Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


Blackalicious Is Back and “Blacka” Than Ever

Jumbo, Gift of Gab, and Lateef

Jumbo, Gift of Gab, and Lateef

Live Review/ Blackalicious, Zion-I, Martin Luther, Raw-G/ Sept 10, The Fillmore

A week before the release of Imani Vol. 1, their first album in 10 years, Bay Area hip-hop veterans Blackalicious blessed fans with a statement show. Their message? We’re back and “Blacka” than ever. That’s a reference to their new single, a hard-hitting lyrical banger (“blacker than a panther, blacker than Atlanta/ open like the dark starry background of Saturn”) which hints they’ve got plenty left in the tank.

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The new song was one of the highlights of a set which was pretty much a clinical demonstration of how to rock a crowd. It may have been the best Blackalicious show I’ve ever seen out of the dozens of times I’ve seen them live. Although they didn’t have the two female soul singers, Qween and Erin Anova, who toured with them during the 2000s, they made up for it with guest appearances by Fantastic Negrito, Jumbo and Vursatyl of the Lifesavas, and frequent collaborator Lateef the Truthspeaker — a constantly-animated presence whose kinetic energy helped enliven the proceedings considerably.

Lateef the Truthspeaker

Lateef the Truthspeaker

It’s easy to see why Blackalicious have been a fan favorite for three decades now. Along with their Solesides/Quannum brethren Lateef, DJ Shadow, and Lyrics Born, they were pioneers of the alternative hip-hop genre who have consistently set a high bar for innovation and creativity while maintaining a high degree of technical virtuosity and stylistic aesthetics. Emcee Gift of Gab is probably your favorite rappers’ favorite rapper, a man blessed with seemingly-infinite amounts of breath control, which he channels into amazing lyrical patterns and rhyme flows. Producer Chief Xcel is one of the most underrated beatsmiths in hip-hop history, who has evolved from the simple sample-and-loop ethos of 1993’s “Swan Lake” to create complex, nuanced soundscapes which refute the notion that “conscious” hip-hop acts have underwhelming musical tracks.

Gift of Gab

Gift of Gab

Take, for example, the “da-de-da-da-da-da-da-da” chorus from “Deception,” the classic song from the Nia album which gives the tune a hooky, accessible feel without overly pandering to mainstream sensibilities. That’s a song Blackalicious fans never get tired of hearing, along with “Rhythm Sticks” – a standout from 2005’s The Craft. Both of those songs sounded great at the Fillmore, but it was especially good to hear some new material as well. In addition to “Blacka,” the audience was treated to “That Night”— on which Gab, Jumbo and Vursatyl pass the mic like a hot potato while detailing some N’Awlins hijinks, and “Love’s Gonna Save the Day” – a simmering, soulful track which continues the meteoric rise of Fantastic Negrito, who supplies the inspirational hook.

Fantastic Negrito

Fantastic Negrito

Blackalicious’ headlining performance capped an eventful and momentous evening which seemed to forward the momentum generated for Bay Area hip-hop by Hiero Day, which took place just three days prior. Two of the artists on the undercard, in fact, were carryovers from the Hiero Day lineup: Zion-I and Martin Luther. Zion-I are another act who deliver a great live show, whether for 10s of thousands of fans or a few hundred. Joined by Bang Data’s Deuce Eclipse, emcee Zumbi Zoom showed he’s got classics for days too – the set list included “Bird’s Eye View,” “Hit Em,” “Don’t Lose Your Head” – which segued into a long freestyle session between Deuce and Zumbi – and the regional anthem “The Bay,” which seems to grow in stature with every rendition. Martin Luther is technically not a rapper, but for a soul singer, the SF native’s streetwise persona ironically contrasts his frequently emotionally-resonant material. Along with the always-beautiful “Rise” (which dates back to the neo-soul era), he pulled off a cover of Bob Marley’s “Crazy Baldheads,” to the crowd’s delight.

Chief XL

Chief XL

Early birds got a special treat: opener Raw-G, the bilingual Mexican emcee with the razor-sharp staccato delivery, performed a short but potent set highlighting songs from her new album Sangre. Whether opining about immigrant rights (“all that shit needs to change,” she said), busting a cappella flows over beatboxed rhythms, or leading a trio of backup singers (including Naima Shalhoub and Lila Rose) into an updated version of the Latin music classic “Guantanamera,” she was an engaging presence who bears further watching (and listening to). The show also featured some pretty good in-between set DJing by Davey-D and D-Sharp.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

While hip-hop shows are somewhat rare at the Fillmore, when local artists get the opportunity to rock the historic venue, they tend not to disappoint. The Blackalicious show more than upheld that maxim, and Oakulture would like to think that the group – currently wrapping up a string of Pacific Northwest tour dates before heading to France, England, Austria, and Switzerland in October – put a little something extra on it for the hometown.

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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

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