Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance

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The Oak Q and A: DJ Platurn On The 45 Sessions’ Remarkable Five-Year Run

45 Sessions residents

45 Sessions residents

It’s been said that all things must come to an end.  That being the case, it’s always good to go out on a high note.  The 45 Sessions, a monthly party dedicated to 45 rpm vinyl records, debuted in July 2010 at Oakland’s Layover bar – taking the vinyl-only parties curated by purist DJs to counter the increasingly software-based nature of the club DJ scene one notch higher. This Friday, the 45 Sessions celebrates both its five year anniversary and spins its final record at the Legionnaire Saloon.

The first 45 Sessions party was incredibly fun, as DJ Platurn gathered up some of the area’s best DJs to play records akin to what you might hear at a house party: that is to say, old, vintage, obscure, rare, even novelty songs, all thematically linked by the 7-inch format. The party seemed to inspire the DJ community—vinyl merchants and record traders set up shop and helped to cultivate the ad hoc analog celebration—and continued for a few more Sessions at the Layover before moving to (the since-closed) Disco Volante. Some of the memorable evenings Oakulture witnessed at DV included the three-year anniversary with West Coast turntablist icons Shortkut and Rhettmatic, and a retrospectively heartbreaking set by the late Matthew Africa—as it turns out, his final DJ set before being killed in a car accident while returning from Lake Tahoe.

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The Sessions later relocated to Legionnaire Saloon not long after that venue opened in 2013. It’s a measure of its popularity at its peak that the party’s changing venues was blamed by DV management for the restaurant/nightspot’s shuttering a short time after (although, truth be told, that may have had more to do with inconsistent booking and internal business practices).

Over the past two years, the Sessions has had some epic nights at Legionnaire, but according to Platurn, the party’s attendance has begun to falter in recent months and, perhaps more importantly, Oakland’s club-going demographic has begun to shift. The Uptown section of town, where Legionnaire is located, has become a hangout for hipsters and techbros, and a proliferation of upscale eateries, bars and clubs in the immediate area have attracted a more gentrified clientele. The latter isn’t the fault of any one DJ or party, but no matter the reason, Oakland’s nightlife scene in 2015 is vastly different from 2010.

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Love flowed freely, as did on the house shots of tequila and whiskey (courtesy of Legionnaire proprietor Zack Turner), at an Oakulture photo shoot in commemoration of the final Session. Turner repeatedly said he wanted the party to continue, while Platurn announced that the hiatus wasn’t necessarily a permanent one, but rather a well-earned break which could actually help the party’s branding in the long run – making it less susceptible to be taken for granted. It’s a measure of the family vibe among 45 Sessions residents – the crew includes E Da Boss, Enki, Mr. E, Shortkut and MC/host Jern Eye—that Platurn requested that missing member DJ Delgado be mentioned. Indeed, the camaraderie and mutual respect among Sessions residents is also a big reason why the party continued for as long as it did.

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In an exclusive interview, Platurn explained his reasons for ending the Sessions now, and walked down memory lane with a recap of some of the party’s notable accomplishments.


Oakulture: Let’s just dive into the thicket here. Why is the 45 Sessions ending now, on its 5th anniversary?

DJ Platurn: Well ideally I’d like to think we’re going out on a high note, and although that is definitely the case, there’s quite a bit more to it. We’ve had a fantastic run and created some amazing memories, but the fact of the matter is keeping the Bay Area music scene interested in a format-based night is not an easy task. The Bay is historically finicky about their nightlife choices, and to have a party based around little records and almost entirely old school music for 5 solid years has been a bit of a struggle (crazy shout out to our die-hards that have been with us from the jump). With all that being said, it’s been a wonderful journey, and we have some exciting new things in store which we’ll be announcing in the next half a year or so.

Oakulture: How has Oakland—and the Bay Area’s DJ and nightlife scene—changed over the past 5 years?

DJ Platurn: The Bay Area as a whole has changed more rapidly than ever in the last 5 years, and the music scene is definitely a reflection of that. Over-saturation of DJs (nothing new around here), the heavy emphasis on modern club music versus simultaneously showcasing the old school, and the struggle to maintain what little of a community supported industry we have tried so hard to hold on to — that’s just the surface. Oakland, for instance, basically had a bare-bones nightlife scene for decades, and then all of a sudden things got out of control in this small area, financially and gentrification-wise, and no one really figured out how to adapt. We lost a lot of control with all this big money coming in, and a lot of old school cats got lost in the transition. We’re not against growth, but shoving the folks aside who were here before you is not what you’d call respecting the soil you’re currently living off of.

DJ Platurn at a 2012 Sessions

DJ Platurn at a 2012 Sessions

Oakulture: Do you feel like 45 Sessions accomplished its mission?

DJ Platurn: To an extent, yes. We never really had much of a mission though to be honest. This whole thing ended up with a life of its own, a totally organic growth process — I think the community was especially drawn to something like the Sessions, mainly because they wanted an alternative to the standard club scenes they were used to seeing everywhere else. I’d like to think that people in general are drawn to authenticity, and if there’s anything the Sessions provided, it was that.

Oakulture: In addition to the residents who always held it down, the list of guest DJs over the past half-decade is particularly impressive. I don’t have space to list everybody here—check the website for a better accounting—but you had famous East Coast superstar producers, West Coast skratch legends, vinyl collectors, international crate-diggers, local mainstays, cultural anthropologists, and literal groove merchants. What do you think this party meant to the DJ community?

