Holdin' the weight of the Bay -- Mistah F.A.B.

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian May23, 2007

The rapper all rapers want on their album, and the first pure product of the hyphy movement. Mistah FAB works around Atlantic's delay of his major-label debut, walks out the independent Da Baydestrian...

Still looks like slavery

But it's the black legacy

--Mistah FAB, "100 Bars"

One night last September, I hitch a ride with G-Stack of the Delinquents and Dotrix of Tha Mekanix to Dem Hoodstarz's album release party in San Francisco. As we park outside the club, Mistah FAB rolls up with a modest posse. In contrast to his usual iced-out Technicolor clubwear, the man also known as Fabby Davis Jr. is low-key, dressed all in black, a pair of designer stunna shades supplying the main clue to his identity. He hops in Stack's car to hear a newly laid track for the latter's upcoming Purple Hood, then we set out for the club, a less than half block journey whose distance is lengthened interminably by a series of well-wishers and business consultations. It's like following two CEOs across the floor of the stock exchange: Stack is on two cell phones, trying to shake hands with someone. FAB, meanwhile, handles minor transactions, poses for a photo, and takes a call, all while briefing me on the deal he had just signed with Atlantic Records for Da Yellow Bus Rydah, the much-anticipated follow-up to his 2005 disc, Son of a Pimp (Thizz Ent.).

Near the door, a man takes FAB aside. "FAB, you gotta do something about the violence," he says, meaning specifically the 141 homicides in Oakland in 2006 under former mayor and present attorney general Jerry Brown. FAB nods at what is clearly an unreasonable request, albeit one that reflects the disproportionate political burden borne by black entertainers in America. No one would turn to, say, Justin Timberlake to stop violence. Then again, I imagine no one asks Keak Da Sneak either. FAB's position, in other words, is unique.

Though he made his early reputation as a freestyle battle rhymer and owes his success to hyphy hits like "Super Sic Wit It," FAB's lyrics seldom stray into gangsta or pimp terrain — the title of his last album is simply literal. Yet he can get down on a track with the most thugged-out MCs. Aside from the giants Too Short and E-40 and on par with the perpetually hot Keak, FAB is the rapper all Bay Area rappers want on their albums, because he has the biggest buzz on the radio and in the streets. His popularity gives him influence, but FAB commands respect in the hood because he's from the hood: his compass-based hit "N.E.W. Oakland" was the first major rap recognition of his native North Oakland as a hood. This rapport with the alienated and isolated ghetto youth who constitute hyphy's core audience separates him from the vast majority of MCs to whom the label "conscious" may be applied.

"You go up to someone in the hood and be, like, 'Dick Cheney had a heart attack,' they be, like, 'Who the fuck is Dick Cheney?'" FAB says later. "But you tell him, 'Jay-Z donated a million dollars to improve water in Africa,' they be, like, 'For real?' That's something of their world. Being a Bay Area artist, I'm of their world. So you have the opportunity to teach without them knowing."

"People who have influence," FAB continues, "have an obligation to tell people, 'Preserve life. Save lives. Help lives.' But it's hard to reach people if you're not giving them something they relate to. The hyphy movement is something they relate to. Hyphy gets you in the door, to open their ears to what I'm saying. It's up to them to digest it."

That night at the club, FAB exerts his influence. When things get salty between security and Dem Hoodstarz's East Palo Alto associates, the group calls FAB to the stage to perform their collaboration "Ugh." Things chill out. FAB issues an impromptu plea against violence and murders. These are problems no single person can solve, but FAB is doing his part. Yet by the show's finale — the "Getz Ya Grown Man On" remix, on which he has a verse — Fabby Davis has left the building. Being Mistah FAB, I realize, can be exhausting.


