Wednesday, February 22, 2017

RIBS for the week of 2/22/2017 featuring Besatree, Araless, Avant-Garde and Notiz Yong



For this first installment of R.I.B.S. (Reviews In Brief) of 2017 I thought I'd catch up on some noteworthy releases from 2015 and 2016.

1. WildLife by Besatree of CLDMKRS


Only Besatree would come up with such a musically rebellious way of reminding the world that he is a f**king professional. These electronic punk rock raps tell a story of self affirmation of worth, a statement of purpose and a warning to haters. Besatree creates minimalist metric soundscapes for him to let loose his humanity on. His humanity usually manifests itself in the form of razor-sharp raps observing the tendency of society to take shortcuts and try to get one over on him and his. He eloquently spits and earnestly croons over his own productions as well as those of fellow CLDMKRS Noearth and Rokem, who contribute melodic gems that don’t feel out of place alongside subtle indie rock beauties like “Everything You Wanted”, “Stuck With Me”, and “All Gonna Die”. Rather, these tracks stretch the aural playground the album weaves. Songs like “Nobody Knows” and “Paranoid” go to dark places but never drag with despair. Contrasted with the sunny Rokem bangers, the record reflects the range of someone grown and secure with themselves. The record feels tight; a set of songs lesser songwriter performers would have tried to stretch into an LP. Besatree does a solid balancing of including his talented colleagues the CLDMKRS on the record while revealing another chunk of his own psyche with this strikingly deft record of eclectic and forward looking indie hip-hop.

2.


                                Hear No. See No. Speak No by Avant-Garde and Notiz Yong


Notiz Yong sets up a series of seven beatbreaks that he and his compatriots AwestOne and Atlas, I.E. staples Avant-Garde, proceed to rock with a youthful energy that makes the record float a little more with each listen. The MCs display a mastery and love of rhythm that manifests itself into a constant forward momentum that keeps the EP light on its feet. With rhymes about stony So Cal life, AG and Yong keep it cracking with strong tracks that would go well with a workout, a drive or a blunt. The rhythms are so solid but don’t miss the bars these dudes are exhibiting. Yong’s production palette is a balance of hittin' drums, occasional samples and effective melodic synth flares helping the record steer from faster boom-bap anthems like the single “By All Means” to more modern sounding chill tracks like “Left Coastin’” and the closer “Til I’m Gone”. The collaborative choruses are nice to hear and I personally always want to hear more of that from rap groups. Hear No. See No. Speak No stands as another clear reminder that the Inland Empire hip-hop community will continue to cook up some gold both as individual artists and together. 


3. Proletariat Rock by Araless of BMN


Perhaps the most surprising thing about the essay that is Seattle-area standout Araless’ Proletariat Rock EP is how musical of an essay it is. Araless’ sung choruses give a window into a deeply rooted funk that he is keeping in control, in service of the rhythm: “Money makes the man a roooobot!” he stretches on the record’s opening track. This is a man who knows his tools. His mastery of rhyme and his own voice is captivating, the sound of one of the most incisive poets I’ve yet to hear. The catchy deceptive simplicity of choruses of songs like “Status Quid Pro Quo” and “PR Campaign” are so effective and intuitive in the way the phrases and music connect it makes one wonder how these phrases were never put together quite like this before. Araless is brimming with such stanzas and he makes it seem utterly natural. In the last song he weaves his modern spare protest-march rhythms into an appropriately climactic reggae-tinged poet ode to peace and consciousness, hinting at the traditions his subtle but textured and modern productions are part of. The liner notes on his website's album page say each track is a perspective but just as an audience member and reader of the text, the songs felt like 7 facets of one perspective; an important articulation of the century’s burgeoning progressive consciousness among today’s young artists in the west and beyond.


Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com


Monday, February 13, 2017

Untapped Hip Hop Magazine Interview with King Dice: Jack of All Trades


Untapped Hip Hop Magazine linked up with King Dice to talk about music, RGC, and  drop some gems on for aspiring emcees, producers, and videographers.
 
