Vince Staples Bringing His Blend of West Coast Hip Hop to Noise Pop


As is often the case, the epicenter of the hip hop zeitgeist is LA these days. West Coast gangsta rap set the tone for many of the hits of the past two decades, and is what many consider LA hip hop. But an argument can be made that as the 90s progressed, rap mainstream lost sight of social consciousness that made early acts like N.W.A so groundbreaking. Themes of wealth and excess often overshadowing the politics and reality of living with poverty and violence. But in recent years we are seeing more threads of different types of music from down south, an example being emerging young artist Vince Staples. His style recognizes the hardship of street life,  but is far more experiential than boastful (see modern gangsta rap).

Staples’ released Summertime ’06 in 2015 and opened up a lot of the critics’ eyes. The album is a two disc epic that captures the sprawling feeling of the Long Beach streets where he grew up. When he takes the stage Friday night for Noise Pop it will just be another step in his journey from those SoCal streets to an artist who is increasingly selling out venues across the world. Staples isn’t shy about his gang-banging past as a former Crip, it’s a part of who he is and where he got his start rapping (Check out Willamette Week for a great interview covering this). It’s these experiences, combined with his desire to make the best music possible that the audience connects with. His music is not just about entertainment or partying, these are the experiences that molded him. He has gotten pushback for not embracing the gangsta rap of the 90s that glorifies the life, but it’s not about disrespect, that’s just not part of his experience.

Unfortunately, many of today’s youth still grow up enduring the same violence and horrors as Staples, but his deep intelligence and unsettling honesty act as an uncommonly direct conduit for these experiences. He has the ability to bring you into his world, no matter the uncomfortable truths you may find there. In “Birds & Bees” you quickly realize this is not a song about love, but an intense, gritty look at life as he knows it. “Rounds up in that chamber/ I’m a gangsta like my daddy/ My mama caused another problem when she had me.” Over a simple bass line and drum break, Staples spits hard truths, taking his experiences and elevating them to art.

His versatility can also be heard in “Smoke & Retribution,” a collaboration with Australian producer Flume, delivering rhymes over an incredibly sparse electronic beat. It’s easy for these electronic/hip hop collaborations to devolve into parody, but the intensity and dynamism of his voice hold your attention and really carry what is otherwise a pretty basic song. 

Noise Pop and Social Hall are in for a real treat Friday night, more details on the venue and event here.

Final G-EAZY (1 of 1)

Photos: G-Eazy, the Rise of a Villain From The Bay to the Universe


Oakland’s Gerald Gillum, better known as G-Eazy has climbed the ladder of fame, from the early days of Must Be Nice to recent chart-climbing classic, When It’s Dark Out. A few things remain the same: the goals, dreams, and aspirations of this artist. The climb to the top has always been on Gerald’s mind, and he has always been an advocate of setting your sights to the highest of elevations, and working your hardest to reach your target. As he puts it, “And in a year I went from overlooked to overbooked. You won’t ever understand the work it took.”

Check out what life on the road is like for G-Eazy now:

Standing in line for the photo pit at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, I ran into Grady Brannan, Gerald’s personal photographer. I asked him if I could snap a quick photo, he agreed, and I took his portrait just as he has taken portraits of countless hip-hop legends. The anticipation began to build as I reviewed my photo and the lights dimmed. “Intro” from When It’s Dark Out slowly fading into the howls, wails, and roars from the crowd behind me.

G-Eazy hit the stage with an explosion of pyrotechnics and light. The blaring tones from the crowd hitting me harder than the bass frequencies from the speakers. Bras sailed through the air, fire and smoke. G-Eazy brought the energy from the very start. Dressed in all black with his hair slicked back, and a faded Metallica shirt on, he was truly ready to rock out. His first track was “Random” continuing through the album following the flow of his recent album and bringing out a slew of guests. Devon Baldwin joined for “Lets get Lost,” followed by appearances from Logic, A$AP Ferg, and Marc E Bassy, and finally one and only Based God. Lil B. Read More


Tonight! Let’s Dance – A David Bowie Tribute Party With Queen Bitch, Kendra McKinley, DJ Omar and More


Very few people touched as many lives in as many different ways as David Bowie. You may know him as the legendary singer-songwriter that inspired generations of other artists, as the Goblin King, as a fashion and LGBT icon, as a video game pioneer, or simply as Starman. For us earthlings Bowie is more than an artist, his influence reaches into the fabric of our cultural existence. There are many out there who are more qualified and more capable of eulogizing the man so I prefer to celebrate him instead I’m going to focus on enjoying his music and dancing my ass off, and thats exactly what I’ll be doing tonight at Rickshaw Stop.

Tickets are stupid cheap at $10. Buy them here.

Let’s Dance- A David Bowie Tribute is a fitting homage to a man who was always looking to push the limits of the music industry and nurture the growth of artists everywhere. It says everything about Bowie that not only did he release an album right before his death, but he was actively planning his next works in the final few days. Tonight we will be treated to a fantastic group of musicians from all walks of life coming together to celebrate an irreplaceable pillar of pop.