Mistah FAB's deal with Atlantic is a landmark in a scene long neglected by the majors. Along with Clyde Carson's signing with Capitol, FAB's arrangement — including distribution for his Faeva Afta Entertainment — is the first serious acknowledgment of the renaissance Bay Area rap has undergone in the past three years. Unlike E-40, a regional star who'd already achieved platinum sales on Jive before his push last year by Warner Bros., FAB's an unknown quantity outside the Bay. And in contrast to Frontline or the Federation — whose deals came through the respective backing of nationally known producers E-A-Ski and Rick Rock — FAB is the first evidence for a new generation of local rappers that enough talent and dedication can get you signed. It's another weight on the shoulders of the man born Stanley Cox Jr.

"Lots of people are putting their hopes into the album," he acknowledges. "They're, like, 'I hope FAB do it, because it'll kick in the door for all of us.' I realized when I was creating this album it's not just something I want to do. It's something my whole region depends on."

Da Yellow Bus Rydah's journey has been anything but smooth, however. Bottom line: Atlantic has postponed the album's tentatively scheduled spring release, due to controversy surrounding the Ghostbusters-themed advance single, "Ghost Ride It." A tribute to the hood-invented practice of throwing your car in neutral as you walk alongside and steer, "Ghost Ride It" was generating a buzz through its a video on YouTube and the minor-league MTVs when a Dec. 29, 2006, Associated Press story ("Hip-Hop Car Stunt Leaves 2 Dead") linked the song with a pair of unrelated deaths: Davender Gulley, 18, of Stockton, who "died after his head slammed into a parked car while he was hanging out the window of an SUV," and an unnamed "36-year-old man dancing on top of a moving car [who] fell off, hit his head and died in what authorities said was Canada's first ghost riding fatality." While the scant details obscure whether these incidents stemmed from ghost riding or more traditional automotive horseplay, Fox News's Hannity and Colmes found the trend alarming enough to call FAB on the carpet in January.

"You understand that a lot of kids look up to you?" Sean Hannity accused rather than asked FAB. "They sing your songs. They dress like you. They talk like you — they wanna be you!" Aside from displaying an oversimplified sense of the relationship between artist and audience, Hannity's remark reveals a comic lack of familiarity with hip-hop and their guest in particular: what part of "Super Sic Wit It" do you sing? Moreover, while rap fans undoubtedly draw from the same well of slang, the idea that they all talk the same — or even like FAB, for that matter — is a stereotype.

"I don't think they expected me to be so articulate," FAB recalls with a laugh. Yet among MCs, FAB is singular interview subject. While he has a clear sense of his talent and importance, he's more apt to discuss his personal relationship with God or how his lonely childhood as a latchkey kid inspired him to create rather than brag about how real he is. His power to articulate the struggle of urban youth — to explain the rage that motivates, say, ghost riding — is the very reason he's often labeled the spokesperson for a hyphy movement otherwise devoted to "going dumb."

Hannity treated FAB like he's dumb, but FAB turned the tables. Hannity's denunciation of his effect on the "kids" prompted the rapper to question whether his influence rightly extends to a Canadian 11 years his senior, which Hannity countered by accusing FAB of wanting as much "money and controversy" as he can get. When FAB speculated on the influence of turning on the TV and seeing 3,000 soldiers die in Iraq, Alan Colmes was sent in as a balm, ending the segment.

"Both those people were adults," FAB says later of the ghost-riding deaths. "I feel bad for the families, but at the end of the day, an adult has to take responsibility for his actions."


The next pothole for Yellow Bus was a late March cease and desist letter from Columbia Pictures for copyright infringement in the "Ghost Ride It" video — just as it was about to debut on MTV's 106 and Park. "We had permission [to use the Ghostbusters van] from the man who built it and owns it," FAB explains. "But Columbia owns the logo." The video was immediately pulled from all media outlets, impairing Atlantic's ability to market the single nationally. As a result, the Yellow Bus has been parked. The official explanation, from Atlantic VP Mike Carin, is that the label is focusing on FAB's "artistic development." Despite the inevitable rumor that the rapper was dropped, Carin confirms that "the deal is still in place."

