We Be Buggin'
"Ready to wrap your lips around a hookah, Kreme?" asks the J-Unit as we worm our way through the party people toward the bar at Mythos, this fly Mediterranean joint in Scottsdale that looks like it's right out of Jabba the Hutt's throne room in Return of the Jedi, with curtained booths and folks puffin' on water pipes all over the place.
"I'll leave the oral gymnastics to you, my little prostitot," I spit at the PHX's bi-Remy Ma as my elbow finally tags the bar. "Anyway, I plan to be gettin' my drink on before I get my smoke on."
"Order me up a dirty martini, then, bubble-butt," commands the Jettster, before bouncing off. "While I work the crowd."
I turn to the barkeep. "A vodka-Red Bull with Skyy, my man, and a Grey Goose martini, straight up, and make it dirty."
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"Dirty?" queries the 'tender, who must've taken mixology classes in Mormon-land, not being hip to the concept of pouring olive juice into the martini glass.
"Uh, you know, just stir it with your finger," I jest, as the cat looks at me quizzically. "Better let me do it. Your hands look too clean."
He shrugs and gets to mixin' as I survey the scene. Mythos (www.mythosbistro.com) is a restaurant/club featuring all kinds of Greek and Middle Eastern eats, and on Fridays and Saturdays the place is packed with an eclectic, well-heeled assemblage there to enjoy the food, the belly dancing and live jams from house band Cosmos. Wednesday nights, like the one we're at right now, are given over to resident DJ Rani "g" and a night called Symposium, where Rani "g" spins everything from old-school and nu jazz to Greek and Mediterranean tracks from his homeland of Cyprus.
Cosmos usually plays Wednesday nights, too, but sometimes Rani and the owners bring in some new flava -- guest DJs and/or other live acts -- and that's what brings the Jettster and me out this night, the promise of a performance by the mostly-L.A.-based jazz-hip-hop troupe Modern Groove Assembly (www.moderngrooveassembly.com). MGA features the vocals of the de-lovely and de-luscious Sy Smith, the rap stylings of L.A. MC Frog One, and a DJ set from the legendary Daz-I-Kue of the renowned British broken-beat crew Bugz in the Attic. I mean, talk about your mash-ups: a funky, Afro-soulful blast of bootygrindingness set in a spot better known for killer souvlaki and bare-bellied wenches doing their "Genie in a Bottle"shtick? That's some ish the Jettster and I had to witness, y'all.
So far, everything seems pretty chill, with MGA's DJ Theory warming up the audience, soon to be joined by Louis Ban Taylor on tenor sax, soprano sax and flute, and Stewart Killen on percussion. I'm poppin' my fingers and my collar when this white dude approaches me with a grin.
"Hey, are you that Krispy Kreme guy in the paper?" he wonders.
"Well, 'krispy' is how I like my fried chicken," I reply. "Otherwise, you are correct, sir. I am the man they call Kreme."
"I read your column all the time, bro," relates the fellow I come to know as Paul, a chemical engineer by trade. "You don't look as big as you make yourself sound in the column."
"Why, I'm fattered, I mean, flattered," I bumble, like Professor Klump in The Nutty Professor. "You're obviously a man of substance and taste."
"And poor eyesight, too," jibes Jett, reappearing next to me, and taking possession of her 'tini. "If three-chin Charlie here weighs less than 300 pounds, I'll eat his crusty socks!"
"Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" I ask the J-unit.
Paul invites us over to his table to meet his buds, where they treat us to a shot of ouzo and a few puffs of their hookah, which is, sadly, blazin' amaretto-flavored tobaccy instead of cheba. One of Paul's pals, this thin hombre in a whitish doo-rag, introduces himself as Alexander Gray de Fontainebleau. Says he's originally from gay Paree and a master sommelier to boot -- a very cultured chap who goes around drinkin' vino for a living.
"How do you get a cool job like that?" queries the Jettster.
"I drank a lot of wine and studied wine for an extensive period of time," relates Monsieur Fontainebleau, suckin' on his tobacco bong. "All my life, really. I work with AZ Wines and Atlas Bistro, and I have a lot of clients up in Carefree where I take care of their cellars for them. Everybody's coming back into Arizona right now, so I'm here for the season."
"Ever try that wine Mad Dog 20/20?" the J-girl asks. "That's my favorite."
