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GZA & DJ MUGGS, AKIL’S LAUSD, P-Able & Sinuous, Tha Conclusion, & Lyrical Geniuses ~ LIVE ~ Santa Barbara

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Sadly, I don't recall ever having a nocturnal emission as a yoof. Last Friday, just shy of my third decade, I finally seemed to be living out a wet dream, pressed to the very front of the Velvet Jones stage, not more than 250 people behind me in the semi-packed, tiny club. GZA AKA Maximillion AKA the Genius AKA Allah Justice, head to the Wu-Tang Clan Voltron, passed me the mic with a smile to rock out a few verses of the poetic, precise street-fire he spit on "Enter the 36 Chambers."

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While multi-millionaire 'gangstas' like Fitty and Game seek to rekindle bullshit beef between us Golden State Warriors and our 'manos from La Manzana Grande, real artists like Soul Assassins' DJ Muggs, born in Queens and most closely associated with South Gate's Cypress Hill, teamed up with Do-or-Die Bed-Stuy's GZA to cut up the intricate, impressive Grandmasters album, The GZA's best since the classic Liquid Swords. The night was full of spirited love for hip-hop and high-energy fun, with no screwface expressions or tough-guy posturing, as real MCs representing South and Central Cali warmed the stage for the East Coast Gods, including Jurassic Five's local hero Akil who introduced us to Los Angeles Unified Skill District, his camp of friends with Masters Degrees in mics.

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First up were Lyrical Geniuses, a trio of MCs from Oxnard (BLAM! BLAM!), whose passion for hip-hop is more than palpable. LG take this hip-hop shit seriously, busting gritty boasts while DJ Captain Mike spun the group's self-produced grimy, funk-tinged beats, with a trace of the psychopathic in their straight-forward, intense deliveries. As Wise 1, The Beast, and Raw warmed up, the crowd did too, making a satisfying four-song palatte-teaser for a night that just got sicker and sicker. On the heels of their 2nd release, Still Movin', we're exicted about these guys' refining their noticable talent and becoming bigger players on the underground SoCal scene.

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Next came my favorite personal discovery of the night, 5 Los Angeles MCs--Tha Conclusion, Alpha MC, Stoneye, MC Deyes, and Aud One along with DJ Spye--come together Wu-style to showcase rapid staccato deliveries, abstract concepts, tongue-twisting, trippy rhymes, clever, hilarious lyrics often straddling the ingenious, and a sense of absurd fun. The crew moved loosely, shuffling across the stage, throwing raps with supreme confidence and flair. All perform under their own names, the connection being Tha Conclusion, who performs in a variety of different groups (Legendary Prospects, Selektive Hearing, Phantom Omega) on his Phorth Dimension Herbanuaghts record label, and was the RZA-like force who put this extremely talented crew together that night. Like all his boys, Tha Conclusion has an incredible flow, fully decked out in a hoodie and Hannibal Lecter mask, this rhyme-addict is making serious moves across Cali, and as we all know from Tony Starks' example, once the face gets revealed, the game gets real.

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Alpha MC is my personal favorite, he's got some funky shuffles to accompany his flows. Each MC seemed to have an equal but seperate skill for punishing the mic, verbal beatdown after beatdown forcing countless "Oh shits!" from the THC-laced lungs of the massing crowd. You can see these cats all across SoCali and beyond.

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Next a powerful duo from Santa Barbara itself came to ignite the spot, pushing the room's energy to higher states. These two MCs, P-Able and Sinuous, are gifted and well-seasoned, showing a command of style and a lot of heart coming from their big smiles, intense raps, and intertwining flows. The more all these different MCs had fun with their jobs this night, the better the show became, and it was clear these two particuarly love what they do. Their greatest strength seeps from the harmony they share, stalking the stage with something unseen between them like best friends backing each other at the first sign of shit going down. Coming together as one voice on certain lines, finishing each other's sentences, and creating a forcefield that drew the crowd tighter and got them pumped for more, P-Able & Sinuous are true pros and I know we'll be hearing more great things for them very soon. Respect and suerte to P-Able for becoming a new daddy! Check out their various albums too, they're hot shit!

