If you are a shopper at Amoeba Hollywood you know that you can usually tell who works there by the round and bright Amoeba Music stickers they wear on their shirts. But beyond that, on the surface, it is hard to tell who each Amoebite really is or what exactly their music expertise might be. Much like the average Amoeba shopper, the folks that work here are equally knowledgeable & passionate about music, and more often than not involved directly in music in some way or another.
A prime example is diehard hip-hopper Ervin Arana, whose rich background includes holding down a weekly DJ residency at Root Down, was a member for many years in the Rock Steady Crew -- the legendary b-boying crew and hip hop group that was established in the Boogie Down Bronx back in seventies.
A full time b-boy or "full time music enthusiast!," as he describes himself on his blogspot, Ervin (who is sometimes known as Servin Ervin) has been working at the SoCal store for about a year. He spreads his time between the hip-hop and soul sections and can also be found at the registers. I recently caught up with the hip-hop fanatic to talk about music and hip-hop and how he got initially got involved in the Rock Steady Crew (RSC). Originally a b-boy, he got noticed by members of the RSC about eight years ago, he told me, and they invited him to join the much respected organization. As a member he has participated in numerous RSC events in "different cities throughout the world including Moscow, Mexico City, and London." Sometimes he has performed and other times he has acted as a judge for competitions, such as on one RSC trip to Japan he took. He has also DJ'ed at many different RSC events. But Ervin is happiest, he says, when he is sharing his knowledge with others. "What I mostly like to do," he told me, "is to teach at workshops, b-boy workshops."
When teaching these classes he takes a most distinct approach to imparting information. "When I teach b-boy classes I like to really dig into the history of what makes this [hip-hop] culture rich and I try to do somewhat of a b-boy philosophy; so more of an understanding where this art comes from and how it relates to us now so that we can practice it in its full essence," he said. I then asked Ervin what three of his key points of the overall philosophy of this culture would be. "Personally, I think it is just being in touch with who you are as an artist, like what kind of statements you want to make and what exactly you want to say. Also fully understanding why hip-hop was invented in the first place, and then how that relates to what someone is doing now. And then just being in love with the culture; you know, just absolutely falling in love with the music and living the culture every day."
Ervin in Africa, spreading the positive word of the b-boy (2008)
Another one of those moments in life when he felt an overwhelmingly strong bond with hip-hop came some years later in his travels with the RSC. "I went to Uganda in Africa," he recalled, "And when I was out there I saw how much of an impact hip-hop [had] for everyone there. Rather than a realization for myself, it was more of a realization in general how hip-hop can really impact people. Before I went to Africa I used to say that hip-hop can change your life, but after going to Africa I felt like hip-hop can save your life in some instances." Check out the inspiring video above of this instance in Ervin's life. Note that there is also a new documentary, Bouncing Cats, on this topic and tagged as "Uniting the children of Uganda through break dance and hip hop culture" that is being screened at select venues across the US over the coming weeks. It screens at USC's Albert and Dana Broccoli Theatre, Nov 3rd, AMC Santa Monica American Film Market on Nov 4th, and at LA's Downtown Independent Theatre as part of the the Museum of Tolerance International Film Festival on Nov 16th. For exact film screening information click here.
Currently Ervin is on hiatus from the Rock Steady Crew, focusing his energies between Amoeba, his DJ'ing and some other projects. His weekly residencies include DJ'ing Wednesday at Low Key at Carbon and Thursdays at Root Down at The New Gabah. Before concluding our conversation I asked him to share with us his all time top five hip-hop songs off the top of his head. His list follows below and includes the song "Umi Says," about which he notes, "I know is not an actual hip-hop song. But I think it's a great representation of a hip-hop artist branching out." To follow what Ervin is up to, check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.
Ervin Arana Top 5 Favorite Hip Hop Songs (in no particular order)
1) "Warm It Up Kane" Big Daddy Kane
2) "Treat'em Right" Chubb Rock
3) "Double Trouble (feat. Mos Def)" The Roots
4) "Passin Me By" The Pharcyde
5) "Umi Says" Mos Def