"Brothas and sistas...The time is now" read a flyer for the February 1995 African American youth town hall meeting in San Jose that was called in response to rising concern within the community over varying issues (see flyer above). Hosted by Davey D (then of KMEL) the town hall meeting, that included city officials and youth speakers, took place at the South Bay city's Emmanuel Baptist Church. The event also featured Bay Area hip-hop artists E-40, JT The Bigga Figga, and Herm Lewis who were invited as guest speakers. At the time of the event, E-40's single "One Luv" had been out a few weeks. The Vallejo gamespitter's anticipated second solo album, that included the lead single, In a Major Way (Sick WId It/Jive) would drop a few weeks later on March 14th, 1995. The sequel to 1993's Federal, the new E-40 album would also feature such standout tracks as the second single "Sprinkle Me" featuring his sister Suga T, and Bay Area rap posse track "Dusted 'n' Disgusted" with 2Pac, Mac Mall, and Spice 1 all making cameos. Meanwhile, JT The Bigga Figga was winding up the recording of his third album, Dwellin' in tha Labb, which he fully produced, that would be released in October of that year on his Get Low Recordz, Priority Records, and Straight Out Tha Labb Entertainment.
Digital Underground was not merely an amazing funk fueled hip-hop crew out of the Bay. They were also the pranksters of hip-hop. D.U. member DJ Fuze recalls what may have been their best public prank from back in the day on a visit to New York City. It was one of the times they played the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem. "Hosted by Mark Curry, during the Amateur Night part, we came out with bags over our heads as The Unknown Rappers. We got booed and Sandman started pulling us away. Then the curtains opened revealing Digital Underground band to a huge applause, followed by a great performance of "Kiss You Back" and later "No Nose Job." We basically beat the Apollo crowd at their own game," Fuze told the Amoeblog recently when we caught up with the longtime Bay Area (East Coast transplant) hip-hop producer and turntable artist.
The Syracuse NY DJ born David Elliot is known for a myriad of associations and projects over the past three decades but most notably for his membership of both Digital Underground and related duo Raw Fusion with fellow D.U. member Money B. In addition to his membership of D.U. and Raw Fusion, Fuze, who is a trained chef as well as turntablist, is also known for his production and performance DJ work with such artists as fellow Bay Area hip-hop acts The Luniz, Dru Down, and comedian Dave Chappelle with whom he has done a ton of shows over the years (since Chappelle left his TV show). Fuze just did 15 shows with Chappelle in Chicago. He opens for him at the Punch Line in SF tomorrow (Jan 7). Bay Area clubbers know DJ Fuze for his eclectic solo DJ sets including his residency at Oakland's SomaR bar in the Uptown district where he spins African amongst other styles.
Late last night Pam the Funkstress posted a sad social media update to her Instagram and Facebook pages with the news that fellow veteran Bay Area hip-hop artist African Identity, who rose to fame in the early nineties with his firebrand mic skills and hardcore political hybrid style, had died yesterday, September 15th, 2015. In addition to her update, including noting how she had just seen him in the past month, Pam posted the above photo of the late great artist for whom no cause of death has yet been announced. The Fillmore, San Francisco emcee named Hunafa, but known to most as African Identity and sometimes as just Identity, will be remembered for such releases as Ransom Note and You Won’t Come To My Funeral. By the time his debut album You Won’t Come To My Funeral was released in 1995 the microphone master was already a respected mainstay on the healthy 1990's Bay Area hip-hop scene - ever since arriving with a bang in 1992 with his acclaimed single, “Let’s Get It On (Pullin That Trigger).”