Contacts for King Dice
Twitter: @KingDiceSays
Instagram: @KingDiceSays
Facebook: @KingDiceSays
Snapchat: @KingDiceSays

Contacts for Untapped Hip Hop Magazine:

Twitter: @Untappedhiphop
Instagram: @Untappedhiphop_Magazine
Facebook: @UntappedhiphopMagazine
Snapchat: @Untappedhiphop

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cam Gnarly- Uber (Produced by Cas 1) (Music Video)


Cam Gnarly offers up a trippy new visual from his 2016; The Posi Prevails EP :::
The west-coast inspired jam produced by Cas1 takes us on a rides with Cam in the "Back seat of the Uber" as he lyrically describes how he went from finessing the app for free rides to having his "paypal boomin" & having a personal Uber driver on call. Directed by NCMG (New Culture Media Group) & Edited by Konami Homi

(++)"UBER" available on::::

The Posi Prevails EP (2016) ::::




Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Morality of Star Wars & The Chinese Market


"When Lucasfilm does their rewrites, they're not sending their best..."

* SPECULATIVE SPOILER WARNING: CONTAINS HEAVY SPECULATION ABOUT POTENTIALLY MAJOR PLOT POINTS OF UPCOMING STAR WARS FILMS*

The newly announced title to Star Wars: Episode 8, The Last Jedi, is bad-ass but quickly my band's excited groupchat turned gloomy when we realized that Lucasfilm is doubling down on rubbing our face in how not far the story has come since Episode VI.

Firstly, let's discuss the over-all "thing" Disney is doing with their new canon story since acquiring Lucasfilm. The new story is actually the story of the entire Star Wars Galaxy or GFFA (Galaxy Far Far Away). As Rogue One showed us, they are not just continuing post-ROTJ-era stories, they are bouncing all over the timeline to add new adventures and characters. This is dope; I've enjoyed the new films and comic books they are adding to the canon.

I've noticed a distinct trend that at first I thought was really awesome. Notice that none of the new Force user characters, except Luke, in Force Awakens are "Jedi". Rey is a trainee-to-be, Finn doesn't seem to be a Force-user, Kylo Ren is no longer a Jedi and Lucasfilm insists "Sith" died with Sheev Palpatine in Episode VI. Rogue One gives us Chirrut Imwe who is a Force-user from a different religion than the Jedi, with different skills and practices. Rebels focuses on Ezra and Kanann, padawans that are not quite Jedi Knights as well as Ahsoka Tano, now no longer part of the Jedi order, and countless other Force-users that don't fit into the Jedi or Sith category.

Peep this inscription from the beginning of the novelization of The Force Awakens:

 "First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of grey
Through refined Jedi sight."

―Journal of the Whills, 7:477

Barring an incredibly unforeseen turn of events, Luke and Rey will be the ones doing the resolving of grey through refined Jedi sight in the current saga trilogy. Meaning they will be rejecting both the selfish evil of Sith like Palpatine and Vader as well as the rigid out-of-touchness of the prequel-era Jedi Order. 

Add all that to the introduction of Saw Gerrera's Rogue One cell as "too extreme for the Rebel Alliance", Disney's whitewashing of the Empire's racism and sexism (Bodhi Rook and Captain Phasma wouldn't have been in Lucas' space-Nazi version of the Empire) and you see Disney's Star Wars is interestingly trying to expand the definition of and make more ambiguous the morality of the GFFA and Force-based religion in the Star Wars universe. This is interesting but I worry that this is an excuse to keep Jedi scarce and pander to expanding global markets as opposed to making the best art that the company could be making. 

Episode 7 depicts neither Luke's new Jedi order nor the restoration of the Republic. It also depicts a resurgent Empire now in the form of the First Order. In other words, it seems all the victories Han, Luke and Leia won in the original trilogy were for naught. In Episode VI, Yoda says "Pass on what you have learned."