Anchoring the night is Queen Bitch a tribute act which includes members from several local acts and fronted by Roberto Baldwin of North American Scum. Besides a badass parade in NoLa, I am pretty sure nothing would make Bowie happier than people coming together to celebrate his music, life and love (it is almost Valentines after all). I’m not sure what exactly to expect from the set, but I did get a shot of the band preparing via band member Doug MacMillan.12717328_10154571669284616_3890659925897097040_n

Joining Queen Bitch are some great local acts. First I have to give a shout out to DJ Omar of Popscene fame who will keep the party going all night. Also I have to mention Kendra McKinley who has an amazing and soulful vocal range. I can’t wait to see what songs she choses to sing in Bowie’s honor.

We will also have sets from SF locals Dangermaker and Oakland’s Wiskerman, who I must admit I don’t personally know, but all my coolest Facebook friends like them so they must rock.

Let’s Dance. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Celebrate Bowie and life at Rickshaw Stop tonight!





Explosive Hip-Hop Ensemble Mik Nawooj @ Harmonia in Sausalito 2/27


Hip hop, as an art form, is not this writer’s expertise. As such, I can’t comment on how Ensemble Mik Nawooj contributes to the genre’s progress. But I do know that hybrid sounds – combining multiple genres and atypical instrumental arrangements – are the future of music in general. Ensemble Mik Nawooj achieves this hybrid sound in spades, and their end of the month show in Sausalito is worth every second of the commute.

EMN combines jazz, rock, hip hop, and classical music. Their unparalleled live show pairs two emcees with an opera singer, a small orchestra (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, bass, piano), live drums and more – 10 performers in all. Not least among these is composer, pianist, and band leader Kim JooWan. (Pro tip: read his name backwards.) The Sacramento Bee says EMN “prove (that) hip hop is a complex art form” and I couldn’t say it better. Read More


Photos: The Knocks, Cardiknox and Sofi Tukker Kick Off First of Three Sold Out Nights at the Independent


Tuesday night at the Independent was a sweaty, raucous mess– exactly what we’ve come to expect when The Knocks make an appearance in San Francisco. The New York duo’s blend of electronic styles from deep house to nu-disco is genetically engineered to get any space moving. Joining them on tour are two other dance duos Cardiknox and Sofi Tukker, acts that seemed tailor made to help the Tuesday crowd transition from real life into madness. Check out photos of all the acts at the bottom of the post.

The opener was Sofi Tukker, a NYC based act that is actually working with The Knocks under their HeavyRocMusic Label. For better or worse I have a built up some preconceptions for electronic duos. The guy stands up there and plays some tones and tweaks some knobs on the synth and the girl sings, but Sofi Tukker isn’t a cookie cutter pop act. Their sound draws heavily on world music and latin genres, at times it almost seems as if front woman Sophie Hawley-Weld is speaking in tongues, like a hypnotic trance. She can also knock out some mean chords on the guitar. Tucker Halpern keeps the music flowing, incorporating percussive elements and samples; even busting out some dance choreography with Sophie. Check out “Drinkee:”

Next up was Cardiknox, another duo though they were playing as a foursome with drums and guitarist Tuesday. I have been really enjoying some of the singles put out by Cardiknox ahead of their upcoming debut album including “On My Way” which they played in the middle of their set. I noticed vocalist Lonnie Angle had missed the previous nights show with a cold and it looked as if she wasn’t yet 100 percent on stage, holding a water bottle and straining during the songs. I think everyone really appreciated her going out there for her fans, getting sick is an unfortunate part of tour life. Luckily there are still two more nights on this run at the Independent with The Knocks and then they are back with Carly Rae Jepsen at the end of the month. I’m going to try to catch that show to get a better taste of what Cardiknox is all about. In the meantime I will be wearing out the singles from their upcoming album Portrait.

The real chaos started when BRoc and JPatt of The Knocks took the stage to close out the night. Read More


SONG OF THE DAY: Bleeding Heart Pigeons “O Happy, Happy, Happy”


Today’s Song of the Day, “Oh happy, happy, happy,” is brought to you by that particular existential madness that comes from casting off a religion that stamps into your deepest subconscious the idea that God is separate from you and of whom you will never be worthy (aka Catholicism). Like Bleeding Heart Pigeons‘ lead singer Michael Keating, I have traveled that gruesome (but ultimately glorious) road.

So when I hear a lyric like:

“Oh the hunger in my arm
When I kill the hunger in my arm
my leg leaps up in alarm
I need constant feeding
The hunger never leaves
I once read a story of a man in the east
who starved himself and he found peace
But not me
Oh but not us here.”

I understand what hunger he is talking about – the hunger to fill the void of the divine now blasted open. A hunger to explain the unknowable. A hunger for worthiness but not knowing of what or whom we should strive to be worthy. And when this song loops back to its “Oh happy happy happy” chorus, I also understand the innate irony and suffering in the statement.

I like this song because it makes pain beautiful. It is noisy, distorted, and chaotic in its parts, but if you sit back it is, as a whole, a beautiful song, leaping between new wave, math rock, and artful-pop, the drums snapping and splashing. The vocals are at once crooning and gritty. I could cry, stomp, or stare at the floor – all reasonable responses to the song.