In the capacities of hip-hop journalist, radio DJ, and concert producer I worked directly with African Identity on numerous occasions throughout the decade of the nineties and always knew him to be both a good person and most talented (albeit largely underrated) artist, especially when it came to flexing his freestyle skills. In the first half of that decade I would have him as a regular guest on my KUSF hip-hop radio show on the USF campus, not far from where he lived. I remember how listeners really appreciated his improv rhyme skills and how they nominated him as the “number 1 Bay Area freestyler" on the now defunct San Francisco radio station. Meantime over at KMEL African Identity had been nominated as the first runner up in their heated Battle Of The Rappers. With a now eerie sounding reference to his own funeral, the San Francisco artist's debut album, You Won't Come to My Funeral, was a largely slept-on, talent-packed Bay Area hip-hop gem. It featured an impressive roster of his peers as guests that included Pam the Funkstress' group The Coup, Del tha Funke Homosapien (who also did some production), the GLP's JT Tha Bigga Figga, and D-Moe, Shock G of Digital Underground, Young Woo, Psycho Gangsta, Double D, Cisco The Frisco Mack, Blackbook, and Screwface. Produced mostly by Nick Peace but with some additional studio work by Del and J-Mack, the album defined both the Bay Area sound at the time as well as that of the artist himself. In the period right before its mid-nineties release he summed up the richly diverse 14 track album as “enlightening, tantalizing, sensational, provocative, political, Afro-centric, Euro-centric, it’s everything that we are....”.
Inspired by Hiero Day, I just digitized and uploaded this old short interview and freestyle from Del who was the Hiero crew's lead ambassador back then. Del, who also created that instantly identifiable Hiero logo, introduced most hip-hop ears to the Hieros via his 1991 album I Wish My Brother George Was Here single "Mistadobalina" 12" B-side only track "Burnt" that featured members of the then unknown Oakland extended hip-hop crew, the Hieroglyphics. In this January 10th, 1993 interview the Oakland artist born Teren Delvon Jones takes the shine off himself and makes a point of giving mad love to his fellow crew members by plugging the 1993 debut album releases from both the Hieros' Souls of Mischief and Casual. Note that this was at a time when really not too many knew much about the Heiroglyphics hip-hop collective, who they all were, nor ever guessed how important they would go on to become two plus decades later. It was also fitting and prophetic that Del would focus so much on those two fellow Hiero albums by both Casual and the Souls since, combined with his post-cousin Ice Cube produced (read totally different sounding), they would define the sound of the so-called Hiero Golden Age.
Originally aired on KUSF during a blunted hip-hop special I produced, I invited Del because I knew he liked to smoke and he could play some exclusive tracks from his forthcoming second album No Need For Alarm. But more than promoting his own album that was expected to drop in the coming few months (it did not finally get released by Elektra until late November of that year), Del was more interested in talking about the Souls and Casual whose forthcoming releases he was clearly excited about. In mentioning the '93 Souls debut album '93 Til Infinity, he said it would be out in the coming few months when in fact it did not get released for another eight full months in September of 1993. Meanwhile the Casual album would be released in 1993 in turned out. It was not until the following year, 1994, when Jive would release Casual's debut album Fear Itself. In the brief clip you will hear Del, who I introduced as Del tha Funkee Homosapien (note later spelling would be Del the Funky Homosapien), say how his name is Del and "the group is tha Funkee Homosapien." He then goes on to spread Hiero love and spit a great freestyle. Hear below.
23 hip-hop summers ago back in mid-1992 the song heard everywhere across the nation (including and especially in their native Bay Area where KMEL had it on constant replay) was "Back To The Hotel" by Vallejo rap group N2DEEP. The song, which these days is heard in regular rotation on hip-hop oldies or "throwback" stations like the Bay Area's Q102, became a global hit for the Bay Area group signed to prestigious New York hip-hop label Profile Records. The album of the same name was produced by founding member Johnny Z along with the two official group members/rappers James "Jay Tee" Trujillo and Timothy "TL" Lyon. In fact the "Back To The Hotel" single (one of three from the successful album along with "Toss Up" and "The Weekend") was such a big hit for the prolific North Bay crew, that it overshadowed all their other work and hence would garner them in later years that unfortunate tag of "one-hit-wonder" status by such outlets as Complex magazine and BuzzFeed. That is too bad since N2DEEP recorded so much more equally great music (before and after) as the beloved "Back To The Hotel" song, which the average pundit mistakenly believed was their debut single. That song wasn't meant to be a single, or even initially titled "Back To The Hotel" but rather "Telly" when it was released a year earlier in 1991 on Johnny Z's Vallejo-based indie label Rated Z Recordz. Hence for this Hip-Hop History Tuesdays Amoeblog, I caught up with mastermind behind the song, Johnny "Z" Zunino, to go back in time to the early 1990's and jog his memory about N2DEEP, their recordings before their big hit single, and to find out why they changed the title and their original group name ("3DEEP"). That conversation appears immediately below the video for the 1992 Profile single.