Still, such delays have silenced many MCs' buzz: witness how the delay of Raekwon's album on Aftermath has converted excitement into skepticism, or how the Team's World Premiere (Moedoe/Koch, 2006) dropped too long after its singles had peaked, leading to lower-than-expected sales. Fortunately, the structure of FAB's distribution deal allows him an unusual degree of freedom.

"They were willing to sacrifice certain things," he says of his initial decision to sign with Atlantic among competing offers. "They allowed me to do what I want to do — if I want to drop an independent album, I can."


This flexibility has allowed the prolific FAB to immediately walk out another new album, Da Baydestrian, on May 15, through SMC/Fontana. Although, according to SMC cofounder Will Bronson, Atlantic has options to include as many as five of its songs on Yellow Bus, Baydestrian is an otherwise distinct project intended to satisfy the demand for a follow-up to Son of a Pimp. FAB's also preparing a series of summer releases, including a second installment of the all-freestyle Tonite Show with DJ Fresh. (Fresh, incidentally, edited FAB's 2005 DVD, The Freestyle King, now packaged with Baydestrian as a bonus.) With Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin, representing the East and West respectively, FAB's formed the multihood group N.E.W. Oakland, whose mixtape is nearing completion. Prince of Da Bay (In Yo Face/Hooker Boy Filmz), a documentary on FAB by local hip-hop director Dame Hooker, should be out by press time, while FAB's next DVD, Shoobalaboobie TV, is in the works.

"You do what you have to do to keep the buzz going," FAB says. "Also sales — on the independent level, your numbers are what's important [to major labels]." Da Baydestrian thus has Atlantic's blessing, but its commercial success will determine the fate of his deal.

Yet the need to appeal to the marketplace hasn't inhibited FAB's creativity, and Da Baydestrian refuses to play it safe. Rather than exploit the hyphy sound he helped establish, FAB only sprinkles it in, most obviously on the remix of the Traxamillion-produced "Sideshow" and the opening title track, one of six bangers produced by FAB protégé Rob-E. The young Martinez-born producer proves his versatility on tracks like the triumphant "Get This Together" and the melancholy "Life on Track," featuring Faeva Afta vocalist J-Nash, whose Hyphy Love drops in August. Another four productions by Son of a Pimp collaborator Genessee contribute to Baydestrian's in-house feel even as the family breaks new ground: "Can't Wait," say, evokes Andre 3000's explorations of go-go, filtered through FAB's hyphy sensibility, while "Shorty Tryin' 2 Get By" is a contemporary "Keep Ya Head Up" spiced with Bay Area R&B. The album is refreshingly free of skits, and guest stars are kept to a minimum, but Too Short blesses the disc three times, an unambiguous stamp of approval from Bay rap's founder.

What makes Da Baydestrian one of the most extraordinary albums since hyphy's inception, however, is its social consciousness. "Deepest Thoughts," for example, hits out at President George W. Bush, but even more pointedly at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for expanding the prison system instead of aiding the poor. The Sean T–produced "Crack Baby Anthem" addresses teen dope dealers, seeking to uplift without castigating or glorifying their activities — for the nonghetto audience, the song connects the dots between poverty, crime, and the present political climate. FAB describes his approach as "hip-hyphy," presenting an alternative to hip-hop fans who consider hyphy juvenile or incomprehensible. Granted, the disc's school bus and helmet imagery — referring to the hyphy concept of acting "retarded" — is hardly p.c. Nonetheless, FAB's lunchbox-wielding Baydestrian is a welcome change from the exaltation of guns and dope adorning your average rap album.

"In no way am I trying to say I'm like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X," FAB explains. "But I realized I could create nonsense and seem to support ignorance, or I can get people to start looking at the reality of it, and the reality of it is that young blacks are dying, not only in the Bay; they're dying everywhere. We've been raised in a warlike civilization. We've been brainwashed to accept war as the proper thing to do when things don't go right."