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Fifteen minutes later, the pint-size statured, super-size skilled Akil from Jurassic Five hit the stage in a light blue Hollywood jacket that was superdope! His team of MCs blazed, spitting non-stop in a range of diverse styles. Akil is a positive, commited guy, both cool and high-energy, his love for the game spreading across the room. "There are many branches of hip-hop..." Akil noted as he expressed the respect he has for all of it, even the bullshit.

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Each of LAUSD's MCs posses a range of different gifts, my favorite being the raggamuffin chat of Pupa Don, who broke it down again and again Jamaica-stylee, and Jack Spade, looking every bit the cat-burglar and smoothly stealing the spotlight in similar style when picking up the mouthpiece. LAUSD is a tribute to the MCs and friends who have held Akil up through the years, and not a departure from J5, but a sideproject we will definitely go check out at The Temple Bar in Santa Monica this coming Feb 24th.

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At this point, W's raised high in the sky, chants of "Wu-Tang" occasionally gaining steam before fading, the crowd was amped for the main course. Before GZA made his way onto the stage, a huge bottle of Courvosieur and long-necks of corona were placed on stage. "Y'all know me, I'm a different man doing my own shows. When I'm on stage with the clan, I'm content to lay back and not do too much..." GZA is known for his relaxed style, deep intelligence, and refusal to waste words, bringing the lyrical sword straight to the jugular. Friday's GZA came to Velvet Jones with all the spirit of a party MC. Backed by Killah Priest, Think Differently CEO-Dreddy Kruger, Sunz of Man's Prodigal Sunn, and another great MC whose name I don't know, his mission was nothing less than to tear the place up.

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Little did anyone have a clue the liquor was for us. Reflecting the spirit of the show in general, big cups were filled with conac and beers passed to the crowd, joints hitting the stage right back, and going from hand-to-hand in the house, communally. "Fuck the police!" called GZA after rocking a few tunes, "We don't need the fucking police. We can get along just fine without them, there's no problems here. Everyone's getting along." I've seen my fair share of swirling pits at punk shows, and witnessed concerts by Cypress Hill, Rage Against the Machine, and the Beastie Boys get the kids slamming, but this straight hip-hop show in Santa Barbara was the most punk I've ever seen hip-hop get, heads not just nodding but snapping towards the stage and bodies crashing together and on top of one another like Dave Lombardo was launching into a 20-minute drum solo.

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GZA was all smiles, seemingly with a trace of something or other in the bloodstream making him feel so good, spreading to his constant smile, and maybe contributing to the occasional lyrical flub, "shit, this just tells you it's live!" Ripping through just about every hit from '36 Chambers,' 'Liquid Swords,' and 'Wu-Tang Forever,' plus the best tracks off Grandmasters and his greatest guest slots, GZA kept things moving at a breakneck pace. "Clan in tha Front," "4th Chamber," "Cold World," "Reunited," "Shadowboxing," "Labels," and more obscure classics like "Breaker, Breaker, and "Guillotine (Swordz)," one of my favorites from "Cuban Links." Anytime GZA needed backup, the crowd would be spitting right alongside him, on top of every word.

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An O.D.B. tribute got fists pumping for "Crash Your Crew," and " Shimmy Shimmy Ya." GZA's on-stage banter and constant handshakes, pounds, and slaps show the soul of an artist who embraces his supporters, not stopping his verbal science 'til the last foot can barely stir. "I love this hip-hop shit, this is what I do. This is all I wanna do. This is my life and I'm going to do it forever, I don't give a fuck about anything else. I even got a son who raps, the next generation. I love this shit right here!"