DJ Platurn

DJ Platurn

DJ Platurn: There’s always ups and downs with throwing events, and we’ve had just as many downs as ups, but providing an outlet for cats to be creative with their records and to go back to the basics with their sets was always really important to us (and hopefully our guests as well). We’ve had some of the most amazing selectors/spinners come through the party, and most with the basic intention of getting their rocks off with their favorite 45s — you can tell when a DJ is really into what their doing, and I saw quite a bit of that. In that sense, I think it meant quite a bit to our guests (and our fans as well).

Oakulture: What are the 5 most memorable moments from the party’s five-year run?

DJ Platurn: That’s a tough one, but i’ll try…

  1. Estelle, Dan The Automator, Q-Bert, Hiero, and a whole bunch of Bay Area vinyl lovers all under one roof with Just Blaze headlining. Winter Sessions 2012 was something else boy.
  1. Matthew Africa. Can’t say much else. He played what was reportedly his last gig at the Sessions before he passed a couple of weeks later. We still miss him a great deal, not only as a staple and figurehead in our scene, but the fact that he was at the Sessions on a regular basis, hanging out and enjoying the music along with everyone else. Every Sessions since then has been dedicated to him. [*side note: Tha Alkaholiks and The Beatnuts showed up that night after an all-day studio bender and freestyled for a half an hour over strictly 45s instrumentals — yes, that actually happened.]
  1. When we inducted Shortkut into the crew by handing him a personalized Lookwright 45s crate. You can only imagine what that meant to the Sessions to put down such a legend — smiles and shit eatin’ grins all around 🙂 🙂
  1. We’ve had some amazing birthdays and even some wedding related parties come thru to celebrate at the Sessions. Tough to recall specific details, but the fact that someone getting hitched would want to celebrate at an all 45s party says quite a bit about the impression that we left on party goers. I actually recall a bouquet getting tossed during Parliament’s “Flashlight” blasting on the speakers — crazy but true.
  1. It might seem cliche, corny, or predictable to name drop, but the fact that many of our heroes actually came and played a 45 Sessions speaks volumes for the format and how much legendary DJs across the globe love and celebrate the 7 inch record. There’s been multiple times where a DJ that inspired some of our DJ careers solely based on their amazing talent was on stage performing at one of our events and we all just stared at each other buggin’ out — there’s really no greater feeling we’ve achieved at the Sessions than seeing our mentors share a stage with us. Real spit right there.
Shortkut spins at the 45 Sessions

Shortkut spins at the 45 Sessions

Oakulture: How would you describe the 45 Session’s aesthetic?

DJ Platurn: We’ve only had one rule in the last 5 years — it has to be on 7″. Doesn’t have to be 45 rpm, just as long as it exists on that size format. Other than that, it’s been a free for all the whole time. We are traditionally a dance party, so the aim has always been to attain that vibe, but we’ve also had some deeper moments where our guests get down in a much headier and heavier way. There’s no flash, no bells & whistles, and nothing stuffy about the Sessions — our message has always been all about the music.

Oakulture: Do you feel this party helped to contribute to the resurgence in vinyl we’ve been hearing about lately?

DJ Platurn: Inadvertently, undoubtedly. I’ve had folks say to me that it’s just as much my fault for promoting a movement like this and for nurturing the desire to hear DJs play records again as Whole Foods can be blamed for adding a vinyl department. Thing is when we started in 2010 the hype was entirely non-existent. We started something without knowing that people actually still cared about it. And we’ll also be here when the hype dies down, which it undoubtedly will, because vinyl resurgence(s) comes in waves — always has, always will, no matter what new media comes along (that eventually almost always fades into obscurity).

Matthew Africa's last DJ gig was at the Sessions

Matthew Africa’s last DJ gig was at the Sessions

Oakulture: Take me back to when the party began. What was the original idea, and how did that play out?

DJ Platurn: We had zero intention to do anything except start a home for playing all these 45s that we had. We didn’t have a plan, a bigger picture, or any intention or foresight to see it grow into what it became. I’m glad that it became as successful as it did, but I probably would have been just as happy to see it stay a little bar gig with 30-40 people coming out each time, hindsight being 20/20 of course. That’s not gonna last very long tho, especially in the cutthroat Bay Area DJ scene where club owners expect numbers and results. Ultimately i’m just happy and humbled that the scene actually gave a shit, even just a little bit — that was enough for me to feel like I was doing something right.

Oakulture: Tell me some behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the residents who were there every month.

DJ Platurn: No comment. Actually there’s a lot of comments, but i’d like for them to stay my friends after all is said and done 😉

Come to a Sessions and you’ll see antics galore — there hasn’t been a jam yet that didn’t have at least one good piece of fiction tied to it. Best I don’t put any of ’em in print tho 😉

Oakulture: Is there any hope the party will return at some point in the future, perhaps not as a monthly, but as a one-off?

DJ Platurn: Right now there’s thoughts and ideas but no real plans. Unless something major comes along we won’t be doing a show until sometime next year, maybe. We’ll let the public decide how much they want to see that happen.

DJ Rhettmatic, one of many DJ legends to bless the decks

DJ Rhettmatic, one of many DJ legends to bless the decks

Oakulture: If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would have done differently?

DJ Platurn: Not at all. I’m so proud of what we were able to pull off. The crew, the family, the supporters — it was such a beautiful gathering of amazing folks who simply loved this music and got involved for all the right reasons. Wouldn’t change a thing.

