, weed. It has been argued on hip-hop message boards and in scholarly articles that what their verses lack in hoes and pushing crack, conscious emcees make up for in played-out rhymes about getting drunk and pushing mixtapes.
Local artists such as Righteous Movement, Deep Fried Funk Brothers, the Neighborhood Watch, Rogue Scholars, Doey Rock, Cawzlos, the Alumni and the Shades of Gray, to name a few, definitely fall under the “conscious rap” category—not because they all sound alike, but because they pride themselves in their commitment to preserving hip-hop without worshipping false idols of guns and money. The city practically has enough conscious rappers to start a new religion. So where is it? Bush blames radio for not paying attention.
DJ Supe, a longtime producer, deejay and radio personality at 103.5 FM the Bomb, has been a proponent of local hip-hop since he can remember. His show The Leak did for emcees what 98 Rock’s Local Licks does for rock acts. The Leak, however, was cancelled in February.
“To be honest, I don’t really know what was going on, but it did stop kind of abruptly,” Supe says, “and I wasn’t really told why.” Bush would be glad to tell him why. And of course he does, as outlined in article 2B of the manifesto:
“All [103.5] keeps saying is we are heading in a different direction. …Yea the direction is to be more commercial,” he writes.
There are many theories of how these artists’ city has turned on them. Some say our masses of conscious hip-hop groups have been forced to sit under the shade of a hyphy tree, when really they just want to be out in the sun, shining. Others say that Sacramento is like any other American city, and stupid sells.
“I hate to say it,” Bush says, “but it’s racist promoters.”
And there’s that.
Jose Hernandez is night manager and show booker for Capitol Garage, one of the few downtown venues that tirelessly supports live hip-hop, alongside the Distillery (“slowly,” Bush says) and the SpeakEasy Lounge in Old Sac. While he doesn’t deal with other bookers enough to call them racists, Hernandez does see hip-hop getting neglected by other gatekeepers of Sacramento nightlife.
“It’s a misunderstanding about what type of hip-hop you’re talking about,” Hernandez says. “This hyphy/crunk movement works in music videos and in certain venues, but it really doesn’t work in Sac.” It will take a little time to sift and separate the genres, he says.
That’s not to say Hernandez hasn’t had problems with hip-hop. He recalls a show not long ago that ended in a fistfight, complete with police sirens, handcuffs and a cash register full of counterfeit bills. The whole scenario reeks of a Beastie Boys video circa ’86, but was it really hip-hop’s fault?
“If I have a rock band here and they thrash the place, it’s not the fault of all rock ’n’ roll,” Hernandez says. Instead of blaming the music, he says he just needs to be smarter about booking shows. In essence, he blames himself.
“I feel bad for these [groups]. They work their asses off. They really do. Hip-hop’s plague right now [is] they’re dealing with their own image. There’s a lot of guys who work way harder than they should, only to prove that they’re just not ‘that guy,’” Hernandez says. He adds that by allowing conscious hip-hop in, other venues will catch on that not all acts cater to gang members, and that shit happens in any genre.
“Why you wanna’ be startin’ something? I just wanna’ rock with you / but for handing out flyers, I’m administered a stern talking-to / by campus police who ask us to leave. It’s shocking, y’all, but what’s really fucked up is I rocked here last week! / Same thing in clubs and other venues, that’s the norm in Sac: You can’t even promote in the places you’re performing at!” —Mic Jordan
And of course, in all the dialogue about hatred for hip-hop, the good ol’ SN&R comes up fairly often.
“SN&R [does] not report stories and events concerned with hip-hop in a positive manner,” says Roper, of Valor University. “We are always getting badgered and hip-hop’s good name is getting thrown in the dirt.”
Maybe it doesn’t need to be said, but Bush agrees. “As far as the N&R and Sacramento Bee—they don’t help us,” he says. Could it be true that SN&R hates hip-hop?
“No,” editor Matt Coker says with a grin. “I think we need more hip-hop.” But it’s the end of the day, Coker’s new to Sacramento and, who knows, maybe he’s lying.
In any event, the haters shouldn’t make the rules. Gangsta sells, but so does conscious, Hernandez says. Especially if it sounds like Sacramento hip-hop—music that can drip with the thick soul of a stand-up bass, sway in a melodic breeze like a field of raspberry bushes, be as unpredictable as a sudden case of the hiccups, and have the vitriol and speaking power of Malcolm X on a “grumpy day.”
So unless you want to make it into Part II of Bush’s manifesto, under “People I’m sick of,” maybe it’s time to check out a local act or two.