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2012 INTERVIEW WITH CRAYONE TWS

During the 2012 video shoot in Oakland for the song “Revolutionaries” with White Mic, we caught up with my ahki Crayone, one of the pioneers in the Bay Area graffiti scene. Crayone took a break from painting a fresh wall to speak on his style and history in the graff game. Writers and artists of any medium- take notes!

Underground Classics: Mac Dre “Thizzelle Washington”

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  1. Intro ft. Yukmouth
  2. Monday Thru Sunday
  3. Stuart Littles
  4. Help Me ft. Freako & Rydah J. Klyde
  5. The Mac Named Dre
  6. Dam I Used To Know That (interlude)
  7. Boss Tycoon ft. Yukmouth
  8. 4 Myself ft. Dubee & Devious
  9. Cutthoat ft. PSD & Dubee
  10. Han Solo ft. Syko
  11. Rap Life ft. Sleep Dank
  12. Thizzelle Dance ft. Chuck Beez
  13. Soom Lama (Interlude)
  14. Big Breaded ft. Luni Coleone
  15. Dollalalalala Lotsa Paypa ft. KC Bobcat & Sauce
  16. Miss You

“CAN YA DO THE THIZZELLE DANCE?!”

That question was guaranteed to set off almost any dance party in the Bay Area during the last decade. When Mac Dre’s Thizzelle Washington album dropped in 2002, followed by the highly-popular Treal T.V. DVD in 2003, his music and personality spread contagiously. The sound on this project was a slight departure from MD’s trademark Bay Area gangsta style. Dropping rhymes since 1989, it was no secret that Dre was all about the party life, but the Thizz movement took that in a new direction- and the whole Bay soon followed.

Everywhere I went during that time, I heard people slapping Mac Dre. Whether it was cars passing by, other kids in high school, house parties- everybody was on it. The sound was different, fun, and got people moving. It also changed the culture of the Bay, which went onto influence the whole world through the so-called Hyphy Movement. But before the movement, Dre really brought hyphy to the public- the REAL hyphy. As I remember the term (and maybe Keak Da Sneak can back me up on this), someone who was acting hyphy was highly intoxicated, feeling themselves, and ready to trip and get active at a moment’s notice. Basically when someone hyphy walked in the building, you could predict it wouldn’t be long before a fight (or worse) broke out. This seems fitting for Dre’s Thizzelle Washington album, where his character is something like a cat who loves to have fun and party, but is also real gangsta who’s serious about his money.

At first, thizz (or ecstasy, for you squares out there) seemed like an unlikely drug of choice for a Bay Area thug. I mostly associated it with white and Asian kids in the rave scene. I can recall Mac Dre rapping about thizz since the Rapper Gone Bad album in 1999, but by the time Thizzelle Washington came out, it seemed he had made a whole entire lifestyle around the drug- which is pretty obvious if you listen to the album. From the beats, to the raps, and even the shitty vocal mix, it sounds like Dre and his folks pretty much just popped a few pills and partied in the studio.

Ecstasy and music go quite well together, as the drug brings the user’s emotional and physical feeling to new levels of pleasure and relaxation. But sometimes that emotion can get heavy, especially when you’re coming down off the high. In the context of this album, that makes sense- Dre goes from the fun-loving ladies man to the gorilla pimpin’ street hustler to the OG vet who’s been on both sides of the gun and the penitentiary. Some of the songs are deep and reflective of the vicious cutthoat lifestyle, like “Help Me” featuring Rydah J. Klyde of the Mob Figaz and Pittsburg project legend King Freako (RIP). Songs like “Stuart Littles” and “Han Solo” give the listener a little insight into the mind of Mac Dre where he expresses some of the things he deals with when the party’s over and he’s left to his own thoughts. But- just like a thizzelle high- Dre bounces all over the album through the ups and downs.

There’s two songs that define this album and Dre’s whole movement at the time. One is “Thizzelle Dance,” where Dre and Chuck Beez took a weird beat from Portand producer Syko and created a party hit that paid tribute to thizz and one of many unique dance moves Dre was known to create. The other track that was guaranteed to get the party crackin’ (and still does to this day) was “Boss Tycoon” featuring Yukmouth of The Luniz. Over another Syko beat, these two Bay Area vets not only ripped this track lyrically but they showed many people that there were players in the rap game who enjoyed the same type of success as some these cats on MTV and BET, even without the same exposure. As an independent artist, it says a lot that Dre was able to get radio play and CD sales all over the West Coast and beyond from these two hits- even though many people still slept on these joints until after Dre’s death.

