His Life’s Work
There is little escape from the sun at 3rd and Adeline in Oakland. The industrial district is flooded with bodies sweating through T-shirts and bucket hats designed with variations of the three-eyed smiley face symbol of local rap legends Hieroglyphics. The crew is celebrating its fourth annual Hiero Day and among the invitees to perform is Sacramento’s Dibia$e. It seems as though a combination of the heat and the liberal weed smoking reduces crowd participation to a steady head nod that ripples to the signature bounce of Dibia$e’s production.
Although other producers will grace the stage with the same gear at Hiero Day, none manipulate the SP-404 like Dibia$e. His production is glitchy with hints of chiptune and 8-bit, at other times soulful samples finessed with a slice that’s both Dilla-esque and entirely a style all his own.
On this afternoon in Oakland the hundreds gathered don’t move much, but they also don’t leave. Break dancers accompany Dibia$e on stage, stepping to his music and interpreting the rhythms with their moves. It’s almost as though he’s got the remote control over their movement. We are high and in awe. He’s a veteran as much as headliners like Aceyalone and Tha Alkaholiks, but he’s also remained a low-key legend that’s been present at every significant scene in Los Angeles and makes no qualms about his quiet life in Sacramento.
Days prior to Hiero Day, I met Dibia$e at Sol Collective south of Broadway in Sacramento. He was there to record a session with a local artist, but the person had bailed last minute. As we were sitting in a side room tracking the timeline of his career, he said he liked Sol Collective because it reminds him of Good Life Café in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. In the ‘90s, Good Life, a raw food restaurant by day and the rawest open mic by night, was the event for independent rappers in Leimert Park. At Good Life, if you didn’t meet their standards, attendees shouted “pass the mic,” forcing you out of contention until next week. It was in competition at Good Life, later called Project Blowed, that he first earned his stripes as a rapper and later as a producer in beat battles. Dibia$e said once he got behind the sampler to make beats, it became his MO because his friends were always in need of them, and, from winning the battles, he got his first experience paying rent off rap music.
“It was stressful because I had to win like a prizefighter,” he said. “I was the Kimbo Slice on beats.”
From the early 2000s until 2007, Dibia$e was notorious in the California beat battle circuit. His competition at Project Blowed was against burgeoning artists like Nosaj Thing and TOKiMONSTA that prepared him for greater West Coast scene. When he wasn’t competing, he met with L.A. producers like Flying Lotus, Ras G, Kutmah and Exile at a beat workshop called Sketchbook at The Room in Hollywood—a precursor to the now-legendary Low End Theory at the Airliner. In those days, he’d take Greyhound buses to the Bay Area and drive to San Diego for battles. Venues like The Knitting Factory L.A. hosted Beat Society and the Red Bull Big Tune Beat Battles. He would even travel to the Inland Empire for battles in Riverside.
“Even when I’d go to watch, people would come up to me nervous to find out if I was entering,” he said.
He was making do from battling, but concurrently, the admiration for beat music was no longer exclusive to the small producer community. Sketchbook was conceived as a workshop to sit around a boombox and trade beat tapes like baseball cards. Low End Theory was a social event where people went to be scene and photographed; and where musicians like Erykah Badu, Thom Yorke, and Prince came to DJ secret sets. As Low End Theory took off and an arena for beatmakers outside the battle circuit became a reality, his associates from Sketchbook thought he should think big picture.
“A lot of cats used to tell me to leave the battles alone and start doing the shows,” he said. “But I felt like the battling was my market. It got me traveling. I rode that wave for a little bit. I didn’t win every single one. I’d drive far and lose battles. Lose in the finals after going four extra rounds and just miss it. Out $500 after getting that close. That’s rent money.”
In 2010 he was still competing in battles, winning the Los Angeles Big Tune event but falling short in the finals in Chicago, but that big picture was also coming into focus. He released his first solo album, Machines Hate Me, on L.A.-label Alpha Pup, run by Low End Theory mastermind Daddy Kev. That year was also when Dibia$e uprooted from L.A. to close the distance on a relationship with a woman from Sacramento. The move paid dividends. She’s now his booking agent, business partner with their label 10 Thirty Records, wife and mother of his newborn daughter.