For decades, fans were led to believe that Luke would help proliferate a new Jedi order and now it seems he will have but one apprentice trained in the ways of the Jedi Knights by the time he is dead which the title The Last Jedi implies he will be by the end of Episode 8. Star Wars titles always have two or three meanings. When the film begins, Luke will be the only trained Jedi in the Galaxy and by the end of the film it will be Rey when Luke likely passes from physical life. 

I understand the desire to have fewer as opposed to more highly powerful wizard-warriors in your fantasy films- it lowers the stakes when so many of the "good guys" are nigh-omnipotent - but it just makes a guy wonder what has been accomplished by the Rebel victories of the original trilogy when the status quo is exactly the same in the subsequent trilogy. The prequels had their flaws but at least the premise was different than that of Episodes 4 through 6. When one watches the story in Episode order, the story progresses until Episode VII makes it clear that the gains made in Episodes 4 through 6 were largely lost.

Anyway, it's quite possible that making morality and religion more ambiguous in the GFFA will pay off in a really awesome way but part of me wonders if it's just a way to appeal to the growing potential global (especially the 1 billion plus person Chinese market) customer base. Star Wars has lots of Christian iconography - fatherless boy who turns out to be prophesied Chosen One -and governments like China's censor certain kinds of religious and paranormal content - ghosts  and more. The term "Jedi' has Japanese roots ("jidaigeki"), so the cultural animosity some Chinese have for Japan further explains why Lucasfilm would want to start creating non-Jedi Force-user religions. The reason this is more of a factor now than say the 70s or 80s is that more Chinese than ever have made their way into the working and middle class since those decades, so a country with a population that dwarfs ours' populace suddenly has untold millions and billions in disposable income for an entertainment budget as discussed in this article from the same year in which Disney bought Lucasfilm.

There's also story reasons-  it's easier to manage a few highly powered warrior-wizards in your story about ragtag rebels than many of them if your intention is to make the adventure challenging for your protagonists - for Lucasfilm's decision to roll back progress made by the New Republic but for me to believe that 5 years from now I'll need to see more pay-off to this editorial take on Star Wars' morality than ticket sales.

To be clear and reiterate - I don't have an issue with making Star Wars' morality more ambiguous. In fact, I find it exciting. I will just be supremely disappointed if there's no further artistic pay-off to it. My grandest hopes: the inscription pasted above implies that Ahsoka is a past hint, a pre-echo to a reformed modified new "Grey" Jedi order with Luke and Rey, one that allows attachments (unlike the rigid old Jedi order) but disallows the darkside (unlike the Sith Order). Given how much of a big deal Lucas' prequel films make about the prequel era Jedi order having a diminished connection with the Force and how out of balance everything was, I feel like this has to be paid off.  So I'm hoping that that is more what this version of GFFA morality is about, and not just getting 1.3 billion new customers.

*   image by Alex "Ppaaccee" Reynoso

Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Watching Rogue One / Episode IV back-to-back in one weekend and the Future of the A Star Wars Story films


                 *STRAIGHT UP SPOILERS AFTER THE FIRST TWO PARAGRAPHS, FAM*

Rogue One is one of the least flawed Star Wars films and will probably ultimately be assessed as one of the best films set in the GFFA (Galaxy Far Far Away) thus far. It doesn’t overtake Empire or even Jedi or A New Hope for me but it was probably a little better than Force Awakens. Episode 8 can retroactively strengthen (or weaken) Episode 7 so it’s not even a fair comparison.

The soundtrack was a tasteful blend of Star Wars style new stuff and careful reprises of the original theme. My girlfriend said the beginning was less exciting without the conventional horn fanfare text scroll combo and I’m inclined to agree. I fully understand it’s not one of the “episodes” but I still think they should have worked a version in somehow.

