Oakulture

Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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Bay Area Vibez Makes the Most of Oakland’s Glow [Review/Photoset]

Nas performs at Bay Area Vibez

Nas performs at Bay Area Vibez

Concert Review/ Bay Area Vibez, Sept. 26-27, @ Middle Harbor Shoreline Park

Location, location, location. For a very long time, Middle Harbor Shoreline Park has been one of Oakland’s best-kept secrets. But after this past weekend’s inaugural Bay Area Vibez festival, that’s no longer the case: word is out about the spot, which offers stunning views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline, similar to Treasure Island, except it’s less windy. Both days, the location was a constant source of chatter. “How come no one ever held a music festival here before?” was a frequently-repeated refrain.

Picturesque views added much to the festival's user experience

Picturesque views added much to the festival’s user experience

In retrospect, the location proved perfect for such an event, and went a long way toward a user experience which was much more amenable to comfort than many music festivals we’ve covered over the years. There was plenty of room for people to lay out picnic stuffs and chairs for a day of music in the sun, and just beyond the concert grounds, plank walkways led directly to even more chill-worthy spots on the shoreline. Such stunning natural surroundings made some of the inevitable production glitches associated with a first-time festival less of a big deal than they could have been, although the overlapping of sets between the two concert stages occasionally subtracted from the artists playing on the smaller, less-loud stage.

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The music was fairly well-curated, with more than 40 artists and DJs overall, with a heavy concentration of reggae, electronic music, and hip-hop, with the occasional funk and jazz band. That made for an interesting demographic mix of millennials as well as perennials.

The audience feeling the "Vibez"

The audience feeling the “Vibez”

The unquestioned highlight was Sunday’s flawless one-hour set by Nas, who appeared to have been auditioning for a spot in the hip-hop Hall of Fame. The Queensbridge emcee, one of the last artists to emerge from hip-hop’s 90s Golden Age, delighted the crowd with a strong concentration of material from his classic 1994 debut album Illmatic, which he peppered with songs from later albums like God’s Son, Hip Hop Is Dead, It Was Written, and I Am… . Honestly, it was one of the best live rap performances Oakulture has ever seen, driven mainly by the strength of Nas’ personality and his puissant lyrics. At one point, Nas shared an anecdote about Michael Jackson allowing a then-unknown rapper to sample “Human Nature” on the remix of “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” then went into the song:

My mic check is life or death, breathing a sniper’s death
I exhale the yellow smoke of buddha through righteous steps
Deep like The Shinin’, sparkle like a diamond
Sneak a uzi on the island in my army jacket lining
Hit the Earth like a comet, invasion
Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazing

It ain't hard to tell.

It ain’t hard to tell.

The show felt big, even though Nas was only accompanied by DJ Green Lantern. The location also contributed, as did the fact that he hit the stage right as the sun was going down, and thus had the benefit of a picturesque sunset with iridescent colors, known to locals as the “Oakland Glow.” Watching Nas perform, SF native and rap artist Sellassie Blackwell offered his own assessment of what made him so great: “he’s saying something.” Indeed, the content of his rhymes, as well as his delivery, is a big reason Nas is considered one of the best rappers ever to come out of New York.

Magical dancehall unicorn: Supercat

Magical dancehall unicorn: Supercat

The second-best highlight was unquestionably the return of an artist one observer called a “magical dancehall unicorn”: Supercat, a late 80s-early 90s hitmaker who reportedly hasn’t performed in the Bay Area since 1992. For longterm dancehall aficionados, this was a dream come true, and to top that off, Supercat still had the quick-tongued lyrical finesse  which made him a favorite in the first place. While he didn’t perform any new material, it didn’t really matter because tunes like “Vineyard Style,” “Dem No Care” and “Ghetto Red Hot” fired up the crowd with enthusiasm.

Stephen "Ragga" Marley

Stephen “Ragga” Marley

Supercat kicked off a top-ranking block of reggae programming Saturday night furthered by roots revivalists Morgan Heritage and two members of the Marley clan, Stephen and Damian, who kept the vibes simmering and the ganja clouds lifting.

Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley

Other highlights from earlier in the day included a super-tight set by the criminally-underrated Fishbone which dug deep into their catalog for songs like “Everyday Sunshine,” “Junkie’s Prayer,” and “Party At Ground Zero.” The manic energy of frontman Angelo Moore was complemented by excellent musicianship and particularly-compelling horn arrangements.

Angelo Moore of Fishbone

Angelo Moore of Fishbone

There was also an energetic main stage turn by The Grouch and Eligh, two members of the Living Legends crew (who got their start in a San Leandro St. warehouse and have grown into their moniker two decades later). Although both are veteran solo artists, they worked well as a duo on songs like “The Bay to LA.” Mid-day sets by Taurrus Riley, Cut Chemist and Aloe Blacc were pleasant but mostly unremarkable.

