Beans & Rice, but with guts

Sacramento emcee somehow escapes synth-rap-hook-yawn trappings of redundant, lazy local hip-hop

Pete Bettencourt: drowsy but not tired.

Pete Bettencourt: drowsy but not tired.

Catch Pete B. with the CUF, One Nation and DJ Larry Rodriguez on Friday, January 23, 9 p.m., $8. Blue Lamp, 1400 Alhambra Boulevard; (916) 455-3400;

Pete Bettencourt could have taken the easy road. He could have thrown together an album mixed by DJ Whogivesashit, produced by mix master J. Blow with guest spots by MC Mommylikesmyraps of the Irrelevant Crew.

But that’s not the case.

As we’ve learned over the years, Bettencourt, Sacramento hip-hop and art-scene veteran, is smarter than the average emcee. He doesn’t use his name as a couch. He’s not sitting back, getting comfy.

So, instead of the easy road, Bettencourt created Beans & Rice the hard way: imagination, long hours, risk-taking. The album is a courageous solo effort that steps away from the latest trend-driven sounds of local hip-hop—synth, rap, hook, yawn.

Bettencourt digs into a musical arena of thick, rich horns and sprawling beats, not once using high BPMs or silly hooks as a crutch to intrigue listeners.

Instead of gimmicks, he creates dynamic interplay between lyrics, which actually tell a story, and intense melodies and instrumentation. Guitars talk, samples cry, pianos wail and Bettencourt’s words are the answer, reining it all in. Consider the track “Stain Lifters”: The cut spills over with deep appreciation for hip-hop, and Bettencourt—who’s also an accomplished artist, exhibiting this past Second Saturday at Sub Q Body Piercing and Tattoos—seems to be co-opting aesthetic concepts of his canvases and applying them to his music.

What’s more, his language is playful, evocative: “Kung Fu master / chew young fools who run they mouth / run home from school / like the state of hip-hop is in shambles.” Bettencourt’s a surrealist poet bent on conveying hip-hop imagery to the masses.

On the title track, his unnaturally deep voice (he either hit puberty late, became a monster or downs Quaaludes like candy) rolls—“We more than tortillas / con chile, frijoles, chorizo y mole / Oye! Dish it like posole / only takes a little guacamole to keep it crackin’, homie”—descriptive lyrics that, collectively, cultivate a unique attitude.

Beans & Rice is a literary celebration of hip-hop culture from the perspective of a Mexican. But rather than creating music that’s straight Mexican hip-hop à la A Lighter Shade of Brown or Kid Frost, Bettencourt simply throws all the ingredients—graffiti, emceeing, soul music—into a pot and makes a hearty menudo.

And even the guts taste good.

The beats, all by Monsrock, are as relaxed and imaginative as Bettencourt’s hassle-free lyrics; there’s not a beat or hook on the entire album that sounds like it was crafted by the cold, metallic hands of a robot. Instead, the structure—think boom-bap era (MC Shan, KRS-One) with prominent snare, hard-hitting bass and striking samples carefully structured to enhance the mood—tells a story of the streets, of hip-hop cultura and, ultimately, of Sacramento.

And Bettencourt handles Monsrock’s production—Sonny Rollins-style horns, funky Sly & the Family Stone-era bass lines—with ease, never resorting to obvious, overly hooky jingles, and certainly never in a rush to get anywhere. It’s like getting high, for the first time, then playing Santana’s Santana album from start to finish.

Check the energetic “Nardy,” where Bettencourt flexes his verbal skills over xylophones, and listen for the graffiti tale “Hurry,” which begins: “Strollin’ downtown drunk as fuck on a mission / about to give the city the makeover it was missin’.” The emcee’s groggy vocals create an atmosphere that allows you to listen, zone out and have fun.

The CD also offers many bonus surprises, like the book of Bettencourt’s art that comes with purchase.

Beans & Rice just might be the hand of inspiration that bitch-smacks Sacramento hip-hop heads right back into their blissful, much-needed creative stupor.