Oakulture:  The big question is where do you go from here? What’s next for Platurn?

DJ Platurn: No idea. As far as the Sessions go, it’s not like it’s dying and no one is allowed to use it anymore. When touring and traveling, folks want to do the Sessions when I come to town all the time, and i’m happy to oblige. We have our Sydney (Australia) chapter that is constantly doing amazing things. Me, i’m just gonna keep working in my garden, running my ass off, buying picture cover 45s, and enjoying my wife and dog’s company while trying to pay these bills in the beautiful Bay Area. I’m not going anywhere, for now.

Oakulture: It feels a little weird to be giving a eulogy for something which hasn’t actually died yet, even though the writing is on the wall and a five-year anniversary is a perfect time to say goodbye. What would you like the 45 Sessions to be remembered for?

DJ Platurn: An outlet. A beautiful and positive outlet for people (and DJs) that still wanted something a little more out of the culture. A place where anything and everything could happen musically and you went along with it because you loved and trusted that the party was in the hands of capable and seasoned DJs that knew what the   hell they were doing. We’re simply fans of this format — the Sessions was created as a way to celebrate that sound. Nothing more, nothing less.

Th-th-th-that's all folks!

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

Oakulture: Any last words?

DJ Platurn: Thank you Eric for the support over the years, and thanks to each and every individual that attended a 45 Sessions since 2010. We did this for you, for the Bay Area, and for lovers of DJ and vinyl culture worldwide. I’m eternally grateful that it grew into this beautiful entity, and hopefully we can figure out a way to harness what was built and see it evolve into something bigger and better down the line. Much love Oakland, much love Northern Cali, and much love to planet earth for urging us to keep it going. We’ll do our best to let it live in one form or another in the years to come.

The 45 Session’s Five Year Anniversary Finale, featuring the Butta Bros–Skeme Richards and Supreme La Rock–as well as residents Platurn, Enki, Mr. E, Delgado, E Da Boss, and Shotkut, takes place Friday, July 17 at Legionnaire, 8am-2pm, $10.

Limited edition 45 Sessions t-shirts by Mixer Friendly are available here.


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MC Olympics Showcases The Next Generation of Hip-Hop Performers

MC Olympics participants at Betti Ono Gallery

MC Olympics participants at Betti Ono Gallery

Live Review/ Youth Speaks MC Olympics, May 22 @ Betti Ono Gallery

Poetic language and oral tradition lie at the root of hip-hop. But in a culture that’s been turnt up and trapped-out, is there still room for innovation and creativity? Watching a qualifying round of Youth Speaks’ recent MC Olympics competition, the answer seemed to be yes.

According to Youth Speaks’ website, in the MC Olympics, participants are “required to demonstrate a diversity of lyrical skills including but not limited to free styling, ripping their best 16 bars, or writing a verse on the spot.” The objective is to emphasize skill while bridging the gap between spoken word and rap, and to bring a hip-hop edge to the organization’s youth development work.

Host D.O.D.A.T. explains the rules to contestants

Host D.O.D.A.T. explains the rules to contestants

Ten contestants, all between the ages of 14 and 19, vied for the honor of competing in a battle to determine the Bay Area champion, who will then compete in the Finals in Atlanta, along with winners from 64 other regions. The ten emcees included D-Soul, AMC, Casper, Molly (the lone female representative), A Fi Fuego, Antihero, HD, Vic Johnson, C-Mac, and REU. Unlike other rap battles, in the MC Olympics, the entrants don’t directly take on each other; there’s no dissing of competition, which introduces a totally different dynamic into the proceedings.

Casper spits bars

Casper spits bars

The first test, of Hot 16s, required the emcee’s hottest bars – delivered over beats supplied by DJ Treat U Nice. “Shots fired,” remarked host D.O.D.A.T. (of Ensemble Mik Nawooj), after a blazing start by last year’s champ AMC. Vic Johnson, meanwhile, was told to edit his content after unleashing an epithet-laced string of NSFW words.

AMC rips the mic

AMC rips the mic

For the second test, a freestyle challenge, random words (“brave”; “narrative”; “ambition”) were selected. This seemed particularly challenging, since the emcees had to incorporate the words into their rhymes mid-flow, and not all syllables matched. A couple of times, the emcee didn’t know the word in question. But when the rhymers were able to find their flows, they rode them like surfers catching breaking waves.

Molly gets swaggy with it

Molly gets swaggy with it

The final round could be freestyles, writtens, or a combination of both. “Gimme the most turnt up beat,” said Molly, before launching into a swag-filled throwdown which didn’t earn her many technical points for lyrical finesse but captivated the crowd. D-Soul, meanwhile, asked for a bass-heavy beat but “none of that trap shit.” Outsider Y, who whiffed on the previous round because he doesn’t freestyle, showed an unforeseen capability for rapid-fire triplets. A Fi Fuego, HD, and Casper all went a cappella, while Antihero delivered his most impressive rhyme to date. AMC, however, proved commanding.

The judges panel

The judges’ panel

Just before the judges announced their decision, two of them left the judges’ table and took the stage, where they delivered impromptu performances. Hailing from North Oakland, Rico G dropped a Native Tongue-worthy rhyme, then told the up-and-comers, “don’t be afraid to spit a track like this in the turnt up era.” His fellow Mind Oakland crew member Najee Amaranth followed, accompanied by backup singer Omi.