The Bay to LA: The Grouch and Eligh

The Bay to LA: The Grouch and Eligh

Oakulture arrived a bit later on the second day, just in time to catch a fantastic outing by the Kev Choice Ensemble which became an impromptu Bay Area Hip Hop All-Stars performance, as Choice’s already-tight band—featuring bassist Uriah Duffy, guitarist B’nai Rebelfront, and vocalist Viveca Hawkins—was accentuated by Zumbi Zoom of Zion-I, Deuce Eclipse of Bang Data, vocalist Jennifer Johns, Young Fyah and Sellassie. Their collar-popping performance, which included a blazing freestyle cipher, was almost enough to make up for the relative lack of other local artists on the celebrity-heavy bill. Almost.

Kev Choice Ensemble

Kev Choice Ensemble

It was also great to see the sublime set by Meshell Ndegeocello, a bassist and vocalist who is a bit of a musical chameleon and can play everything from abstract jazz to funky soul and R&B. Ndegeocello began her set with an amazing cover version of Ready For the World’s “Love You Down,” and also brought new life to the Whodini classic “Friends.” Her band was in perfect synch, too, but it was a little disappointing that Nas’ set started before hers was done. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to Kev Choice, whose set overlapped with a louder and much less musically-interesting set by DJ Z-Trip — whose biggest bright point was a freestyle by emcee Supernatural who was handed objects by the audience, including a baby, and worked them into his flow.

Meshell Ndegeocello

Meshell Ndegeocello

Overall, though, the experience was a positive one, and feedback from attendees were that they would not only return next year, but were looking forward to it.

 

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Warriors’ NBA Finals Appearance Has Cultural Impact

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It’s been exactly 40 years since the Golden State Warriors were in the NBA Finals. That’s two generations in terms of population demographics, but much longer in pop culture terms. Basketball is much more mainstream now than it was in 1975, when Rick Barry was shooting underhanded free-throws. Just check league MVP Steph Curry’s endorsement deals for confirmation of that fact. Barry didn’t even get his own signature sneaker, much less deals with insurance, fashion, and headphone companies. Curry –aka the Babyface Assassin — has all of that, plus the top-selling player jersey for 2015.

The Dubs’ ascension into the NBA elite is pure vindication for Golden State’s  long-suffering fan base, who literally endured decades of being an also-ran franchise best known for players they drafted who went on to become stars with other teams.  Remember the “Warriors Worrier” PR campaign of the late ’80s? The name sort of made sense, because the team only cracked the .500 mark three times during that decade.

Rick Barry

Rick Barry

The 90s and 2000s weren’t much better. The first Don Nelson era produced the emergence of the “Run-TMC” teams with Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin (who made it into the second round of the playoffs twice), but that period is still overshadowed by the rather-ugly enduring image of Latrell Sprewell choking coach PJ Carlesimo. Few players wanted to come to Oakland after that, and during the first half of the 2000s, our marquee guys were either underachievers like Donyell Marshall or over-the-hill journeymen like Antawn Jamison. The Warriors survived an eleven-year playoff drought covering the tenure of no less than six head coaches between 1995 and 2006. Their fortunes began to turn around in 2012, when second-year coach Mark Jackson won 47 games, but the following year, they didn’t advance past the first round despite a 51-win season, prompting ownership to bring in Steve Kerr as coach.

Curry tees up the Pelicans' Anthony Davis

Curry tees up the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis

If hindsight is 20/20, that move—questionable at the time—proved golden. Kerr acted like anything other than a rookie in winning 67 games, one of the highest totals of all time. Not only did the Splash Brothers—Steph Curry and Klay Thompson—live up to their billing as the league’s deadliest backcourt combination, but Draymond Green emerged as the heart and soul of the team, a versatile swing man who played defense and offense with equal passion. Players stifled under Jackson, like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, flourished under Kerr. Andre Iguodala accepted the sixth man role without complaint; another former All-Star, David Lee, graciously surrendered his job to Green with nary a peep – unselfishness on a level rarely, if ever, associated with professional sports. Role players like Shaun Livingston, Maureese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezili all played their parts well. The Warriors developed the deepest roster in the league, a 10-man rotation which relied on team chemistry as much as ball movement and offensive/defensive intensity. Making up 20-point deficits was possible for this team, built on versatility and execution, yet not lacking for star power.

Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr

If there was a more exciting team in all of sports to watch than the Warriors this year, that team must play on another planet without cable TV. All season long, the Warriors seemed to be playing at a higher level than their opponents, resulting in many blowout victories, and a plethora of ESPN-worthy highlights. The Warriors of old never seemed to care much for playing defense, especially during the Don Nelson years. But this team was different. When games got tough, the Warriors got tougher. How many times did they break opponents’ resolve by drilling-down with a defensive stop resulting in a spine-snapping transition 3 or dunk? How many times did Curry hit highlight reel shots? Did we mention Klay’s 37-point quarter? Or breakout games where Green, Barnes, or Ezeli showed they can shoulder the scoring load? Speaking of Barnes, his 4th-quarter explosion after Thompson’s injury in Game Five vs. Houston is exactly the stuff championships are made of. When the chips are down, quitters quit and winners win. The game hung in the balance prior to his scoring nine straight points; afterward, it was all but academic.