Rogue One actually delivers on the edgy twist-on-the-familiar film Suicide Squad advertised itself to be. None of its core and new characters surviving, its story actually depicts a suicide mission- more akin to a war film than a comic book one, and that’s no shade. I’m more into comic books than war films but this was still a bold angle to follow through on. In recent weeks as Vulture and other entertainment journalism outlets reported on Tony Gilroy’s extensive rewrites and reshoots, I was getting to be certain Disney was ordering the edge be taken off the film but whatever compromise was hashed out the final product balanced being a fun Star Wars movie with being a war movie separate in ways from the core Episodic Star Wars series.

Tarkin’s return was weird but cool. Not sure why they didn’t do the same CGI resurrection with the actor who played Dodonna. Vader shouldn’t use puns but it was a consistent through-line with the corny humor we saw Anakin employ in the prequels. It was also awesome to see Vader’s castle on Mustafar though I wish the film would have just labeled it “Mustafar” the way it did literally every other planet depicted. Mendelsohn served just fine as an aspirational but still ultimately evil Imperial officer.

It seems like what got cut the most in reshoots was the “I, Rebel” stuff, Saw Gerrera, and Vader scenes. There’s just a lot more implied about them in the trailers than is delivered on to say nothing of the decade plus jump between Gerrera’s second appearance in the movie and Jyn’s adulthood. We may never see that stuff but I suspect we will.

What the new Star Wars films are doing with morality is incredible. The exploration of the Rebels' extremist factions as terrorists along with Phasma’s relative prominence in the First Order and the diversity of Imperial staff in this film, Disney is making the Empire less racist and the Rebels less blameless. The two new Disney Star Wars and the Rebels television show have been notably full of Force users that don’t necessarily identify as Jedi: Kylo Ren, Maz Kanata, Snoke, Ahsoka, even Rey and Luke, and now Chirrut. This can’t be a coincidence: Disney for some reason is interested in using Star Wars to explore religion and morality as spectrums and that idea is worth watching as a through line in their larger Star Wars Story.

The way the film leads right into Episode IV is irresistible so a day or two after seeing R1 I popped in A New Hope and it was very enjoyable to see the adventure continue relatively seamlessly. Vader’s costume details being perfect in Rogue One paid off even more so upon watching '77 SW. Watching it now reminds me of X-Men comics about the original 5 once you know Xavier has had other teams that died but as much of a downer as that sounds like, it enriches the heaviness of “war” in the films if that makes sense. You understand more than ever that for so many in the galaxy, these events are high-stakes.

The word is that Rogue One’s opening weekend sales are disappointing compared to Force Awakens. I hope the bean counters at Disney realize that Force Awakens had the benefit of being the first theatrical Star Wars release in 7 years, the first live action Star Wars release in a decade, and was full of established fan favorites whereas Rogue One was the second annual SW release and didn’t have Han and Chewie zipping around in the Falcon in it. Most of the upcoming “A Star Wars Story” films, movies not set as “episodes” in the “main” series, are starring favorites with Han Solo and Lando confirmed and rumors of Obi-Wan, Boba Fett, and Yoda movies. I think we’ll have to see how those films open before  declaring the non-episodic Wars films less worthy of Lucasfilm’s trademark extravagant budgets. Being honest, that’s all that’s at stake here- if Lucasfilm thinks the ‘ASWS’ series is less profitable, those projects will get less budget and maybe even ultimately discontinuation so they can still put out the Episodes every two years with more demand in the public for it.

Don’t let there even be a chance that Yoda movie doesn’t get the budget it needs, get your ass out there and see Rogue One! Kidding; honestly, if they continued the ASWS line but with smaller budgets thus leading to smaller more intimate character-based films that might not be the worst thing in the world.

Still, if you’re even a casual Star Wars fan, don’t sleep – Rogue One is super fun. That said, maybe leave the youngest of kids at home as there is even more death than usual in Star Wars films, the war aspects are a lot more explicit and the tone is often just darker than the “normal” SW films. Enjoy and May the Force etcetera! 

Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Don't Judge The Boy, He Just Livin': Album Review of Cocamania by Cam Archer


https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cocamania/id1074397064

           MC Cam Archer and producer OhGoshLeotus’ 2016 release, Cocamania, is a timely brew of nerdcore hip-hop and futuristic electronica from Cali’s Inland Empire. Leotus’ smooth keys, crisp drums and soaring synths professionalize the hell out of the Sober in Stone x Sober‘s already standout songcraft and MCing. I’ve been known to call Cam Archer the “best enunciator in the I.E.” but this record shows how he is already more and reveals his potential as beyond even that. I used to be put off by the content of his work – braggadocio about sexual conquest and being doper than you – until I heard the whole record in-depth which illuminated a hunger, an earnest expression of both a dark side and a desire for success and life’s finer things. Yeah, I want loftier topics but I’ll take someone honest about what they want from the world over another wannabe third-eye-open rapper any day and given the chance Archer gets Shakespearean with it.

"Will Smith with a Carlton Complexion..."
True to hip-hop’s roots as a way for folks in forgotten urban decay zones to create a rhetorical armor for themselves, the San Bernardino-based Archer speaks on everything from getting into comic books as a youth, feeling suicidal, seducing MILFs on carnival cruises, doing shrooms and hanging tough with his crew. He raps about using his darkness and anger for fuel, of being overlooked and of being the best.

"Rain on my parade all day / It stays lit "
Leotus and super-talented singer / vocalist K.I.T. help Cam paint his soulful and electronic picture of the I.E. almost as Freudian avatars: OhGosh as the id and K.I.T. the ego to Cam’s super-ego. Seemingly tightly structured rap songs will become electronic meditation jams with K.I.T.’s melodic narration of Cam’s inner-dialogue gradually being spit at comparable double-time to Cam’s own flow. It’s a rewarding development of what the verses are on the surface aided greatly by the fact that all the stops were pulled out as Leotus crafted the crystal clear sound engineering and production layering of this record.   


Cam is quick to dismiss the uncool kids and whack MCs as he reveals his own duality: the idea of "mania" is both a play on the kind of fan reaction performing artists hope to engender as well as a kind of psychosis that can affect the sharpest artistic minds, like Archer, haunted by the non-stop nature of a poetic consciousness. The idea of “Nirvana” as something desirable but also melancholy in its elusiveness. Archer says this duality can be compared to Hamlet- to be (responsible), or not to be? To be (someone who lives up to their obviously great potential) or to be a hedonist? Or why not both? In Archer’s Inland Empire…these are the questions. 

"Down in the Dino they know I'm the shit"
I have to admit a bias against songs that propagate materialistic fantasies but “5.0” is presented in such an earnest way it’s hard to resist it. Not only is the beat a banger but the song is still grounded in the Inland Empire and is charmingly honest about the speaker’s desire for many of life’s finer things. This is counter-intuitive but the more I understand the sincerity of this theme in Inland Empire originated music, the more okay I am with its repetition.

"Don't get caught in the life"
"Springyard Nights" is a chill masterpiece with smooth yet hard-hitting rhymes and a killer bassline. OhGoshLeotus produces the majority of the album and his influence on the quality of the project cannot be overstated: he brings to the table a professionalism and sense of melody that would help any serious artist produce a good album. Archer does not waste this, fully embracing the I.E. Odd-Future potential of blending his airtight spits with singers like K.I.T. and Natalie Sings over Leotus’ electronic explorations of funky yet soulful synths and rhythm. Even lighthearted songs like “Sailor Moon” turn new leaves mid-track into melancholy piano droplets- Leotus and Archer reminding you they have much to show you and limited time. Like the best moments of Channel Orange which it reminds me of, the album’s sound is a remarkable and catchy blend of nostalgic tunefulness and hard-hitting modernity. 

