Oakland based hip-hop crew Zion I's sole remaining member Zumbi has been keeping busy, performing and recording as Zion I ever since his longtime musical partner/co-founder Amp Live quit the group a year ago. Next week on January 28th, Zion I performs at the Federal Underground in Long Beach on a bill with 2Mex and Crimewave 5150. On a separate bill a week later, Amp Live performs on February 4th with Vokab Company. When he split Zion I a year ago, he said it was to focus more on his solo work and the increasing number of outside projects he is undertaking. One of these is the new project Unified Highway. Unified Highway is the collaboration project of Amp Live and Rebelution founding member Eric Rachmany. As producer, Amp Live gracefully fuses the reggae vibes Rachmany brings with electronic and other flavors, creating a fresh new sound. Unified Highway's self-titled full-length vinyl release will be dropping in March.
Zion I fans will be happy to know that one of the album's many guests is Zumbi. He returns on a track with The Grouch, recalling the popular Heroes in the City of Dope 2006 collaboration between Zion I and The Grouch. Among the other forthcoming album guests are Busy Signal, Keznamdi, New Kingston, Shana Halligan, Garrett Douglas, and Sophia Scott.
Among all the top ten hip-hop albums in 2015 that caught my ear was Tone Tank's late in the year cassette release ONE-OFFs & ONE-UPMANSHIPs via indie Brooklyn label Modern Shark. It's the super-gifted Brooklyn emcee's first release in five years. The wait was worth it for what the longtime NY hop-hop artist considers his first official solo album. Complimenting Tone's unique flow and always engaging storytelling hip-hop style is a well-chosen array of mic and production collaborators. These include Serengeti, Cool Calm Pete, Kool A.D., Edan, Victor Vic, J Howells Werthman, and his longtime production partner Scott Thorough. Other 2015 albums that made my top list included UK poet/emcee Kate Tempest's Bad Place For A Good Time (Big Dada), Knxwledge's Hud Dreems (Stones Throw), and Blackalicious's Imani, Vol. I (Black Mines). Their first album in a decade, it was also released in an instrumental LP version.
Sketch comedy and stand-up comedy are enjoying a healthy renaissance all over including in the Bay Area. With an already rich history for stand-up comedy, more Bay Area venues have begun accommodating comedy nights in recent years. Most of these are not the traditional two-drink minimum styled styled comedy club. A good example is tonight's (and every Monday night's) popular weekly East Bay event Move Along, Nothing to See Here at The Night Light at 311 Broadway near Jack London Square (8pm, no cover). Tonight's lineup includes Joey Devine, Cameron Vanini, Ben Kolina, and Gabby O'Poccia. Night Light co-owner Johnny "Scobey" Nackley said that with the East Bay's vibrant comedy scene it's important to include comedy shows alongside music nights.
Meanwhile, tonight in San Francisco Nato Green (SF Sketchfest / Iron Comic) will be at Doc's Lab at 124 Columbus Ave. (8pm, $8 - $10) - the former site of the famed Purple Onion. Presented by local NPR station KALW, tonight's show features Janine Brito, Chris Thayer, David Gborie, Trevor Hill, Matt Lieb, Kurt Weitzmann, and Emily Epstein White. Another show in SF tonight is the monthly comedy night “Am I Rite?” with Torio Van Grol headlining at the Rite Spot Cafe at 2099 Folsom St. (near 17th) (9pm, no cover).
Yet another lost to cancer! Today Clarence Reid, the man known to music fans as Blowfly (aka the original dirty rapper), passed away from terminal liver cancer and multiple organ failure. He had been diagnosed a few years ago but not too many people knew about it until this past week when his musical collaborator Tom Bowker announced how Reid had just entered hospice care in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida and that he was not expected to survive much longer in his battle against cancer.
Again today it was Bowker, via social media, who announced Blowfly's death, writing how "Clarence Reid, the genius known both by his given name and as Blowfly, the Master of Class, passed peacefully today, January 17th, in his hospice room." In his original message to the late artist's fans, he thanked those who in 2014 had rallied their financial support and helped save Blowfly from losing his house and by so doing "kept his last days comfortable." He also noted how Blowfly had been making one final album ("his best album since the early 80s") that he called "a fitting epitaph for one of the great performers of all time." Entitled 77 Rusty Trombones, it is scheduled to be released next month and will be the artist's follow-up to 2012's Black In The Sack.
Don't let the name ROTC fool you. San Francisco's weekly session at the Boom Boom Room, fondly referred to as ROTC by regulars, is no Reserve Officer Training Corps. Rather it's the popular Bay Area hip-hop improv session Return Of The Cypher that takes place every Sunday night at the Fillmore District club that is traditionally a blues spot. ROTC is one of the Bay Area's best long-running hip-hop weeklies. It's also one of its most unpredictable. And that's a good thing! With the cypher's ever rotating lineup of emcees and beatboxers, no two weeks are ever the same. And it is the total spontaneity of hip-hop events like this that make them so fun and true to hip-hop's roots, and ROTC's roots run deep. Long-time Bay Area club and radio DJ Kevvy Kev is the musical curator and turntable manipulator each week. Meanwhile, live beats are provided by the Gemstone Band. Guest musicians have been known to stop by and jump into the freestyle mix, while b-boys and b-girls might spontaneously break out some moves on the dance floor. Some weeks feature special guests including next Sunday, January 24th, when local multi-talented artist Taharka Chango will present his conscious hip-hop piece entitled "The Sermon."
As far an ongoing Bay Area event that stays true to hip-hop's elements, ROTC regular mic-wrecker GiGiO says it's the best. "Every Sunday night they keep the spirit of live hip-hop music high. I would say it's the dopest hip-hop event in the Bay right now. Lot of dope cats on the come up," said the emcee who is a member of the Oakland-based crew Smooth Beast along with fellow emcees Mike Fish, Karen Less, and Monolyth who will release their debut album in 2016. GiGiO noted how Smooth Beast first connected via the ROTC sessions -- a place he contends is central to a new Bay Area hip-hop wave. "The Bay is going through some kind of [hip-hop] renaissance right now. Feels good to be apart of it!"