There’s plenty of other bangers on this album, and most of the production could still be considered unique and creative in 2014. As I mentioned earlier, it’s pretty clear that Dre handled a lot of production and recording in-house with his homies around. The song “Rap Life” with Sleep Dank might be the weirdest beat ever anyone’s ever rapped on. Their lyrics are tight but the song is damn near unlistenable- those fools must have been thizzin’ hard when they made that one. Also there are two interludes on this album that pretty much make no sense, and as I said earlier the mix is pretty shitty. But all that, even the low quality of the mix, gives the album it’s own unique feel.

The success of Thizzelle Washington allowed Mac Dre to build momentum towards what might have been the most successful phase of his long career. That was cut short in 2004 when Dre was gunned down in Kansas City, MO. His death was a huge blow to the Bay Area community and hip-hop period. For a long time, I tried to make sense of the murder of one of my heroes. Although I can’t judge whether he deserved it or not, he definitely died a gangster’s death, and always rapped about his cutthoat lifestyle catching up to him one day. His death was a huge blow to the Bay, as he was poised to take his success even further on a nationwide scale and bring our whole region along. However, after he died, new people started paying attention to his and the rest of the Bay’s music, which allowed cats like E-40, Keak, and Mistah FAB to pick up the ball and run with it.

But did the Bay drop the ball? Before he died, Mac Dre started his own label, Thizz Entertainment, which he used as a vehicle to put out his music and DVDs, but also for his peers to get their music heard. With a whole mob of rappers and fans supporting him, Dre had a Thizz Nation (aka The Nation of Thizzlam) behind him that was apart of his movement. After his death, it seemed like Thizz was ready to keep the torch lit and continue Dre’s vision. This slowly deteriorated, as fans became oversaturated with mixtapes and albums. All of a sudden, dozens of previously-unknown artists (some that had never even known Dre) were reppin’ Thizz. As the “Official Mac Dre Thizz Nation” logo was stamped on hundreds of subpar projects (many with recycled songs that had been heard before) the fans started to lose interest. One wondered how much of the money generated from the “Official Thizz Nation” projects and products went to Dre’s mother and children.

The biggest shame is that there has never been a full-length, all-new album released posthumously by Mac Dre. The Game Is Thick Vol. 2 was released just 13 days before his death. This was a strange coincidence to me- the original The Game Is Thick album was released by The Mac, Mac Dre’s rhyming mentor who was also murdered in 1990. Both of them were unable to live long enough to demonstrate their full potential. After 10 years of bootleg-quality Mac Dre albums, I’d still like to see the release of an official album with unheard material. Until then Ima bump all the classics faithfully. Everytime I hear Thizzelle Washington I’m reminded of the time when everyone wanted to be Mac Dre and there wasn’t a better rapper in the world.

Rest in Peace Mac Dre, we love Furl!

Artist Spotlight: Wake Self

Peace family, here is the first edition of my Artist Spotlight, where I put my folks on to certain musicians that I feel deserve to be heard. In these days of watered-down media, it’s important that we take spreading good music iin our own hands and support underground cats on the come-up!

For me, how technically skilled an artist is less important than how much substance and depth is in their content. But when an artist has skills and substance, that’s a perfect combo. The homie Wake Self is one of those artists. Along with his partner Def-I, he’s been one of the main artists holding it down in the underrepresented New Mexico hip-hop scene. I met him in 2012 through L*Roneous when we toured through Albuquerque and Santa Fe and not only is he a dope MC but he’s a cool cat all around- it shows through his music. Drawing on his Native American ancestry, his Albuquerque community, and his own life experience, he covers many complex subjects in his raps over beats and rhyme patterns that are just as complex.

Check out his latest album, Good Things Come to Those Who Wake, which is available on iTunes. His previous release, The Healing Process, is up for free download.

SAN FRANCISCO GRAFFITI, 2004-2005 (PART 3)

SAN FRANCISCO GRAFFITI, 2004-2005, CONT.

Everyday People: Interview with Kiwi

Mornin’ folks, here I have the 2nd installment of Everyday People, my mini-interview series featuring folks in the community. Today I’m interviewing the homie Kiwi, a Filipino MC/educator from Los Angeles but currently based in the Bay Area. Along with Bambu and DJ Phatrick, Kiwi was apart of the highly-influential rap group Native Guns.

1. Who are you, where are you from, and why are you here?

My name is Kiwi Illafonte, I’m a rapper, producer, DJ, writer, graphic designer, educator, and community organizer. I’m from Oakland, CA by way of Los Angeles. I’m here because of my mother.

