Underground Rapper of the Week: Mac Dre

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

It is far from uncommon for rappers – from Slick Rick and Flavor Flav to Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne – to create outsized, flamboyant public personae, and none have done it better than the late, great Mac Dre. For Underground Rapper of the Week’s second posthumous feature, let’s take a look at the man who could easily be called the James Brown of rap, a creator of numerous dance moves as well as an entire musical and cultural lifestyle. Though the term “hyphy,” a combination of “hyper” and “fly,” is credited to fellow Bay Area rapper Keak da Sneak, Mac Dre was perhaps its most important and revered practitioner. For those unfamiliar with this unique and eminently entertaining movement, a good place to start is the 2008 documentary Ghostride the Whip, of which Dre is the unofficial star.

Since ’84, Dre was a crazy prolific artist who strongly influenced his scene with his unique style and sound, creating dance moves like “The Bird,” “The Swabbage Patch,” “The Furly” and others described in songs like “Giggin’.” Perhaps his most influential contribution, though, was the “Thizz Face,” as seen in his live performances of songs like “Thizzle Dance.” “Thizz” is a Bay Area slang term coined by Dre for the drug MDMA, and the face is an exaggerated grimace resulting from biting into a pill. After his 1996 release from a five-year stint in prison, Dre lived for two things: his music and a lifestyle that was basically a non-stop party, which is obvious in his music. Steering clear of the violence and crime he had certainly been around in his younger days, the bulk of his lyrics focus on the good life of dancing, partying with women, and of course, his beloved thizz.

This is not earthshaking art, by any means, and Dre would be the first to admit his work wasn’t, for the most part, particularly deep. His main intention was to facilitate a wild good time, and encourage his audience to “get stupid,” by which he really seemed to mean cut loose and throw away your inhibitions. His music might seem disposable to some, but if you weren’t feeling him, you could certainly rest assured that he was always feeling himself. Though he was beloved by a huge subculture in the Bay Area and beyond, he remains an underground figure who never really crossed over to mainstream success, probably because, as he put it, he was “too hard for the radio.” Still, his legacy is continuing to be felt, as he is still shouted out by more widely known artists like Rick Ross and Drake, and his death by gunshot wound in 2004 left a gap in a vital culture. Mac Dre was and is a supremely fun rapper to listen to, and a vivid chronicler of the place he lived and loved.


Southern Boys Put A Country Spin On Rock ‘N Roll

Cage The Elephant, Relentless Records
One sunny afternoon just north of Nashville, TN, the grit of southern rock fell in love with the energy of funk and the very essence of rock n’ roll. Their love grew and multiplied and a short time later, out of Bowling Green, Kentucky, was born Cage The Elephant.

Brothers Matt and Brad Schultz joined up with a high school friend Jared Champion, and family friend Danielle Tichenor. A few months later Lincoln Parish, an eager young musician, e-mailed the group several times asking to join. Subsequent jam sessions proved successful and Parish joined the group at the ripe old age of fifteen. Cage The Elephant began to conquer the local tour circuit, and after word spread of their high-energy, high-chaos live shows, they signed with Relentless Records. Since then, they’ve been working hard to release their debut album “Cage The Elephant” which dropped in the US June 23, 2008

Since 2007 Cage The Elephant has been touring and living in the UK where their first single, “In One Ear” debuted at number 26 on the Top 40 charts, and their intense live shows have earned them opening spots on tour with Kings of Leon and Queens of The Stone Age.

Now, that their self-titled LP has finally been released in the States, Cage is poised to take control of the American rock scene. The band’s organic melodies channel the likes of The Chili Peppers and outspoken lyrics mock their critics with a raw poignancy reminiscent of Dylan himself. On the opening track “In One Ear” the band claims, “They say that we ain’t got the style/we ain’t got the class/we ain’t got the tunes that’s gonna’ put us on the map” but subsequent tracks like “James Brown” and “Lotus” dispel any such rumors.

BBC reviewed the new record saying, “’In One Ear’ is a definite two fingers up at the music industry (”I’m an antisocial anarchist who sounds like so and so… Rock ‘n roll is dead I should have stayed at school”).” The story behind the lyric is, no doubt, one of the many things that draw fans to Cage’s live shows and helps to make the track so phenomenal.

Cage The Elephant continues the record with tracks like the fan-favorite “Tiny Little Robots” which channels “the kind of guitar playing that The Hives would appreciate,” (Contactmusic.com)and finishes everything off with the distinct, “Soil To The Sun,” a track that proves Cage is in it to win it with their haphazard enthusiastic rock.

While DrownedInSound.com called Cage The Elephant, “Kings of Leon 2.0.” nothing could be farther from the truth. While it’s true Cage shares geographical origins with Kings, the overall intensity and passion found in Cage songs such as “Back Stabbin’ Betty” and “Back Against The Wall” put the two bands in completely different categories; Cage is pure rock, while Kings have a distinct indie-edge.

Opinions aside, Cage The Elephant have made it clear that they are here to rock, and with their debut record, courtesy of Relentless, they’re not about to let anyone forget the fact. Online music source, Mirror.Co.UK described Cage’s magic perfectly saying, “[Cage] moves in demented unison, hits you with the force of a hurricane and doesn’t forget to drop killer riffs and top tunes.” Their energy smacks the listener in the face from the very first beat and keeps him coming back for more track after track.
Check out Cage The Elephant on iTunes, or sample some tunes for free on the band’s MySpace here.


Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘em What Your Name Is!

Okay, here’s a quick question for anyone who may still be left unawares: which recent event helped to significantly narrow the racial divide? That is, what event other than the election of America’s first Black president? Give up? How about the first release by an African American artist on that esteemed Americana label, Lost Highway? It may not seem so significant at first glance, but with first listen, this debut disc by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears confirms the suspicions most folks knew along – that pure, unfettered, classic R&B is as much a part of American roots music as any other style borne from the heartland. And while prefacing his moniker with “Black” may seem like he’s expressing the obvious, Lewis’ ability to summon the spirit of classic R&B by invoking the power and passion of James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding is awesome and impressive in itself. These ten tracks echo the sound of pure ‘60s soul, from the full-on funk of “Gunpower” and “I’m Broke” to the rock-steady shuffle underpinning “Master Sold My Baby” and the cool groove steering that “Sugarfoot.” With his band of twenty-somethings holding sway – think Booker T & the MGs and the sound of Stax Records – Lewis’ impassioned howl offers a sure sign he’s learned his lessons well. And if some of the songs reinforce certain stereotypes – “Big Booty Woman, “Get Yo Shit” and “Humpin’” being among them – suffice it to so that like his influences, Lewis isn’t timid when it comes to expressing raunchiness or wickedness. This Papa may not have a brand new bag, but he’s getting a lot of use out of it all the same. Lost Highway

Black Joe Lewis MySpace page


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