Antihero in the midst of flow

Antihero in the midst of flow

The judges then returned their scores. A Fi Fuego placed third, Vic Johnson second, and a first place tie ensued between AMC and C-Mac. The two top scores made sense, as the two had been the most consistent throughout the competition, but on Oakulture’s unofficial scoresheet, Antihero could have easily supplanted either Fuego or Johnson.

Mind Oakland's Najee Amaranth and Omi

Mind Oakland’s Najee Amaranth and Omi

After the battle was over, we asked some of the emcees their thoughts.

“I’ve really been rapping since Kindergarten. I’ve been rhyming the words, picking up the beat. Music has been my life since day one,” said Molly, who hails from “East Oakland – Fruitvale.” The MC Olympics, she says, are her first official competition. “I always come prepared. I’m a very confident person,” she said.  “Crowds, they don’t scare me. I get up there and I do what I do. In order to be original, you have to be yourself.”

The evening's winners: A Fi Fuego, C-Mat, AMC, HD

The evening’s winners: A Fi Fuego, C-Mat, AMC, Vic Johnson

Being the only woman in the competition wasn’t an issue for her, she says. “You just don’t think about it. You think about, oh, we’re all emcees. It don’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl in this competition going forward.”

For AMC, who claims the Lake Merritt area and has been rapping “seriously” for five years, the competition was his fourth. His preparation involves “listening to music, rapping every day.” To stand out from other emcees, he says, “It begins with knowing your audience.” Reading the crowd, he says, helps him decide “how to attack, how to form your lines, when to bring energy, when not to bring energy. It just depends on the venue. You walk in, you get a feeling, then you deliver based on how you feel.”

The MC Olympics Finals take place May 30, 8-10pm at Impact Hub Oakland.

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Women Runnin It: Interview with DJ Zita

Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brings a spotlight to Oakland female producers and promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland.  How do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?

Important to many of us, particularly women and LGBTQi persons, is the ability to go out at night, share our art, enjoy dancing or conversation and not have to defend our bodies and presence. The promoters who are committed to holding this ground for us and advancing it are bringing female artists, gender fluid and non-ratchet parties, and holding down inclusive, ‘safe’ spaces through curating social arts. They are cultural stewards that we at Oakulture value and support. We think you should too. Check out previous women highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner, Nina Menendez and Gina Madrid aka Raw-G.


DJ Zita

In this edition of “Women Runnin It,” we are proud to turn the spotlight on DJ Zita. To be truthful, this series could have been named after Zita and her years of spearheading and cultivating women-centric events, collaborations and culture in the Bay and beyond. For almost fifteen years now, Zita has been a moving force to be reckoned with as a DJ, promoter and organizer. She has performed with some of the best, including DJ Q-Bert, Shortkut, DJ Apollo, DJ Shortee, Mr. E, Medusa and J-Boogie. Illuminated in her popular mixtape series, DJ Zita spans musical genres from hip-hop to R&B and neo-soul to reggae dancehall with her selections and is known for her commitment to true vinyl skills and her rep as a party rocker.

A true leader knows how to share power. Zita has been a leader in understanding the importance of female solidarity. As she clearly articulates in her interview, her methods have been directly aimed at creating woman-centered culture. Her annual “Queendom” event, coming up on its sixth year, is an inspiring throwdown showcasing women in all four elements of hip-hop artistry (MC, DJ, dancer and graffiti artist). Over the years, “Queendom” has given opportunities to many emerging women hip-hop artists, DJs and dancers, which in turn helps grow the community. Most importantly, “Queendom” models a value of respect for all as non-negotiable. It illuminates what we miss out on when we allow our culture to neglect and degrade women’s voices and skills.

Zita currently holds court in the BASS crew (Bay Area Sister Sound) along with Pam the Funkstress, a Bay Area legend and hip hop pioneer who has been known to scratch not only with her hands but with that most powerful female appendage – the breast. Zita also maintains residencies in both San Francisco and Oakland, and regularly teams with her partner DMadness in the DJ duo Golden Soundscapes. She can accurately be credited with transforming the landscape of Bay Area club culture, helping to further woman-positive hip-hop, and uniting female DJs, performers, promoters and audience.


Oakulture: What values do you bring to promotion and/or production and how do they impact your decision-making?

DJ Zita: Initially inspired by my passion for music as a DJ, my purpose has always been to provide a platform for women artists to shine in a male-dominated music industry. As a founding member of the “Sisters in Sound” women DJ collective in Hawaii (2001-2003), as promoter of my “Do My Ladies Run This M*tha F@#ka?!” event series in 2007, as the founder of “Bay Areas Sistah Sound” (BASS) lady DJ crew in 2008, and since then, individually as promoter DJ Zita, I have been able to create spaces where women’s talents are spotlighted and celebrated.

At the core of my efforts is a call for sisterhood. It’s important to me to unite women DJs and performers. When I entered the Bay Area scene back in 2003, I noticed that there were so few of us women DJs, but we were all doing our own thing. The female hip-hop DJs then were: Stef, Pam the Funkstress, Neta, Celskiii, Deeandroid, Olga T, and me. This was my inspiration for curating and producing my series of “Queendom: Fly Women Reppin’ the 4 Elements of Hip Hop” events and in 2008, establishing the BASS crew. I chose veteran DJs Pam the Funkstress and Neta to join me on my mission to create the only female-DJed and female-promoted event in the Bay at the time. By reaching out to women and collaborating with them on my projects, I built my extensive network of women DJs, MCs, dancers, singers, and artists, and I created a sense of solidarity among us that was previously nonexistent. I am often introducing artists to one another at my events because they haven’t met before. At the BASS 2-Year Anniversary event at 111 Minna SF in 2010, I was able to book 18 Bay Area women DJs to spin together under one roof. My approach stems from my values of collaboration and community – over competition and isolation.