"Tupac [Shakur] said it himself," FAB concludes. "He said, 'I'm not going to be the one to change the world. But I guarantee I'll plant a seed in the mind of someone who does.' We're all the Tupac generation. Pac was hyphy."

While I don't think it's my place to declare FAB the next Tupac, I can't fail to be struck by his invocation of the Bay Area icon. On a superficial level, of course, with all his non-thugged-out, cartoonish imagery, FAB is nothing like Pac, just as the hyphy movement differs from the Bay's mid-'90s sound. Yet locally, if not nationally, the two rappers occupy the same position on the map of hip-hop: like Pac, FAB has cred with nearly everyone, he has a positive message within an utterly street aesthetic, and he makes tunes everyone wants to hear.

No rapper has embodied all three attributes since Pac, and that combination makes FAB extraordinary.



"Dream" -- Graffiti artist Mike Dream

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian May 2, 2007

Graffiti writer Michael Francisco, a.k.a. Mike Dream (1969-2000), was already a legend when he was murdered during a robbery. "They wouldn't have shot him if they knew who he was," his younger brother and fellow Those Damn Kids crew member Lil John says. And no doubt, this is true. Like Too Short, the Filipino American spray can artist claimed 1983 as his debut year and Oakland as his turf, and he is likewise cited as a founder, albeit visual, of Bay Area hip-hop.

The group show "Dream" highlights the artist's work alongside tributes by TDK and various other crews. Given the ephemeral, site-specific nature of graffiti, many of Dream's works are present only in photographs or re-creations by his colleagues. Yet this hardly diminishes their power. Tax Dollars Kill (1995) - designed by Dream and executed with the TDK crew - exemplifies the formal sophistication of his work: the top suggests pop art in its reproduction of the US dollar font, at once faithful and distorted, though it surrounds an image of protest quite foreign to Warhol world.

Graf writers often reserve their greatest eloquence for their signatures, and the bottom half - contributors' tags in nearly indecipherable lettering known as wildstyle - evokes abstract expressionism in a manic confusion of figure and ground. There's even a hint of surrealism in the hypnagogic face with dollar-bill eyes, seemingly emerging in the center to unite the upper and lower halves. This is art of rare complexity and outsider imagination.

DREAM Through May 15. Open during events and by appointment. Rx Gallery, 132 Eddy, SF. (415) 756-8825, www.rxgallery.com, www.dreamtdk.com



By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian April 18, 2007

Q's Lounge, the musical venue of Everett and Jones BBQ in Jack London Square, relaunches its normally $10 music series with a free show: three 45-minute sets by Oakland's premier chanteuse, Naté.

Naté is well known in the Bay Area's hip-hop community, having laid hooks for luminaries such as Mac Dre, B-Legit, and Bavgate, among many others. Yet she's a genuine artist in her own right, with a voice that ranges from low-down and grimy to soaring and crystal clear.

A veteran live performer, Naté belts it out at Q's with her three-piece R&B combo. And it's free — but your date will still think you're big ballin'!

Q's Lounge / 126 Broadway, Oakland / (510) 663-2350 / www.eandjbbq.com


Purple Reign

G-Stack and V-White of East Oakland's Delinquents drop some very unhyphy solo projects as they contemplate a final album together

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian February 14, 2007

I first heard the Delinquents in 1999, when "That Man!" was in heavy rotation on KMEL. Its subject matter — caring for the kids while the wifey's out cheating — was unique in gangsta rap. "We came from the left with that," G-Stack says, yet the freshness of the concept, combined with a funky Mike D beat and memorable Harm hook, made it an instant classic. By then their 1999 album, Bosses Will Be Bosses (Dank or Die) was six months old, and they already had a storied past.

Part of the Bay's early '90s independent scene, building a buzz from the ground up, G-Stack and V-White dropped their debut, the cassette-only Insane, circa 1993, on their label, Dank or Die. After a pair of 1995 EPs — The Alleyway and Outta Control (both Dank or Die) — the Delinquents signed to Priority at the same time the imprint inked its distribution deal with Master P's then-Richmond-based No Limit Records. Yet during the promotional campaign for the 1997 full-length Big Moves, the duo learned the difference between being on Priority and being a priority.