The formula is consistent but never boring- much of the time Cam, K.I.T. and Leotus sound like a band, attacking each song from their respective angle. “Let Me Know” is a chill and introspective reprieve that says more about Archer’s persona on the album than the girls the character speaks to. “Darkhaired Girls” is a nice continuation of the chill begun by “Let Me Know” but more epic and R&B inflected, riding off of the turn of the century-based sample from “Better Off Alone”. The closer “Good Night & Good Luck” is a standout, stepping up the energy and double-time, interrupting the more relaxed second half of the album. The final track, an 8-bit romp with fellow Over Everything member C.J. Westley with production from Leotus, is a fitting blend of the smart flexing and nerdcore that represent the record.   

"Tight Rope Balance / Flying Grayson Talent"
What is the Cocamania? Archer says “C.O.C.A.” is “Chronicles of Cam Archer”. When asked if that combined with the comic book style cover art (also by K.I.T.) was Riddick-inspired, he explained that it’s more about vulnerability. So what is the the mania?  Ambition tempered with insecurity? The inability to be vulnerable comfortably? The way women react to Archer? An updated black pride?  As a listener, I would say it’s all of the above mixed with a little American dream and class struggle thrown in for good measure and realness. Don’t sleep; it’s Coca.

Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth Program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Turning New Leifs with Ital Santos, the Artist Formerly Known As Jynxx




        I wasn’t sure what to think was going to happen when OsOne of the G.I.A.N.T.S. Music, Grizzly State and S.A.D.C. collective asked me to come pick him up, puff one and talk music. He had been ribbing me for a week or two over my unexpected entry into Abstract Rude’s Sixteen Bar Rap Competition which he was personally asked by Mr.Rude AKA Abbey Rizzle to participate in and “Os” -as we more commonly refer to him- being a massive man, a big intimidating presence, I had just the slightest suspicion that one false move could get my ass kicked by some Grizzlies. As I pulled up to his pad in Moreno Valley area, he finished off a cigarette and introduced me to his girlfriend. It occurred to me to calm down because everyone here was a self-respecting adult.

He got in the car and suggested we grab Swift Dixshun in Riverside and being a fan of the G.I.A.N.T.S. (and their bomb-ass weed), I was down. Once in my car, Os directed me to a familiar neighborhood in Fontana off of the 210 where the beatmaker and performer formerly known as Jynxx resided. We walked in with a twelver of Heinekens and settled into some chairs at his music desktop station near a backdoor we could blow blunt smoke out of.

Being in a crew that has many beatmakers in it myself, much of what the quiet, green-eyed Mr. Santos had going on was familiar to me: an inexhaustible collection of beats that only he knew the ages and origins of, rappers with blunts and brews sliding through hoping to be part of the magic of banger-creation, a quiet demeanor and an active mind. He slid through diverse productions with confidence, scrolling down his studio computer screen as Os and Swift freestyled and came up with hooks on the downbeats,

“Y’all ain’t ready….y’all ain’t ready for this real shit,” Os intonated over a particularly swinging and bassy midtempo soundscape. I looked around Ital’s studio walls and saw many familiar names on posters that dated back to 2008: Noa James, MC Mega, Curtiss King, MC Prototype, Urban Poets Crew, Black Cloud, many more. “This is my region’s recent musical history…” I thought as I sat and sipped with Giants.

You see, B the Wizard had lived with me for 4 months at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015; when he was still known as MC Mega. Ital or “Jynxx” was always a presence in old stories of Urban Poets Crew that Mega had constantly shared with me. I had thought that the UPC era had preceded the Black Cloud era which preceded the era we were currently in (confused yet?) but subsequent interviews with Jynxx  corrected the record that Jynxx started Black Cloud Music almost right after he began making music and the Urban Poets Crew work was largely contemporaneous with Black Cloud.

One thing appearing to link all of these admittedly recent eras together was the production of Ital Santos. Days after this encounter, my friend and collaborator Ras Josh reminded me of shows and beat battles we’d seen “Jynxx” at as far back as 2008. I’d been hearing his name, but this sit down session with Swift and Os of G.I.A.N.T.S. was my first real exposure to the musical stylings of one of the IE’s most consistent creators. 