In my booking considerations, talent reigns even over the artists’ image, age, affiliations, or following. There’s no substitute for the necessary hard work, creativity, and talent required to represent women in a powerful way and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our best male counterparts. I want to let it be known that a fly sister in the club ain’t just eye candy. Additionally, I have a focus on booking women of color because it’s important that this group in particular has real opportunities to shine.

Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

DJ Zita: Since I used to be only one of a handful, it’s an exciting time in Oakland with the emerging women artists and promoters, such as dope hip-hop heroine MCs MadLines, Ryan Nicole, and Coco Peila. As I observe more women entering the scene, I only hope for further collaboration and community building among them to ensue because that is a critical piece of our progression.

On a personal level, I hold dearly the value that family comes first. Now that I have two young children, I am prioritizing my energies towards raising them and advancing in my career as a college teacher. To keep it real, it’s impossible to support a family off of DJing and promoting events, especially with the lack of health benefits. I’ve chosen to cut back on promoting to have more time dedicated to my family. To fulfill my love for DJing, you can still find me behind the turntables at my local monthly DJ residencies, which are currently: “ESCAPE,” Fourth Fridays at The Layover in Oakland (since 2010); “ELEVATE,” First Fridays at John Colins SF; and “GOLDEN,” Third Saturdays (since 2006) at Laszlo SF alongside my Golden Soundscapes crew partner/husband, DJ Dmadness. I support and proudly pass the torch onto the next generation of women promoters leading the pack, including my sisters: Oakland’s own Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions and Candi Martinez of SKIN and Spread Love Media.

Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

DJ Zita: The inclusivity of my events is rooted in my already diverse following that includes youth, the LGBTQi community, and people of color. I employ strategies to embrace all communities through the diverse representation of talent that I book and the avenues I promote the event. My Queendom events at La Pena and Betti Ono have been all-ages, extending my audience to showcase youth performers and to allow the younger generation to witness them.

I have hip-hop in my heart but love for all genres of music. With my Queendom events, I wanted to take it back to hip-hop’s roots by featuring all four elements. I was able to curate a series of these events that featured women beyond the DJ realm, by also inviting MCs, B-girls, and graffiti artists to bless the stage. I’ve used my Queendom events to bring attention to women’s issues and to support the local women’s community by donating a portion of the ticket sales to: a domestic violence shelter, an organization working to end sexual violence, and several organizations that empower young women.


Oakulture: What do you wish people knew or understood more about the behind-the-scenes?

DJ Zita: Event production and promotion is hard work! It’s not only very competitive, but it also requires a broad skill-set to be successful: vision, business marketing, networking, negotiation with venues, stage management, flexibility, strong communication, people skills, patience, and creativity. While it requires so much love and commitment, the return is not equivalent. When I successfully held down the BASS monthly residency with a packed club and line down the block  featuring local women DJs, Conscious Daughters, and the amazing DJ Shortee, the club owners ended my night because they “wanted to make more money.”

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

DJ Zita: I dream of booking these queens: Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu, and Sade.
A dream come true for me would be to assemble a crew of the Bay’s fly, fierce, bad-ass women DJs, MCs, dancers, and artists, and we get booked for a world tour.

Follow DJ Zita at:
Facebook: djzita
Twitter: @djzita
Instagram: @djzita


Zita’s Current Monthly DJ Residencies

ESCAPE 4th Fridays
at The Layover, Oakland

ELEVATE 1st Fridays
at John Colins, SF

GOLDEN 3rd Saturdays (since 2006)
with DJ Dmadness
at Laszlo, SF


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Yasiin Bey: Mos Def-initely Hip-Hop

Live review/ Yasiin Bey, sOul from the O, Antique Naked Soul, Jahi as PE2.0, April 24, 1015 Folsom

Yasiin Bey fka Mos Def

Yasiin Bey fka Mos Def

The state of hip-hop has been a topic of considerable debate for the past decade or so. But while commercial co-option and cultural devaluation abound, particularly at the corporate level, so do encouraging signs which suggest the culture is healthier than many might assume. The biggest sea change is probably that the Hip Hop Generation now occupies the position the Baby Boomers once did, a point which hasn’t been lost on advertisers like Hennessy and Google Android, whose most recent spots feature 90s classics by Nas and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, respectively. The other potentially game-changing development is the advent of the classic rap format on commercial radio, which has breathed new life (and listenership) into the medium.  Anyone who’s studied long term demographic trends knows that America is getting more multicultural, and hip-hop is a genre which has attracted a multicultural audience since the beginning.

The canonization of 90s hip-hop – a notion furthered locally by YBCA’s Clas/Sick Hip Hop series —  has led to an interesting phenomenon: its ethos has been embraced by a 20-something audience who were too young to know what was going on the first time boom bap made the rounds. This in turn has led to a growing interest in what’s often referred to as “conscious rap,” much of it indie and underground (though underexposed might be a better term) which has resulted in multigenerational audiences for shows which feature artists with classic hip-hop aesthetics, often with new creative twists.