"This was when 'I'm 'bout It, 'bout It' blew up for Master P," a relaxed Stack recalls at the East Oakland studio where he's completing G-Stack Presents: Welcome 2 Purple City (4TheStreets), due March 27. "We promoting our album down south, West Coast, Midwest. Down south everything halted. We going into stores, they got huge Master P displays, and they didn't even know we was coming out." The effect of this tepid label support, moreover, was compounded by backlash from their home audience, who equated independence with authenticity.

"At that time," Stack explains, "if you signed to a big label, people thought you weren't real anymore. That affected our underground fan base. Then Priority didn't support us. So we went back independent with Bosses, and our fans started messing with us again."

"Now we got a record buzzin' on the streets. And radio wouldn't support us, so a lot of local rappers started meeting, and everybody went up to KMEL. Nobody had a record at the time, and ours was doing good, so everybody pushed our record." He reviews the memory with satisfaction. "We kinda forced them to play it."

While the success of "That Man!" helped move 65,000 copies of Bosses, radio play was short-lived, because Clear Channel–owned KMEL had stopped playing local music. Yet even during the Bay's leanest hip-hop years from 2000 to '03, the Delinquents maintained a loyal following, selling out shows, moving units, and putting new talent on, as well as throwing the free Lake Berryessa Bash — something like a sideshow on Jet Skis — for thousands of fans every couple years. "They were the crazy glue of the town," says Dotrix 4000, who, as half of Tha Mekanix, produced several hot tracks on Purple City. "They held the scene together when it could've fell apart."

While the Delinquents have never lost their iconic status in the Bay — witness Stack's representation of East Oakland on Mistah FAB's geographical hit "N.E.W. Oakland" — they have strikingly chosen to pursue solo careers right as the region's commercial fortunes are on the rise. Both rappers insist the decision has nothing to do with aesthetics or personal differences, and this is apparent from the warm vibe when V-White arrives for the photo shoot. Promoting his just-released Perfect Timin' (V-White Ent./SMC), V explains the move as a way to stay original in what they see as an increasingly contentless hyphy movement.

"Chuck E. Cheese music," V says. "When I came up, the Bay was about game-spitters, cats with swagger. Now it's, like, make up a word — do something stupid. That ain't where I'm coming from. I'm with the reality rap, from them days when you rapped about what you was going through."

Stack is similarly defiant: "Our machine wasn't built on what radio did for us. Now it's hella different. If you independent, people think you're weak. You need the radio to support you. I don't like how it is now — I don't kiss ass."

"I don't have to make music the radio gotta play," V concludes. "I'm making music from my heart." Judging from Timin' — a 27-track opus largely produced by protégé Big Zeke, spiked with hitworthy tracks by E-A-SKI and an intriguingly nonhyphy Traxamillion — V has a big heart, punctuating his tales of street crime with more personal memories, such as his daughter catching her first fish.

Stack meanwhile is using Purple City to introduce his own young crew, the Heem Team, as well as his alter ego, Purple Mane, who's something like a dope-slinging superhero. A warm-up for Purple Hood, Stack's proper solo debut, slated for July, Purple City began as a mixtape but morphed into a formidable album, including all-original beats by the likes of Tone Capone, FAB associate Rob-E, and Stack's in-house team Sir Rich and Q. (For the record, the Delinquents were on the purple aesthetic — stemming from a variety of weed popular in Oakland — by the time of their 2003 mixtape, The Purple Project, a year before Big Boi and Dipset adopted it.)

The solo careers of V and Stack raise the question of what will happen to the Delinquents as a group. Both confirm a new album is on the table — most likely the final Delinquents project.

"We've been rapping since '93," V says. "If I'm doing the same thing I was doing in '93, that means I ain't grew none. We're just getting older."