My only complaint about his solo outings is the same thing that makes their lyrics so fascinating: we are joining the story after much has happened and as the audience is left to put pieces together. Unlike newer listeners like myself, Ital is not interested in litigating the past as much as he is in building his future.

His new record, Leifs is a triumphant evolution and statement of survival from someone who has been pivotal in the last decade’s several sub-eras of Inland Empire hip-hop. His production as melodic, banging and inspired as ever, his raps are cool, detached, laid back and conversational. The artist formerly known as Jynxx bluntedly and bluntly tells us where his values, priorities and artistic curiosities lie in the current day.
   

Upon a relatively thorough examination of his work, the theme of rising from the ashes of life’s struggle, phoenix-like pops up again and again. His double disc album Transition is probably his magnum opus at this point though he has a plenty healthy discography, only a bit of which is discussed in this piece. The Supremo EP he created in the wake of Noa James and Curtiss King’s departure from Black Cloud Music is an interesting piece of history for Inland Empire hip-hop nerds as he copes with the new landscape of his company and talks about life over previously released DJ Premier beats. As a buff of the scene myself, I cite it as the best work I have yet to hear by KastOne, whose personality and attitude-filled hooks and raps helped Ital shape something new, raw and interesting out of what could have just been a remix EP.


On Transition, Ital shows his production and performative versatility, showcases pillars of the Inland music community and does some fun experiments with vocal samples and telling stories of his life with songs like “Black Pen” and “That Day” in which normal days take a turn for the unexpected. True stories, Santos says.

On my favorite song on Leifs, “Snakes”, Ital and guest MC D’zyl 5K1 spit on the snakes in their lives but never despair. Santos’ attitude towards life’s setbacks is always defiant.

Another highlight is “Keep Quiet” with particularly standout verses from Notiz Yong and Jig. The song drips with the idea that in the I.E. you must earn your right to raise your voice high- an honest reflection of how brutal it can be here and many active hip-hop communities.

“October” with Yung Miss, Ric Rahk and Edgar Sosa is a brilliant concept about how October in California’s Inland Empire has a lot in common with the rest of the nation’s summer months. The funky light production gives Miss, Rahk and especially Edgar Sosa lots of space to flex their quirky and clever styles and raps.  

“I Pray” shows more of Santos’ constant struggle to not let the negativity of life stop him. The music to this track and ones like it is 2pac-ish in its religious deference and hints of mysticism. The honest simplicity of his struggle is admirable and relatable as a persona guiding you through albums. The rest of the album showcases his continued freshness as a hip-hop producer and more of his clever stories such as a multiple song trip from Fontana to Mexico and back.

Leifs as in the turning of a new? As in burning some? The meanings are many says Santos. The name reminds me of Transition in its desire for change and to showcase the artist as renewed and vigorous despite the troubles life throws our way. I find Ital’s music relatable in its IE tribulations, shout outs to family and desire for loyalty and consistency out of life. I relate to the funk and the smart deployment of his compatriots. To go through his discography is to hear the evolution of many of the region’s brightest stars from Dirty Birdy to Westside Bugg, Noa James, Curtiss King, Notiz Yong, Mando the DJ and more.

Ital Santos stays chasing these dreams of funk, fun, friendship and family. In the time since the album was released and this review’s completion he’s completed countless collabs and commissions, a beat tape and an album with longtime collaborator Slick C. He’s still a staple of several circles of IE hip-hop and can be found rocking a beat set in the area often. He will always seek to prove his doubters wrong and to continue to build his Black Cloud in the I.E. and beyond.

Update: Ital Santos has generously provided Joose Boxx and its readers with free download links to the works discussed in this piece:

Transition: https://www.mediafire.com/download/0kjbq12yj7i7t3d

Supremo: https://www.mediafire.com/download/s7dx4017dsf6vp1

Leifs: https://www.mediafire.com/download/uizbkh5k9fypkhg

 Tristan “Tanjint Wiggy” Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth Program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com.