Yaciin Bey at 1015 194_edit

Yasiin Bey’s show last Thursday night at 1015 Folsom was a good case in point. Before we get to that, a little background: Formerly known as Mos Def, Bey came to prominence during the last rays of hip-hop’s golden age. His Black on Both Sides album (1999) hit a high bar for NYC rap, both in terms of populist appeal and cultural quality, which the region has struggled to maintain. In the years since, Bey’s output has become increasingly eclectic, unlike some of his 90s peers who have either attempted to go down a radio-friendly, commercial path or doggedly refused to step outside of a formulaic box and experiment with new sounds. He’s collaborated with jazzman Robert Glasper, rockers the Black Keys, and alt-popsters Gorillaz, and has been known to infuse his live performances with improvisational singing. Although he hasn’t released an album since 2009, he’s maintained a rabid fanbase, while contributing to politically-tinged projects like the Gulf Aid All-Stars and a short film by humanitarian organization Reprieve protesting conditions in Guantanamo Bay. Currently a resident of South Africa, he’s made the Bay Area one of his home bases for his live appearances.

At 1015 Folsom, Bey appeared wearing heavily polarized sunglasses, and no less than three jackets, including two short coasts worn over a long coat. While the stereotypical rap cliché would have been to appear smoking a blunt and perhaps pour out a little liquor for the dead homies, Bey proceeded to reach into a canvas grocery bag and strew roses around the stage. Clearly he wasn’t here to just perform a concert; he was more interested in ritual – a livification ceremony for hip-hop, perhaps? Throughout the course of the evening, Bey eventually removed his shades and peeled off all his overgarment layers, until he stood there, clad in a long-sleeved black t-shirt. He also seemed to strip away the audience’s pretentions, in particular the notion that an artist with hits needs to stick to his hits to have an engaging live show.

“Rather than offer testaments to gritty urban life surrounded by broken glass everywhere, Yasiin Bey just kept vibing the crowd with affirmations of beauty, like a bohemian hippie in the body of a Brooklyn-bred cat. Instead of striking cool poses laden with exaggerated black masculinity, he was a mellow master of the microphone, an audio avatar and rhyme-spitting shaman who was confident enough in his persona to balance his Yang with Yin.”

The show was about three-quarters of the way done before Bey recited the well-worn lyrics of “Mathematics,” a lyrical tongue twister about numerology from Black on Both Sides. Before the night was done, he would revisit two more songs from the album, “Ms. Fat Booty,” and “Umi Says” – the latter a jazzy track with a sung chorus which is more spiritual chant than typical rap song. Most of his show, in fact, redefined the notions of what hip-hop was, while Bey redefined the notion of what a New York emcee was supposed to aspire to.

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Rather than offer testaments to gritty urban life surrounded by broken glass everywhere, he just kept vibing the crowd with affirmations of beauty, like a bohemian hippie in the body of a Brooklyn-bred cat. Instead of striking cool poses laden with exaggerated black masculinity, Bey was a mellow master of the microphone, an audio avatar and rhyme-spitting shaman who was confident enough in his persona to balance his Yang with Yin. At one point, he twirled around in a circle, arms outstretched, like Julie freakin’ Andrews in “The Sound of Music.” Though he went off into experimental and improvisational territory, the crowd not only stayed with him, but the vibe never wavered. He showed his appreciation for their loyalty by dropping to the floor and busting some b-boy footwork. To paraphrase the title of one of his early singles, Bey was universally magnetic.

It would be remiss, however, not to mention that the evening started out on a good note thanks to the all-Oakland undercard, three opening acts who each embodied the classic/conscious rap aesthetic without being overly retro or nostalgic. The first group, sOuL From The O, consists of Oakland emcee Mark Hopkins and beatsmith Woodstock (formerly of Crown City Rockers).  Their short set was upbeat and positive, highlighted by renditions of the single/video “Boombastic”; another song which stayed on-message with the #BlackLivesMatter meme, referencing Oscar Grant and police brutality; and a demonstration of live MPC beatmaking skills by Woodstock.

Next came Antique Naked Soul, a group which consists of lead vocalist Antique, two backup vocalists (a la the Supremes), and beatboxer extraordinaire Soulati. While not strictly a hip-hop group per se—ANS embodies a hip-hop aesthetic in its use of looped beatbox phrases, but is more of an experimental/alt. R&B act—the group got the crowd open with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” during which Antique perfectly recreated MJ’s tone (although with a bit more power behind it). Original tunes like “Warrior”—a nod to the Golden State hoopsters, who completed an improbable 4th quarter comeback that night—went over well too, but the illest moment of ANS’ set may have been the dueling trumpets Antique and Soulati created, without the use of any instruments but their vocal chords.

The penultimate opener served for many as the SF live debut of Jahi as PE2.0, who carries a heavy mantle as the next generation of Public Enemy. Jahi, too, was on-message and on-theme: PE was, for many, the quintessential classic rap group, and standbardbearers of consciousness and political activism. Songs like “What They Need” resonated with movement politics, delivered with crowd-rocking, microphone-rumbling authenticity by the Oakland-based emcee, who grows into his new role with every successive show. If you’ve heard the PE2.0 album, you know that it does indeed update or reboot many of the same themes as the Chuck D-led outfit, and while Jahi isn’t what one would call a flashy rapper, he’s solid as a rock onstage. While not as iconic as Chuck just yet, it’s quite possible that he will be mentioned in the same hushed tones before he’s done.