While Sacramento did not offer the scene support he enjoyed in L.A., he expressed no regrets in his current status. His fatherhood role, which includes a stepson, structures his time spent making music. As a young producer, he would hole up in a friend’s studio and work in a weekend flurry. Now his lab time in a studio built in the backyard is reduced to a few hours during his daughter’s afternoon nap, the baby monitor at his side by the sampler.
“I can’t squander the day away,” he said. “I’ll play with her and stimulate her brain for a little bit. Sometimes she’ll sit in the lab with me, and I’ll play her some music. Put her to sleep. She sleeps for two hours. I knock some beats out a little bit. I’ll hear her on the monitor. She’s waking up and I’ll feed her again.”
To his stepson and the 6th grade hoop dreamers of California Youth Basketball League in Natomas, he’s Coach Dibia$e. He’s been a youth coach and participated in community volunteer work since his L.A. days and while he only played a year in high school, basketball was a passion growing up in Watts. He said he would play “sunup to sundown” on the public courts growing up. As Coach Dibia$e, his team struggled but competed admirably enough in the first season to maintain his position on the bench.
“I wasn’t going to do it again, but most of the kids requested me to come back,” he said. “They saw the improvement. The last four games we were close to winning all of them [let’s out a big sigh] … but didn’t. That’s that stress part I didn’t miss. But seeing those kids having fun makes it rewarding.”
He admits Sacramento is conducive to creative productivity in its lack of distractions. It shows in his output of three albums (Sound Palace, Looney Goons and Schematiks) in four years as well as several smaller Bandcamp releases. Here he’s lesser known, but his connections to Low End Theory continue to yield opportunities like shows in Australia and Japan. “The time flies,” he said. “It’s only felt like a few months, but it’s going on five years.”
On the horizon is his set at TBD Fest on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, and more projects with greater ambition, still thinking big picture.
“I’m planning to work with more rappers this year,” he said of his plans for the future, one of which includes aspirations for a project with Detroit rapper and Stones Throw artist Guilty Simpson. Locally he’s got work completed with Chuuwee, Rufio, Wise Child and Tel Cairo.
Still, when he graces that stage, the heart of his life’s work is at his fingertips. The SP-404 is designed to be portable, weighing only 2 pounds, 14 ounces, and he carries his in a shoebox decorated with stickers of the labels who have released his records. His appreciation for the life he leads is in those details on that shoebox. During his Hiero Day set he remixes Souls of Mischief, while sporting a red T-shirt that reads “‘93 Til.” Only days prior he expressed his decades of admiration for the Hiero crew dating back to his drawing days, and that being on that stage was a bucket list item.
“Going back to my junior high days I used to draw cartoon characters of like Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief, all them cats,” he said. “That’s the homies and shit now … if they would have told me I would be kicking it with some of these cats in ‘93, I’d have been like yeah right.”
Dibia$e is a must-see artist gracing the stage at this year’s TBD Fest, which will be held in the Bridge District in West Sacramento. For more tickets and lineup info, go to Tbdfest.com. Dibia$e will perform on the opening day of the three-day festival, Sept. 18, 2015.
Music is awesome, isn’t it? Whether intentional or not, music is a big part of everyone’s lives. It’s all around us: on TV, in ads, in our headphones and earbuds attached to our smart phones with streaming audio. Chances are if you’re reading Submerge, you love music too. Even though there is more great music being made than ever and access to it is becoming easier and easier, it’s still sometimes hard to know where to look to discover new tunes. Enter Submerge’s annual year-end best-of list! In 2013 there were so many amazing albums released that we actually expanded this story to feature the top 30 instead of the top 20. You’ll notice that a lot of this list, approximately 50 percent, is local. That’s not by mistake. That’s not because we tried to include local albums just to round out our list. No, we just have that much talent right here in our own city.
Compiled by all of our contributing writers and staff, we hope this list will help you discover something new. And because all of our attention spans are so short nowadays (are you still with us?), we kept our reviews to 140 characters or less, because we all know that reading someone’s short, to-the-point Twitter post is a helluva lot better than reading someone’s four-paragraph-long Facebook rant. Now, set forth and discover some new jams! Who knows, your new favorite band/album may be waiting for you somewhere on this list.
What can you say about Danny Brown? He’s rap’s Jim Morrison, The Lizard King. Old has been on repeat since the day I got it. And will be.
Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels
As dope as promised, it gets no better than this. Killer Mike is at his best, and El-P provides the perfect sonic-scape for destruction.
