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west coast, french toast

It could be the onset of summer weather, or maybe just this crazy travel itch that’s been building over the past year, but I’ve had the West Coast on my mind.

[I grew up in Toronto but spent several years living in the Maritime region and traveling through Europe, and the more I moved around, the more I came to notice just how closed and narrow the Toronto sound is – particularly when it comes to hip hop. I call it the “Toronto ear”, and, barring the significant West Indian influence that’s spiked the flavour of so many local emcees and producers, it favours an almost exclusively American North/East Coast sound, with a heavy preference for anything NYC. That’s cool, man, I mean, I like Nas too, but anyone with broader tastes is hard-pressed to find a likeminded audience. Case in point – the CaliComm tour that passed through town a few months ago. Del was there, Acey was there, I was there – where the hell were you?]

I’ve got the West Coast on my mind and, as luck would have it, I’ve been invited to participate in a conference back back in Cali Cali this July. I can’t say no to a free trip (even if it is funded by a creepy Libertarian organization – more on that some other day). I have yet to touch the Pacific or cross into US territory, and though it’s exciting enough just to be going somewhere new, what I’m hyped most about taking in some new jams. Here’s my starter’s kit:

4th Avenue Jones – Monumental Continental [x]

My trip starts in Orange County, which, according to my sources, is a hotbed for KKK activity. My sources also tell me that it can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours to get to Los Angeles, so goodness knows that I’ll be flippin outta there as soon as I’m able. Aside from tracking down Aceyalone for tea, I’m hoping to catch a show with these cats, 4th Avenue Jones. They describe themselves as “hip rock soul,” and are obviously aiming for some mainstream, heavy-video-rotation appeal with this new album. Am I snobby enough to care? Hells no. Their sound is heavy, thick, and HUGE. Layers upon layers of distorted guitar wails, laid-back raps, and strong storytelling (read: delicious dramatics) to tie it all together. I remember seeing their name plastered all over the city a few years back (helloooo street team), but was put off by the name. They’ve finally caught my attention.

75 Degrees – Fly High (Icelandic Remix) [x]

At the far, far, other end of the hip hop spectrum, and about four hours up the Cali coast, is 75 Degrees. Another iffy name, but GOODNESS GRACIOUS, this is something special. I remember going apeshit when I first heard the pre-release version of “The Last Great Hip Hop Album” last summer, and I’m really hoping some big things happen now that the official cut has been dropped. Whereas 4th Ave will build their sound, the 75 strip it down; in conversation with bandleader Rick Bond a while back, he explained that he was all about going back to the basics of songwriting. Rather than trying to hide or mask a song’s structure behind multiple layers, he gives the listener only the naked, raw, rugged (yet refined) pieces. My ears are so accustomed to over-produced, shiny product, so it took me a few listens to really enjoy what they’re doing musically. Lyrically though, the 75 get A+ top notch grades, all around. The first words on the opening track (from the pre-release) were “I got your album, but I took it back“, and snap, they had me. This track is a remix of kind of a pep-rally, shake-like-yer-crazy song on the same album, and utterly different from any of their other songs, but I think it’s such a brilliant concept that I have to pick it as my favourite. A crunk remix over an airy Bjork soundscape? Get outta my face!

Josh Martinez – Cheers [x]

Many, many, many hours north of the San Fran Bay is Vancouver, another place I’ve never been to but that is at the top of my list. If I don’t go bankrupt between now and the end of the month, I’ll hopefully be able to touch down for a few days either before or directly following the So Cal trip. Josh Martinez is not from Van (he’s a Bluenoser), but while the West is Canada’s self-proclaimed mecca of chill, the real easy-going Canadians are from the East (despite the lousy economy, crazy blizzards, etc). J-Mart really does have the best of both coasts, and listening to him is, for me, what summer and being young is all about. Every so often I’ll get his lyrics stuck in my head, walk by the mirror and yell to my reflection: “I’m twenty-three years old and I look great naked!” For that little nugget of joy, and for everything else, I thank you Josh.

NB: The first post is always the hardest. Too many years of music writing have left me with an inability to express myself. Time.

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