2. What is one defining experience from your life that helped make you who you are?

There are many. When my homie Russell got killed in the 10th grade. When I first heard BDP’s “Stop the Violence.” The first time I had a gun pointed at me. When my mom had to go with me to the police station cause I got busted tagging. But the one that probably sticks out the most was when I did my first exposure trip to the Philippines in 1998. It was the first time I was experiencing firsthand all the theories and analysis I had been learning about in books and workshops. I learned about how inherent organizing was among the Filipino people, and how powerful people power can be. I returned from that trip committed to that struggle, the movement for National Democracy in the Philippines.

3. Who are some of your biggest influences?

My mother first and foremost. She modeled courage, strength, sacrifice, and resilience to me. Bill Sorro was another huge influence. He was the first real father figure in my life, and in addition to being a fierce champion for housing and tenant rights in San Francisco, he showed me how be a loving revolutionary. I’m also influenced by all the amazing community that I keep close. They are usually the ones with the ideas and thoughts that become my songs or my writings. They are the ones who check me when I say/do dumb shit, who challenge my ideas with their own experiences, and who encourage me to keep working.

4. What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing, and what are you doing to overcome them?

Well, my mother passed away a few months ago, and I’m learning each day that grieving and healing is a protracted process. I’m learning to be easy on myself, to ask for help, to cry my ass off, and to be okay with solitude.

Another challenge that I’m right in the middle of is transitioning out of the non-profit world, which I’ve been stuck in for over a decade. Sometimes when we do things for awhile, we become comfortable in them, and we don’t realize there are other options. Recently I resigned from my current job, am going to travel across the world this summer, and will start taking classes full-time at Laney College. It’s pretty scary, but I’m learning that we figure out ways to survive, and in the end I’ll be just fine.

5. What gives you the inspiration/motivation to push on everyday?

Honestly I feel like the world is jacked up, and I would like to contribute to un-doing the damage that humans have done. I want to live to see true justice and equality. I want to leave behind a better world for our children.

6. (bonus) How does it feel knowing that your music has influenced so many people and to be credited as one of the Filipino pioneers in hip-hop? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I honestly don’t really put too much stock in my legacy in hip hop. If anything, I feel like I can honor hip hop best by being true to myself and my community, by organizing and fighting for justice and social change, whether that’s through rapping or otherwise. I do recognize that I have a certain position cause of what I’ve done, and I try my best to use that position to raise awareness and uplift my community.

Currently I’m recording and performing with my band Bandung 55 (that name’s going to change eventually). I’m also working on a solo EP and a book.

Check Kiwi out at http://www.illafonte.com/. Photo above by Leo Docuyanan.

SAN FRANCISCO GRAFFITI, 2004-2005, PT. 2

More flicks from my decade-old graffiti time capsule. Check back next Wednesday for more pieces, throwies, and tags by SF legends.

SF GRAFF 2004-2005, Pt. 2, cont.

"FRISCO ORIGINAL" shirts and slaps available in the DREGSONE.COM store! Sizes are going fast in men’s and women’s, support your local community emcee and grab one now. Every dollar I make from my music or merchandise allows me to continue pushing my art and my community projects. To everyone who’s already supported- THANK YOU!

Underground Classics: Conceit “Wasted Talent”

Peace family, thanks for checking out the first segment of “Underground Classics,” a new series for my blog where I highlight OG albums, mixtapes, and compilations that are mostly unknown by the masses but had a big influence on ya boy. Most of what I highlight here will be Bay Area/NorCal rap tapes but I’ll include under joints from other regions and maybe even some other genres. Basically, this is music that deserves to be heard.

  1. Freestyle Olympics Intro
  2. Max Kane
  3. I Will Go
  4. Scissors & Glue
  5. Frisco City Nightlife ft. Daggawon, Hazard
  6. Cartoon Network
  7. Price of Dedication ft. Wordsmith
  8. Sleep Kids
  9. I Ain’t Bitter
  10. Apple Cobbler
  11. Lady
  12. Scrilla & Scratch
  13. Official Knock ft. Boac
  14. Old School ft. Memo (Mo Classics)
  15. It’s All Strange ft. Fantastik, Rush
  16. In A Minute ft. Topr
  17. Shakes
  18. Common Courtesy ft. Topr
  19. Tomorrow Never Dies ft. Spank Pops
  20. Flying High
  21. We Are @ War
  22. Not The 1ne
  23. California Daydream ft. Evolutionaries
  24. Crackalicious ft. Eddie K, Z-Man
  25. Wasted Freestyle

I couldn’t think of a better joint to pull out of archives then the Wasted Talent mixtape by my homie Conceit. Before I get into the actual music, let me give some background on this dude. In high school all I wanted to do was party, write graffiti, and freestyle. So when Telli Prego told me about this cat named Topr who was not only a dope MC but a graff writer who was down with LORDS crew, I was definitely interested. All my hobbies came together one night at this art gallery in the Mission District, where they let my underage ass drink 40s; some of the illest writers in Bay Area graff had art on display; and Topr rocked an unbelievable freestyle that pretty much made him legendary in my young mind. So you can imagine I was lightweight jealous when, a few weeks later, Telli had hit a house party that I wasn’t able to attend and ended up in a freestyle cypher with Conceit, who was supposedly down with Topr. Coincidentally, not too long after that I bought a Bay Area rap DVD with interviews, music videos, and a freestyle from Conceit and Eddie K. I was like, “Oh shit! Telli freestyled with that dude!” Not too long after that, I saw Conceit in person for the first time.