When it was all said and done, the take-home message could not have been anything other than this: not only does hip-hop still live, but rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

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Women Runnin It: Interview with Gina Madrid, aka Raw-G

Women Runnin It” features women in dynamic positions of cultural leadership in Oakland. Our first focus in this series brings a spotlight to Oakland female producers and promoters. Usually behind the scenes, these women are the ones bringing your favorite concerts, shows and nights for you to soak in and live the culture of Oakland.  How do they build community and social arts networks? How do they curate a meaningful event or a club party?

At a recent Bahamadia concert at Leo’s produced by Chaney Turner of Social Life Productions, the emcee spoke to the need to be actively engaged in creating inclusive community — a crucial component of a culturally-positive nightlife and cultural arts scene. Important to many of us, particularly women and LGBTQi persons, is the ability to go out at night, share our art, enjoy dancing or conversation and not have to defend our bodies and presence. The promoters who are committed to holding this ground for us and advancing it are bringing female artists, gender fluid and non-ratchet parties, and holding down inclusive, ‘safe’ spaces through curating social arts. They are cultural stewards that we at Oakulture value and support. We think you should too. Check out previous women highlighted in the series, including Candi Martinez, Chaney Turner and Nina Menendez.


Gina "Raw-G" Madrid

Gina “Raw-G” Madrid

The latest installment of “Women Runnin It” features Gina Madrid, aka Raw-G. Madrid is the co-founder and director of Steelo Entertainment, a marketing, production and multimedia company, as well as part of the Parish Entertainment Group. She is also a veteran of the international hip-hop movement and a force to be reckoned with on the stage.

Born and raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Madrid first immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 with her husband Steelo Cesar and son Hugo and settled in Oakland. A founding member of the all-women collective, Mujeres Trabajando — one of Guadalajara’s pioneering hip-hop crews — she learned English by translating hip-hop lyrics from The Fugees, Tupac Shakur and KRS-One.

Her work as both an artist and promoter represents the social consciousness and raw heart of both Mexico and Oakland. The list of artists she has performed with includes Ghostface Killah, Mobb Deep, KRS-One, Gift of Gab, Ozomatli, Royce Da 5’9”, Ana Tijoux, La Mala and DJ Premier; Steelo Entertainment’s past shows have brought everyone from Chilean emcee Tijoux to Argentinian dancehall queen Alika to Blue Note jazz-soul singer Jose James to Oakland. Recently, Steelo Entertainment produced “Concert for Justice,” a benefit show for the family of Eric Garner hosted by his daughter Erica Garner, with guest speaker Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant.

Oakulture was able to catch up with this powerhouse producer and artist just as Raw-G’s musical career seems poised for another step. Her new music video “Sangre” (Blood) is a song, rap and prayer in both English and Spanish, which names and calls out the blood, tears and pain of people’s struggle for dignity, and the certain knowledge that our time is a coming. Be on the lookout for Raw-G’s new EP, which is due to be released this month.


Oakulture: What values do you bring to promotion and/or production and how do they impact your decision-making?

Gina Madrid: First of all, I love what I do. When you put love into what you do you’re simply giving your best which sets your mind to push your limits on every aspect. Bringing people together has been something I enjoy doing. And what’s better than through music? When it comes to making decisions it’s like anything else in life, I just follow my heart. That definitely makes the technical part less heavy.

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Oakulture: What’s exciting to you about Oakland culture right now?

Gina Madrid: Oakland has always had a very unique flavor but some people are just finding out now. Being in this city, seeing it grow, seeing it change is exciting to me. Unity and love is the core of the town. And I can say that no matter how many people move into Oakland, we definitely make sure the core stays intact. Thanks to all the artists, organizers, visionaries, activists and the people who really love and run this town.

Oakulture: What relationship is there between your artistic work and your promotional and production work?

Gina Madrid: Both are very connected, being an artist took me to start producing events. I didn’t like waiting to be asked to perform and felt the need of sharing my craft. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to co-found Steelo Entertainment and started producing The Oakland Lyricist Lounge where I found out how many of us really just need a platform and space to share, connect and support each other.

Oakulture: Tell me about your new music video, “Sangre.”

Gina Madrid: With everything that’s been going on in the world lately I just felt the need to say something. SANGRE is ‘us’ the people. Tired of the system, fighting for peace and change, fighting for justice, to end racism, not really just talking about the U.S. but the whole world. The people are fed up and hungry for a better life. As the last part of my song states ‘’No need of guns to shut the system down, the people soon will turn this world around.”

Oakulture: What approach or strategies do you use for creating and maintaining an inclusive space?

Gina Madrid: It’s not really a strategy. It’s mainly about the people, the Bay Area especially Oakland. When people come together it’s so diverse that one can’t help but feel welcome. On the production side it all starts by having the right vision from the beginning and the rest just flows naturally.

“Oakland has always had a very unique flavor but some people are just finding out now. Being in this city, seeing it grow, seeing it change is exciting to me. Unity and love is the core of the town. And I can say that no matter how many people move into Oakland, we definitely make sure the core stays intact.” – Gina Madrid

Role models? Who do you admire artistically and why?

Gina Madrid: That’s a big question. My list would go on forever.. But I can say artists who started with nothing but love and passion for what they do and set their minds to win regardless of the struggle. Those artists are a huge inspiration to me. Looking up to them helps me push even harder, dream bigger and stay focused.

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Oakulture: Who are your Oakland heroines?

Gina Madrid: I have love and respect for all my sisters in this city. And I hope to continue seeing the new generation of women expressing themselves through arts and sharing their voices and talent.

