September 18, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
Smoov-E CD-release party, with Andre Nickatina, First Degree the D.E., and Be Gee
July 31, Blake's
It was a warm Thursday evening, and Andre Nickatina's "Ayo" ("A-yo for yayo / Walk around with yayo / All up in my nasal / I must have been craze-o") rang from the loudspeakers at Blake's. My mind immediately drifted back to the scene in Scarface in which Tony Montana enters a nightclub as a singer chants "dancing to the yayo" over a Giorgio Moroder beat. The difference this time, of course, was that I was in a Berkeley nightclub surrounded by several dozen kids who looked barely over 21, a multicultural mix of college jocks, party girls, Oakland knuckleheads, and South Bay players.
The show had begun with First Degree the D.E., a rapper from Sacramento, who asked the rapidly growing crowd to approach him (Blake's doesn't have a stage, just a small performance area). "Show me some warmth. I will not bite," he said, smiling. Then he stepped back while fellow Sactown rapper Be Gee stepped up to the mic, singing the hook for his "I Stays on Point." "I'm 28, I'm a dinosaur in this shit," Be Gee rapped, laying down lyrics over his own recordings.
Both Be Gee and, later, First Degree used their own CDs for backing beats. And while it was difficult at times to tell the difference between Be Gee's voice and the prerecorded music, First Degree used a higher register, sounding considerably lighter than the nearly baritone voice on his CD. First Degree struck up an easy rapport with the audience, performing three songs from his new CD, The Big Black Bat, before yielding the stage to J-Duce, who performed material from his upcoming untitled album, including one memorable tune called "Late Night Concoctions."
Next, Shag Nasty greeted the crowd by shouting out, "Scottie! Scottie!" I didn't know what the hell that meant was he referring to Great Scott, the San Francisco group who released the album Bay Guardian last year? Did he mean Scott Edmonds, the San Francisco-based techno DJ? I quizzed several equally clueless spectators; finally, one person informed me cryptically that the phrase was used on "Scottie 15," an old Andre Nickatina track (back when he called himself Dre Dog). Even a somewhat knowledgeable hip-hop head like myself can be a total herb sometimes.
Everyone, in fact, was waiting for Andre Nickatina to perform his brief appearance during First Degree's set had caused the whole room to explode in cheers even though it was technically a CD-release party for Assuefatto, the new CD by Santa Rosa rapper Smoov-E. Much of the crowd surged to the front of the room when Smoov-E and fellow rappers Count Salas, Pat Rich, and Jackpot took over the microphones, gyrating suggestively to lyrics like "Bustin' these hoes like hot potatoes." The beats were slow and bass-driven classic mob music and the four rapped about sex and balling for 30 minutes.
Still, Nickatina, a quick-witted rapper who spits as hard as Kurupt does, provided the evening's high point. "Microphone terminator / Quick to break the neck of an E-40 imitator," he shouted as the crowd jumped and screamed, waving their arms and rapping along. "To all you motherfuckers that just can't tell," he rapped, "I'm a Pisces, but I want to be a killer whale." The night was proof if there were any doubts that there's still plenty of great Bay Area rap music waiting to be heard. (Mosi Reeves)