The Window Wants the Bedroom
Fantastically produced debut album of avant-garde supergroup featuring the great Jocelyn of ALAK, brother Michael RJ Saalman and Zac Nelson.
Deliver Us From Chemicals
2 can do it all. Skinner & Lydell are all binary: beard/belle; drum/voice; age/youth; decadent/austere; beautiful/music.
If Cake and Phish had a baby? Close, but doesn’t quite describe this amazing band. An infectious sound that makes you wanna get up and GO.
M.I.A. is pissed off, and still fresh as ever, rapping over aggressive beats and keeping the Sri Lankan sound alive.
Brooklyn noise punks retreat to a rural cabin, finding a balance between a Mudhoney dustup and a Grateful Dead peace-in.
Gauntlet Hair dropped the dopest, weirdest album we’ve heard in a minute and then immediately broke up. Spacey, strange, with a dash of pop.
The Miami trio switched things up with a more polished than pure garage sound. Still playful and infectious, just adding new dimensions.
Shine Your Light
Mid-tempo sex appeal born of psychedelic melancholy and rock ‘n’ roll disco; drugs, dance, drugs, booze, dance, fuck.
Crying cats ftw! The most dissed/discussed AoY; w/ hits by Dr. Luke, Pharrell & Mike WiLL, twerk! This is Miley’s year.
With rap albums you usually either get bangin’ trap beats OR real lyricism. On Thrill you get both. One of Sac’s best in top form.
Century Got Bars & Bru Lei
A flawless Tribe tribute and audible tour of this fair city’s nucleus. If you’ve spent more than five seconds in Midtown, you want this.
The Next Day
Charming, confidently progressive with kick-ass guitar solos. It’s classic Bowie with a modern, enthusiastically suspended twist.
Pure smokin’ stoner doom rock at its finest! Timeless lyrics and riffs. This album picks up where the band left off with Ozzy 30 years ago.
Abandon All Life
Yeah, it’s a light version of Unsilent Death (the most brutal album ever), but it’s still hard and evil enough to kill your grandma.
A perfect album for trekking the Sahara. Blues guitar, smooth Tuareg vox, steady rhythm. Produced by Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys).
Return to form for desert-baked Brothers Kirkwood. Simple, honest, catchy… Bare bones and poignant. May the Puppets live forever.
With Holy Fire, these British boys delivered their most focused (and heaviest) album to date, bringing a new meaning to “modern rock.”
City of Vain
Back Against the Wall
Sacto punkers bring forth one of the best punk rock records of the year, not just locally, but globally. Warm tones and classic style!
Middle Class Rut
Pick Up Your Head
More fierce rock ‘n’ roll from Sac’s Dynamic Duo…and we <3 it! Grimy grooves and distorted chaos mark MC Rut’s best album to date.
The Worst People Ever
Booze-fueled bone-breaking sludge metal with a sense of humor. This EP gives Sac’s heavy music fans something to smile about.
Voice of Reason
Tel Cairo is the best kind of weird. If Kurt Cobain made hip-hop music in space it would sound like Tel Cairo’s Voice of Reason.
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
Flamboyantly lilting pop with occasional Jagger twists; creates proneness for nymph-like prancing, sometimes mincing.
A dizzying mix of poetry, yelling and other stuff people hate. But in the eloquent words of MC Ride, “Fuck your idols/ Suck my dick.”
A solid debut by the Sacramento quartet. Guttural lyrical torrents coalesce with shadowy, rhythmic tones, blending into a dynamic framework of sound.
Your favorite dance-punk band is back again with more rump shaking, baby making, all-night-party-inducing tunes. Instant classic!
It’s an insightful album. An emotional excavation replete with lyrical fluidity, melodic flirtations and a groovy aftertaste.
Vivid percussive landscapes seen through a celestial-tinged lens. Spacey harmonies embedded within hypnotic textures and bright timbres.
Pain Is Beauty
A beautifully haunting album. Wolfe’s ghostly vocals, layered with cascading guitars, violins and synths, will put you in a trance.