Oakulture: If you could book anyone, who would it be?

Gina Madrid: I would book more independent local artists. We gotta support our own.

Oakulture: Words to live by?

Gina Madrid: Always give your best and set your mind to win. Giving up is not an option.

Visit Gina Madrid at:  www.raw-g.com

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Steelo Entertainment’s upcoming shows:

May 7th, 7:30pm
Lila Rose record release show for WE.ANIMALS
with Squid Inc Quartet, LYNX and Mariee Sioux
Tix $15-18
The Independent, 628 Divisadero, San Francisco 

June – Sep 2015
“Immigrant Dreams”
A four part event series based on immigration and social justice featuring performances, panel discussion, and live painting. In partnership with La Peña Cultural Center (details TBA).

Steelo Entertainment on Facebook & Youtube

Follow Oakulture by entering your email above and Like Us on Facebook to keep up.

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Wu-Tang Clan, Souls of Mischief Revisit Hip Hop’s Classic Era

Live review: Wu-Tang Clan, Souls of Mischief, Sept. 27, the Warfield.

Phesto Dee of Souls of Mischief

Phesto Dee of Souls of Mischief

1993 will go down in history as perhaps the greatest year ever for hip-hop albums. Among the classic releases that year: The Coup’s Kill My Landlord, Freestyle Fellowship’s Innercity Griots, KRS-One’s Return of the Boom Bap, Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, Digable Planets’ Reachin’, A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, De La Soul’s Buhloone Mindstate, Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday, 2Pac’s Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z, Del the Funky Homosapien’s No Need For Alarm, Masta Ace’s Slaughtahouse, Onyx’ Bacdafucup, Spice 1’s 187 He Wrote, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle, Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and Souls of Mischief’s 93 Til’ Infinity.

That’s quite a list, and one that shows a wide range of expression: from gangsta-minded to consciousness-raising; from jazz-inflected to funk-infused; from rock-tinged to kung fu-influenced. It’s no wonder that this period is referred to as a Golden Age, a time when rap’s creative expression, lyrical inventiveness, and musical innovation were all at a peak, setting a high-water mark for the genre which has yet to be surpassed.

Clan in da front, let your feet stomp

Clan in da front, let your feet stomp

More than 20 years later, the impact of that seminal annum is still being felt.  Even though there’s (somewhat puzzlingly) still no classic hip-hop radio format, Golden Age-era rap is still cherished by fans now in their late 30s and early 40s, who now occupy the position once held by the Baby Boomer generation. But even more interestingly, a new generation of listeners has discovered and embraced this music, which in and of itself is a testament to its continued relevance and staying power.

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A case in point: Saturday night’s concert at the Warfield by two groups whose debut albums dropped in ’93, the Wu Tang Clan and (Oakland’s own) Souls of Mischief. Though there were some folks in attendance who might have first seen those acts two decades ago, the majority of the crowd at the sold-out show were teenagers and twentysomethings, who have gravitated toward Golden Age boom-bap which in some cases is older than they are. That’s pretty amazing, when you consider that back in ’93, it wasn’t clear whether hip-hop was destined to be a passing fad, and the notion of a classic rap album wasn’t something the pop culturati were willing to entertain.

Raw i'ma give it to ya, with no trivia

Raw i’ma give it to ya, with no trivia

Though both the Wu and Souls have a fairly deep catalog at this point—Souls have just released a new album, There Is Only Now, and Wu-Tang’s fifth group album, A Better Tomorrow, should drop before the end of the year—both drew heavily from their first releases, like a mythical touchstone generating hip-hop manna.

Though they hail from different coasts, audiences love the Souls and the Wu for the same reason: their music is dope and their live shows are hype. 20 years of rocking microphones hasn’t been for naught; and many of today’s performers, especially the Internet sensations who didn’t cut their teeth in front of audiences, could stand to learn a thing or two about crowd motivation from studying their performances. Both groups have the live dynamic down pat, expertly and seemingly effortlessly trading between verses like relay runners passing the baton, and infusing their rhymes with energetic gesticulations. Even if you’ve seen one or both groups several times before, as Oakulture has, there’s something magical about being in a large concert hall and seeing almost every single person recite their song lyrics word-for-word, as if they’ve memorized them long ago.

Opio shows how he chills from 93 til'

Opio shows how he chills from 93 til’

There are, of course, key difference between the two groups. The Souls are much more of a tight-knit, cohesive unit, whose witty wordplay is more ‘hood nerd’ than ‘ghetto soldier.’ The Hiero crew foursome’s comraderie is evident, onstage and off. Even though each of them have released solo albums, they’re at their best when they rock mics together.

The Wu, on the other hand, are a larger group and contain much more volatile elements. They have more distinct personalities and rhyme styles, and they’ve have had some well-publicized internal conflict which has reputedly led to some polarized relationships. Yet there’s no denying their status as super emcees who will go down as among the best to ever have done it.

Souls were an excellent choice for an opening act for Wu-Tang, and not only because both are from the same era. Their styles complement each other like ying and yang, with the Souls’ mischievous yet technical approach to rhyming balancing out some of the Clan’s rougher, grimier edges. Fittingly, both closed their sets with their most anthemic crowd favorites – Souls’ “93 Til’ Infinity” and the Wu’s “C.R.E.A.M.” – songs which have become foundations in the classic hip-hop canon. It doesn’t get much better than that for diehard hip-hop aficionados, who were in beats and rhymes heaven Saturday night.