"I feel very comfortable doing the last Delinquents album," Stack adds. "I can actually feel like I've completed it."


Alias John Brown -- For the Non-Believers (Wildlife/I-Khan Distribution)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian February 28, 2007

After grinding in the Bay for the past three years, Chicago native Alias John Brown has cranked up his buzz due to a recent tour with André Nickatina and this 24-track anthology of new songs, singles, and freestyles.

Combining gravelly vocals with smooth, rapid-fire flows, AJB defies characterization: he's "an educated thug," he suggests on "Certified Mobsters," at ease among gangstas Amp Pachino and the Jacka though perhaps more at home dropping lines such as "We done put in more work than a sharecropper / But we ain't gettin' our fair share of the proper" alongside Planet Asia on "State to State."

AJB charts an independent course, eschewing brand-name filler and dull bling in favor of timeless hip-hop themes, from partying ("Tear the Club Up") to a friend's violent death ("Dante"). Instead of jumping on the yellow bus for local cred, AJB never once cries "hyphy," though the uptempo bounce of "Catch Yo Breath" would fit in nicely alongside recent hits by, say, Mistah FAB.

With much of its production divided between local phenom Aristotle and Chicago legend No I.D., For the Non-Believers is authentically Bay even as its heavy Chi flavor makes it unique in a trend-chasing time.

ALIAS JOHN BROWN With the Jacka, Big Rich, Equipto, and DJ Juice. Sat/3, 8 p.m., $20. Fat City (formerly Studio Z), 314 11th St., SF. (415) 252-7666


DJ Fresh -- So fresh and so clean

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian February 14, 2007

Some weeks ago I ran by Melrose Middle School in East Oakland to catch DJ Fresh in action. Voted third-best DJ in the United States at the International Turntablist Federation finals in 1999, the 26-year-old veteran is a nationwide presence in hip-hop and handled the 1s and 2s behind figures such as Nas and Common before going on to produce a series of album-length projects during the past two years with Bay Area luminaries such as Mistah FAB, J-Stalin, and Sac-Town kingpin Smigg Dirtee. But the gig at Melrose was a little different...

... an afternoon class in rap and production for a bunch of mildly rambunctious middle schoolers. (He teaches two groups there, in addition to an adult education course at Eastside Alliance in Oakland.)

"This is my good class," he said with a wry smile, and in a way his performance managing the kids is more impressive to me than his two national tours as Nas's DJ for Stillmatic and God's Son (Sony, 2001 and 2002 respectively). Laid-back, allowing the students to address him as DJ Fresh, he can still rock the don't-mess-with-me teacher mode when necessary, commanding respect and obedience. It's something you need a knack for.

Fresh was born in Baltimore and moved with his mother to San Jose at age nine. He spent his teens going back and forth between the coasts, developing his talents on piano as well as turntables. "I tell people I started DJing when I was nine," he said, "because I was on them things, fucking with it every day." Inspired by older brothers DJ LS1 and DJ Dummy, who remained back East, the teenage Fresh joined 12-Inch Assassins, a clique of battle DJs featuring his siblings and DJ Chaps.

LS1 went on to DJ for DMX and more recently G-Unit, while Dummy worked with Onyx and currently DJs for Common. Through Dummy, Fresh got to perform at his first major rap shows, spinning at a number of Common gigs. By 18, Fresh was back in the Bay Area, only to be recruited by Nas, whose tours really put him on the map.

"The nigga just called me up one morning," Fresh recalled. "I knew it was going to happen, but I'm the kind of person, I'll believe it when I see it. He was, like, 'Have you done any major shows?' I kinda lied. My brother told me, 'Before you tell him what you want, tell him to make you an offer.' So he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. His manager called me back the next day, and it's been on since then."