15 Years, 11 Tracks, 11 Vocalists, 2 Bandmates: Tel Cairo
Words by Joe Atkins
For the last 15 years Cameron Others and 7evin have been working on their material, laying out beats, loops, archaic recordings of bedroom beatbox compilations and reworking that material into new orchestrations. In the last two years it’s all come together, and now, as Tel Cairo, Cameron and 7evin are set to release their debut full length, Voice of Reason. The album itself has been part of the long process of self-discovery for these two electronic musicians. Their sound, their relationship to composition, their knowledge of technique and technology have increased with each singular endeavor, and the result is a precision track listing of rattling low-end bass and twinkling high-end melodies.
And I’ve yet to mention what, for me, is the most impressive part of the album: its list of local MCs and vocalists who dominate the lyric and lead portions on the majority of the project. It’s a list of past, present and future Sacramento stars, artists whom have been working the scene for the last two decades trying to lift the city up with their own talents and careers. There are individual appearances from Aurora Love, “This Is Not”; Agustus thElephant, “Music Box”; and Mic Jordan, “Electro Knock.” On “Twelve Paths Toward Movement,” Sister Crayon frontwoman, Terra Lopez appears alongside hip-hop local TAIS; Mahtie Bush spits verse after verse on the track “Illicit” and the unknown, yet powerful, Stephanie Barber holds down the hook. Lest we find ourselves stuck in the lady sings the hook cliché, Paper Pistols new lead, Juliana Lydell sings the verses to the high pitched chorus of Caleb Heinze, from Ape Machine and Confederate Whiskey; and Task1ne, Voltron reference and all, flows over the verses of “Evening Push,” before local legend Jonah Matranga gives his signature falsetto to the hook. It’s a list that’s both diverse and impressive, and it makes for an album that highlights the many dynamic qualities of music in Sacramento.
Breaking from some highly competitive Wii, 7evin and Cameron sat down with Submerge, and we talked about Sacramento, influences, genre, processes of songwriting and recording, skateboarding, musicianship, Ira Skinner’s beard and the talented slew of lyricists they worked with on the album. In addition, Submerge exchanged a few emails with the lyricists, and, likewise, we share their thoughts on working with Tel Cairo.
What brought you to Sacramento? What are the best and worst parts about this city?
7evin: I moved here about eight years ago to work with Ira Skinner, a good longtime friend. Sacramento has an amazing group of musically talented individuals. We like what’s going on here. The cost of living is amazing; you don’t have to feel so pressured. The bad part is that there is almost no monetary value for art here.
Can you describe your songwriting process?
7evin: A lot of times we start off with analog, a guitar, drumset, bass. We get in there and start doing electronics. We don’t do samples. We do our own tones and MIDI controlling. There’s always one part, and we shoot it to the next person until he can’t work on it anymore, and he shoots it back. We’ll meet once a week and we’ll work on that song. We made 32 tracks for this album and 11 made the cut.
What sort of influence did Ira Skinner have, working with him as a producer?
Cameron: Ira let us figure out who we were. He took all the things we’d been layering for so long, and we’d forgotten what we started out with, and made them sound amazing. Some of these things were already done. We’d put so much into it. We needed to step away a little bit.
7evin: He is so chill in the studio. He let us fumble around to find a niche, and the second he hears something that’s good, he’s like “Wait, go back! Let’s do that.” We have the first word, bounce it off to someone in collaboration; we get the second word, and Ira comes in; and we get the final word.
Cameron: In between there was also a lot of growth and learning on our side, with the programs.
Of the two of you, who’s the biggest perfectionist?
7evin: We’re never happy with it.
Art is never done. We just move onto another song.
Cameron: We look at things a little differently. I’ll hear things differently that he might not hear. Technically, I think he’s the perfectionist, making sure everything is lined up. I’ve tried to watch, and I’ll fall asleep for a little bit.
7evin: We tag team it, recording. I’m 20 percent deaf in my left ear. I don’t hear high end, I hear mid-tone and bass. You can see that and feel that live. [Cameron will] come in and stick this melody here. He brings the beauty to my dirtiness. I’m a gutter-punk; this guy comes in, and he’s playing 12-string guitar. We’re very similar but we’re like the Alice in Wonderland, Looking Glass Mirror versions of each other.
Cameron: We get inspired at the same time from different things. We get a feeling. It could be DJ Shadow, it could be anything, a country song; our creative juices start, and we just sit down and see what comes out. When we work together we balance each other’s ideas.
I know that every collaborator brings a different set of skills to the studio, the songwriting process. Who impressed you most while recording?