Fontainebleau appears perplexed. But thankfully, before the Jettster can further embarrass me, Sy Smith goes onstage, and she and MC Frog One (which stands for "Freedom Rules Over Government," and "One Love") begin to rock the house, trading turns on the mic, with DJ Theory cuttin' like a mofo, and the rest of Modern Groove Assembly, including founder Steve Catanzaro on keys, backing them up. Frog One -- who reminds me a little of Eddie Murphy's brother, Charlie, from Dave Chappelle's Chappelle's Show -- is a doctor of flow-ology, and Smith's voice oozes through your ears like a combo of honey and molasses.
It's a wicked collaboration, with plenty of acid-jazzy improv going down. All original licks, either from Smith's latest album The Syberspace Social, or from MGA's as-yet-unreleased catalogue of songs.
Smith is as lovely in form as her voice is mellifluous, with big bright eyes and creamy brown skin, and we come to find out that she's recorded with the renowned, London-based funk/soul/acid-jazz ensemble The Brand New Heavies. More recently, she's performed on The Oprah Winfrey Show singing backup for Jamie Foxx. After she and MGA finish a slammin' set, with every ass in the spot gyratin', she comes over to kick it with us on one of Mythos' couches.
"Okay, Sy, come clean -- tell us about the Oprah episode you just taped," I plead.
"It was crazy, man, that was my first time meeting her," says the seductive Smith, taking a hit off her glass of Grand Marnier. "It was surreal -- like I was standing next to a million-jazillion dollars. But she was just so cool, a regular person. It was kinda like talking to my aunt or something. A couple of times she even said 'shit,' you know? Like, one time she was talking to Jamie [off camera] and she said, 'No shit!' And I'm like, damn, Oprah just said 'shit'!"
"Yeah, that's almost like seeing Laura Bush flippin' the bird," I crack. "So, what did you guys perform?"
"Jamie did a song off his soon-to-be-released album called Unpredictable, and another one called 'Heaven,'" she tells us. "It was dope. Jamie is incredible."
"Jamie Foxx is sooo gorgeous," creams the Jettster. "Is he constantly clownin'?"
"He's both a cutup and a professional," explains Smith. "You'll get your work done, but you're gonna bust a gut in the process. I don't think he can help doing impressions, that's just the way he communicates. So if he's telling a story about someone like Colin Farrell, or whoever, he'll jump right into an Irish accent. He's one of the funniest people I've ever met in my whole life."
Smith's got to get movin', so we let her perambulate, as we swill our libations and listen to Bugz in the Attic's Daz-I-Kue, who's since taken control of the boards, and is spinning a sick set of dancehall, irie culture stuff, old-school hip-hop, some Specials, broken beat, and a Toshio Matsuura remix of James Brown's "Give It Up or Turn It Loose." A truly unique stew of sounds.
Afterward, Daz and recent PHX transplant Steve Catanzaro join us on the couch. Feels like I'm doing some sort of whacked-out version of Last Call With Carson Daly. Daz's West London accent is thicker than Mo'Nique's thighs, and I wish this caballero had come with subtitles. Like the wags say, England and America, two countries divided by a common language.
"The Bugz's music is often referred to as 'broken beat'; where does that name come from?" I query.
"Journalists latched onto the word broken beat, because it was kind of a broken kind of style," replies the genial gent. "We're up to nine members now in the Bugz crew, and we're all from different backgrounds. I'm from a hip-hop/soul background. We just wanted to do something we liked, something funky, soulful, retro, ethnic. And it just came organically."
"So how would you describe your music?" asks Jett.
"I'd say it's an electro boogie, kind of," says Daz. "Up-tempo, funky, hip-hop stuff. Alternative boogie. There's no set style."
"What do you think's the biggest difference between the English and American hip-hop scenes?" I wonder.
"America is the home of hip-hop," concedes Daz. "But what the U.K. has is a really good club scene, where you can go out and hear different kinds of music, from jungle and drum 'n' bass, to whatever. In the London clubs you'll hear broken beat, house, hip-hop, underground, overground. The clubs are so vibrant there, and people are up for anything.
"Also, we've got a lot of pirate radio stations -- these young kids broadcasting out of their bedrooms -- and radio DJs who actually play our stuff. They're not taken over by the commercial radio stations. The problem in America is that the corporate has taken over, homogenizing the sound."
"Maybe the U.S. needs a few of them pirate radio stations," I comment.
"That could work," Daz responds. "But I think Internet radio stations are a better alternative. That seems to be the way people are getting connected these days, as far as music worldwide is concerned."
"Jett here's already on the Internet," I snark. "But her performance ain't exactly musical."
"A girl does one nude video, and they never let you forget," gripes the Jettster. "Now I know how Paris Hilton feels."
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