Even if hip-hop's been the dominant form of popular music over the last decade, it's continually encountered pockets of resistance from people who simply don't get it, or wish it would go away. Clayton Call and Fabel, Arizona State University seniors, college radio-station DJs and aspiring rappers, both know what it's like being the lone homeboy zealot in a crowd of hip-hop infidels.
Call, a skinny, small-town white kid from northwestern New Mexico, fell for hip-hop at an early age. But when he and a friend tried to bring the noize at a school talent show, their mike skills were met with mass head-scratching.
"We were the first ones there into it," says Call, who also goes by the nom de rap Cocoa Loco. "We were in seventh grade, and me and my boy got up there and we did this rhyme back and forth with no music or anything. The whole school was just sitting there, staring. Afterwards, they didn't clap or anything. They didn't know what it was."
Fabel, an equally skinny black kid from Brooklyn, with a goatee twisted into one long pretzel braid that hangs from his chin, moved to the West Valley 16 years ago with his mom. He takes credit for bringing the new flavor to the streets of Glendale.
"My brother and I kind of started the hip-hop scene in the West Valley," Fabel says. "When we first came here, there was no hip-hop. The only thing was a martial arts school where everyone would go on Saturdays to freestyle and compete in breakdancing. I was probably about 7, and they wouldn't usually let my brother and [me] on the mike, but we forced our way on."
As a student at ASU, Fabel joined university radio station KASC (1260 AM), launching a weekly underground hip-hop show called Underground Terminal on Monday nights (the show continues to air at midnight). Two years ago, Call started working at KASC as Fabel's assistant, and a solid bond formed between the two students. They saw their show as the one local radio outlet for frustrated members of the Valley hip-hop scene, who get no airplay and have to wait weeks for a shot at the mike at the few hip-hop club nights available.
"It was basically for the locals, 'cause they couldn't get on the radio," Fabel says. "We had an uncensored show, because we were on so late. So they could [not] care less what we did. So we had freestyle battles, and we had anyone who was underground exhibit their music. That's how we met about 90 different groups. They were on different levels, but we got to meet the cream of the crop."
Call adds: "We both wanted to do something, 'cause we saw groups come in that were hungry, with a lot of talent, but nowhere to go."
The experience motivated Call and Fabel to put together a CD compilation of regional hip-hop talent (primarily from Arizona, with a couple of New Mexico artists), which they've titled Scorpion Kingz. The collection, which recently became available at Zia, Hoodlums, and Sam Goody stores, hardly qualifies as a definitive sampling of desert rap. Conspicuously absent are such high-profile talents as Pokafase, Kitch Kitchen, Atlas, or members of the Ten Commandments. ("Some felt they were too big for it," Fabel says.) And Call and Fabel didn't hesitate to use the disc to promote their own musical efforts, allotting themselves the first two tracks on the 12-song comp.
But Scorpion Kingz provides at least a hint of what's stirring in the local hip-hop community, and on at least one track, "Exspect the Unexspected," by Cutthroat Logic, attains true greatness. Over a supple funk groove, the group's rappers trade off on verses, slowly building a palpable sense of dread. Surprises like this, or the Chicano rap anthem "The Ones," by Brown Industry, offer hope that Call and Fabel's continuing efforts to spotlight regional hip-hop will bear some real fruit in the future.
Motor City Madmen: The Phoenix music scene will soon suffer a major loss, as Beat Angels front man -- and longtime New Times contributor -- Brian Smith relocates to Detroit, where he'll write for that city's weekly, the Metro Times.
Smith is quick to point out that his Motor City move won't mean an end for the Beat Angels, the Valley's disheveled deities of trashy pop-punk, the guys who brought inspired meaning to the great Louis Jordan's rhetorical question: "What's the use of gettin' sober when you're gonna get drunk again?" Instead, the band views the change as "the beginning of a new error," in guitarist Keith Jackson's phrase.
In fact, that phrase is the tentative title of the band's long-awaited, forthcoming third CD (its first since 1997's Epiphany Records release Red Badge of Discourage). Between now and Smith's move on Valentine's Day, the Beat Angels will track the final tunes for the record (already slated for European distribution with Livewire/Cargo) at Gilby Clarke's L.A. studio, while also working in a show at the legendary Hollywood club the Troubadour on February 9.
The group's ongoing status as a live unit is a bit murky, although they plan to play at least some Midwest shows in the coming months. For Smith, a well-documented Alice Cooper acolyte, it all adds up to a striking emulation of the path taken by the early Alice Cooper band, which started in Phoenix and ended up settling in Detroit, where its sound and attitude coalesced. The Beat Angels' local finale is set for Friday, February 8, at Nita's Hideaway.
By pure coincidence, artsy hard-rock band Big Blue Couch has also experienced a Detroit defection, with drummer Jayson Gilbert moving to Motown this week. Gilbert, like his bandmates a Michigan native, played his last Valley gig with the band at last weekend's 14-hour Earth Mother Mind Jam. Band guitarist Chris Doyle says BBC -- much like the Beat Angels -- are not planning to split, and are continuing work on a new CD. They'll simply go on a performing hiatus, with the possibility of a reunion in Detroit in the next few months.
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Fans of both the Beat Angels and Big Blue Couch will want to make it to the January 31 Songwriters' Ball at Emerald Lounge. A monthly, highly eclectic showcase for local tunesmiths organized by singer-songwriter Andrew Lockwood, the Ball offers a chance to hear songs in rare, stripped-down form. Along those lines, Smith will deliver a rare acoustic performance of some of his punk-based classics. Doyle, a regular at these loose, relaxed affairs, is also likely to make an appearance. Also scheduled to perform are members of Truckers on Speed and Sugar High, among others.
Songwriters' Ball is scheduled for Thursday, January 31, at the Emerald Lounge. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Bob's Blues: The good news keeps rolling in for Rhythm Room czar Bob Corritore, who -- on the heels of a Grammy nomination for Kim Wilson's live album, Smokin' Joint, which Corritore co-produced -- is now linked to eight nominations for the W.C. Handy Blues Awards. Both Smokin' Joint and Henry Gray's Plays Chicago Blues (which Corritore produced and blessed with his authentic, Chess-inspired harmonica work) received four nominations, including Blues Album of the Year (Wilson), and Traditional Blues Album of the Year and Comeback Blues Album of the Year (Gray). The Handy Awards will be announced in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 23.