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Still good-natured and having fun, one of the night's most hilarious moments came when a few fans called for the Genius to play his first single "Pass the Bone," from the Cold Chillin' days, literally seconds after finishing it. Isolating one guy in a ball-cap, GZA interrogated the dude to howls of crowd laughter. "Shit, wait, you wanna hear Pass the Bone? When's the last time you heard that? Cuz I just played that mutherfucker. I don't have a problem playing a song twice, that's fine, but I wanna know why you wanna hear that again..." The harrassment went on, and if you check above, I think I photographed the exact second homie dropped his attempts to argue and realized he'd been humbled by a true master.

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DJ Muggs is King of textural beats, as well as one of the most intimidating white dudes I've seen, standing huge with a thousand-yard stare over his tables, taking massive hits off a brown-bomber. His techniques are undeniable and even fucking with Wu-Tang beats, he has the ability to create a unique sound that is still his own.

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GZA's crew was flawless. Dreddy Kruger brought a punk-rock energy to his flows, looking a little like Eugene Robinson, the badass from Oxbow, the way he flung himself across stage, getting in the crowds faces with near-threatening intensity.

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Killah Priest's presence and bearing speak volumes, as he stood strong and massive like two pillars of ebony, his deep growl commanding several songs, including his classic 'B.I.B.L.E.' and his killa verses off of '4th Chamber.' My boy Frailman, the unoffical Mayor of Park Slope, Brooklyn, has blazed bones with Priest and GZA at the Zombie Hut, and says they are some of the most gracious, kicked-back dudes ever. I also think Priest gets the most tail, as the gaggle of girls on the balcony seemed to have a rapport with him even 30 feet away. A true hustler, he even sold a couple shirts right off the stage for $20, reminding me of the time a very famous Method Man sold a dime to my friend at a festival show.

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Prodigal Sunn has a roughneck swagger and precise sniper's flow that comes on strong, deadly, and by surprise. He rocked his verses on one of my favorite Wu songs, "Older Gods," fast and deft, and killed it even harder than GZA did on that particular track.

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I still don't know this other dude's name, but he was also on-point, demonstrating rapid dart-throwing, Shaolin-style, at its best. Thanks for the beer!

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"I ain't trying to talk about other nigga's music--hold up, I'm talking, respect that, than I'll hear you-- I ain't talking 'bout other nigga's lyrics, nigga's music, nigga's songs, I'm talking 'bout mutherfuckin' harmony," Gza orated, Muggs providing the occasional well-timed Cypress squeal from 'Loco en el Coco' for punctuation, "I'm talking about people's formula. I'm talking about the vibe of the mutherfuckers nowadays, man. I ain't tryna be the baddest--I don't care about all that shit. Bein' bad, nigga...I ain't bad! Fuck all that bullshit."

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GZA packed an hour and a half with just about every Wu-Tang song he's ever done, and was the best solo Wu show I've seen by far, even with stiff competition coming from his brothers. I've had the pleasure of meeting RZA, Cappadonna, and Killarmy on a few occasions and these Gods know how to show love to their fans, sparks of energy practically shooting through their fists when they reach for a pound.

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As the night ended and the mic left GZA's hand to mine, then traced a path around the front of the room, I felt it was a just reward for keeping my spot at the front and enduring this fat heifer screaming "Gravel Pit" in my ears for a half-hour. As bodies flagged and the MCs threatened to go all night, things eventually reached their climax with some possibly promising news. "There's going to be a new Wu album released this year," and indeed rumnors of 'The 8th Diagram,' are soaring over the cosmic waves of rap.

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We had the option of checking this show out in Anaheim and Los Angeles, but are stoked we made the trip up North to see Sean Healey Presents bring these legends and great up-and-comers to small-ass Santa Barbara. More and more, Healey's company is doing its best to bring large acts to smaller areas, with the fantastic result of dynamic shows and less crowd. We suggest following their schedule for other upcoming gems, like Too Short, whose dick is, incidentally, too long. Or so we heard.

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Big Farouk

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