One rap with many faces?

Legendary composer Terry Riley takes a break from playing the Grass Valley Center for the Arts’ new Steinway to pump his vintage harmonium Friday night.

Legendary composer Terry Riley takes a break from playing the Grass Valley Center for the Arts’ new Steinway to pump his vintage harmonium Friday night.

Photo By SHoka

Catch the Mentes Diferentes crew on Friday, April 30, at the 16th Street Cafe, 2416 16th Street; 8 p.m. Find the Desperados online at

Playing city manager on a sun-drenched day:
When I showed up on Saturday afternoon to the Washington Neighborhood Center’s “Urban Artist Showcase,” I was happy as hell to be outdoors, in the sun, downtown. I used to live by the center when I first moved back to Sacramento, and that’s how I’ll remember this city if I ever leave: old crusty Victorians, the occasional whiff of Sandra Dee’s Barbeque & Seafood, and decrepit dogs barking at me from behind fences.

Inside, Shemzilla, a rapper from First Dirt Records, was about to perform. There were little kids running around, and people strolled leisurely through the premises. There wasn’t much pressure to actually participate in the performance, which was reassuring. Sometimes it’s nice just to sit there without having to wave your hands in the air, saying “Ho!” all the time. (The show started at noon, and there were about 15 artists on the eight-hour bill, which featured Mahtie Bush, A.R.A.B., the Realists, Task1 and many more.)

I walked through the old colorful building’s labyrinth to find artists selling their wares in the back. I bought a picture frame from a pinup girl and then went back to catch Shemzilla, who was in the middle of a cappella.

As I sat there watching his performance, I reflected on why I haven’t been going to hip-hop shows lately. I think it’s because they’ve turned into a bunch of people onstage pretending that they’re bigger than they are—pretending they’re “world-class.” It’s a term I hate, but the mayor, it seems, is trying to force it upon us. He’s tried to make us believe that our city has potential to be a top-notch metropolis, like Los Angeles or Miami. But I’ve always admired Sacramento for being, if anything, like Portland. That is, kind of gross, in a charming way.

Refreshingly, Shemzilla was not trying to be anything. He was simply rapping. His rhymes were forceful, detailing a clear path of struggle and perseverance. But I was there to see the Desperados (from the crew Mentes Diferentes, a mostly Latino group of emcees and artists).

When Reckless Reaction and Vicious V stepped to the stage, people were still wandering in and out of the building. They began with “This Is California,” a song that allowed the emcees to ride a light, airy Latin/Jamaican beat that was perfect for Sacramento springtime. And usually when rappers sing their own hooks, it gets messy. But Vicious V actually has an impressive voice that can carry a tune.

That’s not the only shattered stereotype: In the ’90s, Latin rappers like Kid Frost were known for simplistic rhymes that rarely strayed from the A-B-A-B rhyme scheme. But songs like “Cali Calo” allowed Reckless Reaction to spread out a over a psychedelic DJ Muggs-inspired beat as he rapped with an impressive dexterity: “Only minority to strangle authority / gangsta poetry, my No. 1 priority … taking hip-hop back to what it was supposed to be.”

Before his performance, Reckless Reaction told me a little bit about what he meant by that last line in “Cali Calo”: “Everything sounds the same,” he said. “Hip-hop is trying to fit into one image. But it’s not all like that, you know?” Mentes Diferentes take a little bit of the old and mixes it with the new, blending tradition with innovation and not trying to reinvent the wheel. “Really, we’re just trying to put all kinds of music together to make a different genre: soulful old-school,” Reckless said.

Soulful and old-school sounds like a good way to make music. And it kind of sounds like a natural plan for our city. Hear that, K.J.? (Josh Fernandez)

Keep the Rossi under the sink?:
There aren’t many emcees in the world of underground hip-hop that can keep a crowd interested for more than an hour. Last Thursday night, Sacramento was privy to one of them: San Francisco’s Z-Man.

The One Block Radius frontman arrived at Blue Lamp complete with Gurp City trademark Carlo Rossi jug and poured rounds for the crowd before launching into a set that was half hip-hop, half stand-up comedy, and fully entertaining. Running through classic cuts such as “Street Cred Need Me” and “Crumb of the Bay” before dropping new material from his free EP Show Up, Shut Up and Rap (available for download at, Z-Man kept a good portion of the crowd in the building until 1:45 a.m., hanging on every word.

Among the highlights was a diatribe about hipsters using the “N word” to order their coffee and continued banter with the bartender, who didn’t fully appreciate Z-Man’s Rossi pours for the crowd. (Andrew Bell)