Hearing they were having another art show on 16th and Capp, I made it a priority to be there and not miss out on any graff, rap, or heavy drinking. Posted outside with my 40 and a stogie, I saw a group of older, hooded, Giants cap-wearing Frisconians, led by a dude I recognized as Conceit. He gave me a nod on his way in, and I eventually followed them upstairs and watched one of my first local hip-hop performances. I was loving what I heard, Frisco’d out rhymes with a little more boom-bap than you normally hear in the regular Bay mobb sound. But when Conceit performed his song “I Will Go,” which is about his own journey as a youth in love with rap to an adult still trying to make it in the game, it was like I was the only one there and he was speaking right to me.

Eventually me and Conceit would meet, party, freestyle, and kick it. His crowd was way older, and I remember some of his folks tripping on us lil’ kids still in high school that would somehow get into the bar and follow them to the house party. But Conceit was always cool when we were around. He always showed love and took an interest in my crew’s music. I could definitely tell he grew up as a city kid just like me; he was the type of cat that runs into people he knows everywhere he went. I guess we were similar like that, ‘cause I’d always run into him- on Haight, on the bus, in the Avenues. When Wasted Talent came out, I copped it from Tower Records and instantly fell in love with it. A few months later when we dropped the first Gas Mask Colony album, I bumped into Conceit and he instantly bought a copy off me. Eventually, we would record a few songs together, and I’ve ended up working with many of the other rappers, DJs, and producers that are on his mixtape.

Anyways, now to the actual music. Wasted Talent seems to be a perfect musical summary of who Conceit was as a person during that time. Not only do you hear his skills in writing and freestyling, but he picked a diverse selection of beats that I feel like any hip-hop head could vibe to. Plus Max Kane (of the legendary FourOneFunk DJ collective) really did his thing blending all the tracks together. Listening to that mixtape really helped give me a sense of how to honestly express myself through music. The subject matter touches on Conceit’s battles with alcoholism and sleep deprivation, golden age hip-hop nostalgia, politics and society, and of course kickin’ it and partying throughout the SFC. But it’s the topic of fake fame and frustration with the music industry that’s most true to the story of Conceit.

In 2006, Conceit’s song “Scissors and Glue” somehow won a G-Unit Youtube Video contest. I say somehow because I don’t think he expected to win and his style was way different than what you might expect from G-Unit. But he did his thing, and ended up winning a shopping spree at Guitar Center, a trip to NYC to open up for Talib Kweli, and a shot at dropping some music through G-Unit/Interscope Records. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out too well. From what I remember being told, his creative vision clashed with the cookie-cutter mainstream sound the folks at the record label were expecting, and Conceit returned to SF without the deal and a feeling of anger and bitterness towards the whole industry. I think that led to a lot of frustration for him, and he started to withdraw himself from the local scene up until the point where even his closest folks hadn’t heard from him and had no idea where he was. He would randomly drop a mixtape or 2 via MySpace, but nothing that really matched the impact of Wasted Talent. To this day, his highly-anticipated debut album still hasn’t been heard.

I can’t really blame Conceit for feeling so frustrated. I think I understand where he was coming from; he had been dedicated to hip-hop since a kid with the skills to back it up but never quite got the recognition he deserved. For his last shot at a big record deal to end on such a wack note must have been heartbreaking. I also think that he blamed himself and his struggle with drinking and the party scene for holding up his progress. Being in his 30s, he probably wanted to take some time to sort his life out. It just sucks that he completely disappeared and I lost that big homie/mentor figure that I would always see around the Sco. Last I heard he had left SF completely. Every now and then he would pop up on Facebook, but I think it’s been at least 2 years since he’s posted anything. I like to think that he’s still out there, living his life and taking care of his close family during the day, but every now and then gets drunk in the middle of the night and writes raps, makes beats, and checks up on the latest music from all his SF homies.

Maybe his ass will even read this, somehow. If so, we miss you, Conceit, I hope we’ve made you proud, and at 27 the song “I Will Go” resonates just as strong with me as it did when I was 17.

Peace