“Remember the ‘Warriors Worrier’ PR campaign of the late ’80s? The name sort of made sense, because the team only cracked the .500 mark three times during that decade.”

Splash!

Splash!

Despite all the offensive fireworks, perhaps no better play illustrates the Warriors season than their defensive gem the last 11 seconds of Game Two vs. Houston at Oracle Arena. The Rockets’ best player, James Harden, had the ball. Running down the court, he spotted a double team of Steph and Klay. He passed the ball to Dwight Howard—what was he thinking?—then received it back, with even less time remaining on the clock. With the Warriors trapping him, he seemed confused and didn’t manage to get a shot off. A foul would have given the Rockets a chance to win, but that didn’t happen. It was like Harden—a bonafied MVP candidate who finished second to Curry—was psychologically crushed, overwhelmed by the pressure. The next game was a blowout win for the Dubs, and even though Harden came back to score 45 in the Rockets’ lone victory in Game Four, any momentum was deaded in Game Five, when the Black Rasputin logged an NBA record for turnovers in a Houston loss which wasn’t even close. Sure, we can blame the Lil B curse for Harden’s poor performance, but a more logical explanation is that he was simply outsmarted by players with superior court intelligence.

Klay drives to the hoop

Klay drives to the hoop

The win over the Rockets might have seemed shocking for Warriors newbies and national b-ball fans just tuning in, but the fact is, they’ve shut down potent offenses and league superstars all year with their defensive play, three-point shooting, and nimble transition game. They made adjustments in the playoffs after dropping two consecutive games to Memphis and never looked back.  Is it really any wonder they’re the consensus favorite to win it all?

As the Finals approach, Dubs fever is at an all-time high.  Warrior gear once resigned to closets is now on full display. The Alameda County Courthouse is bathed in blue and yellow lights. And Steph’s daughter, Riley Curry, has become an unlikely media superstar. It’s been a long time coming for anyone who suffered through the days of Chris Washburn, Manute Bol, Tom Tolbert, Tyrone Hill, and Mike Dunleavy.

Draymond Green

Draymond Green

Even though their name doesn’t say it explicitly, Golden State is an Oakland team. They might be moving to San Francisco next year, but in the event of a Finals win, the parade will be held right here, in Oakland. Their Townish affiliation is evident in their unpretentious identity and the loudish “Roaracle” fans who helped cheer them to a 37-2 regular season home record. Their secret weapon is DJ D-Sharp, a hip-hop veteran who isn’t hesitant to play snippets of Too Short or the Luniz during games.

A measure of the Warriors’ pop culture cachet is the numerous songs dedicated to them, the unofficial anthem (and Oakulture personal favorite) being E-40’s Dubbed-out remake of “Choices.”  The rapper known as the Bay Ambassador took an already-good song and made it great by inserting lots and lots of references to the boys in blue and yellow:

Did it happen in a day? (nope)

Came a long way? (yup)

Never know what kind of angle (nope)

Crossover, break your ankle (yup)

Sloppy with the rock? (nope)

Steph Curry with the shot (yup)

Suckers? (nope)

Splash Brothers? (yup)

Ain’t no stoppin’ (nope)

Klay Thompson (yup)

Under pressure, is he choking? (nope)

Do it big like Bogut? (yup)

Never let em tell us that we can’t (nope)

Go hard like Barnes in the paint (yup)

Never ever slowin up the pace (nope)

Shoot a three-pointer in his face (yup)

Almost as good: a reggae video featuring Morgan Heritage and Bobby Lee’s “We A Warrior” set to clips of the Dubs splashing their foes.

Harrison Barnes hi-fives Andre Iguodala

Harrison Barnes hi-fives Andre Iguodala

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Locals Zion-I and Kev Choice are reportedly working on Warriors-inspired tunes right now (edit: The Sole Brothers’ “Warriors” features Zion-I, Blackalicious and Lateef the Truthspeaker). Rapper Rich Cole also has a song, “Dub Nation,” which notes “we the best in the west and the NBA.” As do Ron Lennon & J-Wells — whose “Splash” proclaims, “in the Bay Area they say we too loud/ but we turned up, bout to turn out” —  and uno408. Expect the number of celebratory tunes to increase with every moment the team comes closer to the championship trophy.

Yes, it’s been a long time coming for Warriors fans. And the impact on Oakland is already being felt – just witness the blue/yellow gear being sported all over The Town as the team’s playoff run nears its ultimate destination.

“If there was a more exciting team in all of sports to watch than the Warriors this year, that team must play on another planet without cable TV. All season long, the Warriors seemed to be playing at a higher level than their opponents.”

Errybody say Warriors!

Errybody say Warriors!

Going from perennial scrub to potential champion is kind of a big deal, even for non-sports fans (who can conceivably bask in the afterglow even though they watched “Sex in the City” reruns instead of the games). And of course, there are all the bandwagon-hoppers who probably don’t remember when the Warriors offense was Jason Richardson and not much else. Even if the Warriors lose—which probably won’t happen—they have solidified Oakland/Bay Area pride and earned a permanent place in our region’s cultural iconography—and our hearts. They are the little team that could. And that’s why we love them.