"After my second tour with him, I went to school," Fresh continued. "I took that money and used it for my schooling over at Expression in Emeryville. The tour shit is cool, but I didn't want my eggs in one basket. I went for sound engineering — I learned a lot of shit there." Though many rap producers eschew such formal training for fear of losing their autodidactic uniqueness, Fresh is a prime example of someone whose education has only enhanced his natural talent. Check, for example, the mix on his 2006 collaboration with J-Stalin, The Real World: West Oakland (FreshInTheFlesh). The sound is spacious — huge — clean and clear as a bell, requiring technical virtuosity behind the boards. Combined with his knowledge of '70s and '80s R&B — "What I See," for example, interpolates "Strawberry Letter 22" — Fresh's beats immediately stand out.

"When I make my beats, I still got the DJ mentality," Fresh said. "Right when you hear it, it's catchy. When you doing a party, you trying to keep it cracking, keep it off the hook. I take a lot of old shit and re-create it and reflip it. Bring it back with 808s and claps and all that good stuff." While such music could hardly be described as hyphy, it was, in fact, Mistah FAB who first put Fresh on the map in the Bay, freestyling on a 2005 full-length in Fresh's main series, The Tonite Show (FreshInTheFlesh).

"It was before FAB had blew up," Fresh pointed out. "We had a song called 'We Go Stupid in the Bay.' It had a buzz, so that was my first establishment. Then he needed his DVD made — The Freestyle King. So we swapped. I edited the whole shit. That put me on blast more too."

Both the DVD and The Tonite Show helped fuel the increasing buzz around FAB's main album, Son of a Pimp (Thizz, 2005), a process Fresh hopes to replicate for FAB's upcoming Sony disc, The Yellow Bus Rider. A second FAB-hosted Tonite Show is projected for a March release.

This year promises to be a big one for Fresh: His gang of impending Tonite Show releases includes a compilation with his frequent collaborators due Feb. 23, as well as The Tonite Show with DJ Fresh, a mixtape-style installment of Fresh DJing his own music, slated for late February on Koch Records. He's also shooting beats at his previous big-name associates — soon to drop are Tonite Shows starring Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin, Nump of "I Got Grapes" fame, the Acorn neighborhood phenom Shady Nate, and even Nas himself — and he intends to start a production team, the Whole Shebang, with Jamon Dru, 10AK, and Tower, an extraordinarily deep-voiced rapper who's a cousin of Richie Rich. To top a furious schedule, Fresh has a radio show, running Mondays through Fridays on the first and third weeks of every month on Rapbay.com, called The World's Freshest Hour.

"He's just a hustlin' dude," FAB remarked. "He's always on his grind, and I respect that. He's very humble, and that's what makes working with him so easy."





J-Stalin -- On Behalf of the Streets (Livewire Records/Zoo Entertainment)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian January 3, 2007

Following two superb, albumlike mixtapes — Early Morning Shift with the Demolition Men and The Real World: West Oakland with DJ FreshOn Behalf of the Streets is J-Stalin's so-called official debut, produced by Tha Mekanix, a.k.a. Dotrix4000 and Kenny Tweed. While the East Oakland producers have dropped album-length bombs in the past, Streets is the first release over which they've had total control, and the result is one of the most individual Bay Area rap albums since the region got hot again. With their ultrasynthetic sonic palette and penchant for minor chord filigree, Tha Mekanix are among the most distinctive producers in the area, making music that works with hyphy (check "The Function") but also is its own thing.

Much credit, of course, goes to the pint-size rapper with the gravelly voice whose self-harmonized hooks lend real poignancy to semiautobiographical tales of life as a young d-boy in West Oakland's Cypress Village: "A long time ago, man, I was told / If you got money, man, crack you sold," Stalin warbles on "I Was Told." Stalin is most surprising with his unabashed flair for R&B, evident on "Party Jumpin' " and the sensuous "Fuck U," on which the young playa engages in Prince-like seduction over the fattest, roundest bass thump in recent memory. With the right mix of local dons (Keak Da Sneak, Mistah FAB) and Stalin's own formidable crew (Shady, Jonah, Maybeck), Streets is state-of-the-art Oakland hip-hop from a rapper who's only just begun.