7evin: Mic Jordan is one of the smartest people in the world. He’s brilliant. Just kicking it, he’d expand our minds in so many ways. When he came in, we worked an experimental song; it’s not a typical hip-hop track. He rose to the occasion.
He has like four different cadences, and it’s beautiful.
Cameron: Jordan, for sure. Caleb [Heinze], I’ve known that dude for a long time, and I knew he could sing. The way he nails that chorus is genius.
7evin: He has a range that no male should have. We weren’t sure what to do with that track “Nirvana,” but Juliana [Lydell] approached it off of his vocal, like the ghost of the guy she lost her virginity to.
What was it like to work with Jonah and everyone else? How’d you get them to collaborate on the album?
7evin: They were all our friends, except for Jonah, though Jonah’s now friends and family. Jonah’s someone we looked up to, someone we’d seen as kids growing up, going to shows at the Cattle Club. We had mutual friends so I hit him up.
Cam sent over “Evening Push” and he just ran with it. He was so kind and gentle of a person to work with two guys he didn’t know. We sent a lot of emails backwards and forwards. We haven’t got a chance to do it live with him as far as performance. But we’re doing that on April 4, everyone on the album is performing. It’s never going to happen again. It’s like one shot.
We definitely took a Gorillaz approach with this. Terra [Lopez and Cameron] are damn near best friends. I knew Stephanie [Barber] from helping her and her sister with their restaurant, and that girl can sing. We locked her and [Mahtie] Bush in my bedroom with us, and it was like a Seven Minutes in Heaven kind of thing, writing a song on an SM58 microphone.
Stephanie Barber [who is quietly present during most of the interview]: It was really creepy and productive.
One of the ways I’d describe your sound is electric, post-grunge, skateboard culture, all grown up. You happy with that?
Cameron: I’m cool with that. That’s what I do every day, [skate]. Skate videos have helped me listen to different things. In old Toy Machine videos, Ed Templeton uses a lot of Sonic Youth. I watched them hundreds of times. It made me want to experiment with my own guitar.
Would you say your music belongs as the soundtrack to the cinematic build up of a riot or the post-riot moment of optimistic melancholia, where a new world briefly exists but won’t last over time?
7evin: Afterwards, definitely. After everything’s been destroyed, and we’re rebuilding. There’s healing process in these songs. There’s hope. Your heart gets demolished, but you can grow and
Tel Cairo will celebrate the release of Voice of Reason at Midtown BarFly, 1119 21st Street in Sacramento, on April 4, 2013. This will be perhaps your only chance to see 7evin and Cameron Others share the stage with all of the vocalists who appeared on the album. For more info on the show, go to https://www.facebook.com/telcairo, or hop over to Midtown BarFly’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MidtownBarFly.
4 Questions with Mic Jordan, Mahtie Bush, Task1ne and Juliana Lydell!
How was it to work with 7evin and Cameron on your track?
Mic Jordan: They played me a skeletal version of the song they wanted me on and set me loose with no real guidelines. I definitely had input into its final outcome, but I also felt like, “OK, everybody here knows what they’re doing, they trust me do my thing lyrically, so I trust them to do their thing sonically.”
Juliana Lydell: They’re really open-minded, supportive, and enthusiastic. Creating with them is a lot of fun.
Can you tell me about the process, e.g. did they have the song done and let you do vocals over it, or was it more of a collaborative process where you aided in the musical composition?
Task1ne: They trusted my expertise and let me just record the track like how I usually do it with no problems. It was a blast. I fell in love with the track instantly. I’m a fan of all types of music, so it was great to get to experiment on something different.
Mahtie Bush: They built the track right on the spot, and as they did that I was writing to the beat. It just happened; we were on the same page. The vibe was ill.
What makes Tel Cairo vital to the local scene?
Mic Jordan: The fact that they are bridging the (artificially separated) electronic, alternative and hip-hop communities. Ultimately, what sets Tel Cairo apart is the fact that their music defies easy categorization while somehow sounding authentic no matter what territory it’s venturing into.
Juliana Lydell: How excited they are, how much they believe in community, and what a team effort they make out of the act of creation. They think big. It’s contagious.
How long until Tel Cairo achieves world domination?
Mic Jordan: Who’s to say they haven’t already?
Task1ne: A better question is, which one is Pinky and which one is the Brain? Inquiring minds would like to know.