The trio is based out of Limerick, Ireland. Their new album Is will be released Friday February 12th, which also happens to be my birthday. “Oh happy happy happy … Happy birthday …”

Bleeding Heart Pigeons – “Oh happy, happy, happy”

Press photo
Written by Annie Bacon – @anniebacon


Hard Kn(ox): The Knocks and Cardiknox Team up for East-Meets-West Dance Party at Independent Feb 9-11


It’s no secret that we expect big things from The Knocks when they release their first full LP in March. In fact, the electronic dance duo may be New York’s worst kept secret at this point, after scoring big on the dance charts with “Classic” last summer and then again this summer with the Fetty Wap remix. Next week the NYC Chinatown beat-makers are teaming up with LA buzz act Cardiknox for what has turned out to be one of the hottest tickets in SF, already selling out two nights of a three day run. There a few tickets left for Thursday 2/11 and you can pick them up here.

2016 is off to a hot start for The Knocks. I wrote about how they were poised to blow up last spring but I had no idea at the time that they would be collaborating with heavy weights like Cam’Ron and Wyclef Jean. They are even producers Wyclef’s new album.

In an age where we are often asked to see our favorite musicians play “DJ sets” The Knocks are DJs that know how important live performance is to the dance experience. This isn’t a knock (get it) on any other artist, I just want to emphasize how amazing they are live with JPatt on the bass and vocals and B-Roc on the drums. The ability to take dance music and elevate it in a live setting is something that not every act can do, and they excel.

Check out their new song with Wyclef “Kiss The Sky,” an absolute banger. 

Joining The Knocks are Seattle-bred, LA-based dance duo Cardiknox. It’s hard to predict who will make the next big splash in the pop world, especially in the world of electronic music, but Cardiknox definitely ended 2015 with a potential hit in “On My Way.” So far in 2016 they are only adding to their intrigue with tastes of their upcoming album Portrait like single “Into The Night.” Right after they finish up their run with The Knocks they are heading on a Spring tour with Carly Rae Jepsen.

Check out the video for “On My Way,” done in one take it definitely is inspiring me to get my friends to coordinate some sidewalk dance moves soon. Read More

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PREMIERE: “Meteorite” from The Y Axes – playing Milk Bar on 1/29


SF Critic is excited to premiere the new single, “Meteorite,” from San Francisco band The Y Axes. These are an infectious three listening minutes; a dreamy pop-wave anthem for your upcoming trip to the outer edges of the cosmos. The band – self-described post-apocalyptic alternative pop, making music not for the future, but of the future – orbits strongly around the tight drumming of Nick Schneider and the sweetly ethereal vocals of Alexi Belchere. Recorded in Oakland at Hellam Sound, the song pulls together grungy alt-rock guitar tones (think My Bloody Valentine) and polished synth pop (The xx) into a solid production that nods to The Cocteau Twins.

The band plays The Winter Wizard Formal, hosted by Milk Bar, on Friday night January 29th. Down and Outlaw and Lords of Sealand will round the night out. Don’t forget to wear your wizardly best. More details here.

“Meteorite” – The Y Axes


Photos: The Devil Makes Three at the Fox on Friday Night was a Real Family Affair


A different breed of bluegrass crawled out of the Santa Cruz mountains in 2002, and with it, The Devil Makes Three dragged the genre into the 21st century. The three piece string-band made its return to the Bay Area on Friday night after a phenomenal 2015 and turned in a real barnburner at The Fox.

A TDM3 show is a bona fide social experiment. You’ve got your shaggy, millennial hippies stomping alongside wasted, shirtless, teenage boys who are locking arms with, well, hipsters (it is Oakland in the year 2016 after all). It’s a a real family affair. You’re going to find yourself dancing in a lot of circles, spilling a ton of beer, and drinking even more. I even braved the mosh pit before being chased by a sweaty, rogue dreadlock.

As for the music, the good folks at the Fox didn’t book them back to back nights just for the hell of it. Their pace is furious. But this threesome knows how to work a crowd so in between fierce anaerobic stomping, I had ample time to imbibe as the crowd slowed from sheer chaos to a gentle sway. With tracks like “Shades,” I had my arm around my buddies like it was a goddamn Garth Brooks Karaoke hour and the next thing I know, they basically had me running in place like a maniac to “Statesboro Blues” (a cover of the americana, blues standard). Read More

Anderson Paak at 1015 Folsom

Anderson .Paak PAAKS the House @ 1015 Folsom


Sorry not sorry about that headline… too goddamn easy.

Last Thursday night, breakthrough hip-hop & soul star Anderson .Paak fired up a crowded house at 1015 Folsom with his funky backing band The Free Nationals. The free show was the official release party for his excellent sophomore album Malibu, released just a week earlier. Word is there were over 5000 RSVPs for the 1800 capacity club- the entry line stretched farther than the eye could see. There’s no way they all made it inside, but from the sweat-drenched walls and kids hanging over every inch of balcony, you wouldn’t know it.

Read More

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