Focused Noise Productions
Focused Noise is the home of Animal Farm, Line of Fire (formerly Cleveland Steamers), Serge Severe, and Mic Crenshaw.
Focused Noise Productions was founded in 2001 in Los Angeles by Erik Abel (Gen.Erik from Animal Farm) and Cale Bunker, when they released Gen.Erik’s Seven Deadly Songs EP, with DJ Aero from Methods of Mayhem. In 2006, Gen.Erik and DJ Aero joined Mic Crenshaw, a Portland , Oregon poetry slam champion and national finalist, to form Cleveland Steamers, and released Treasure Chest, which was praised by Okayplayer, Hiphopdx.com, Rapreviews.com, and many more publications. Two years later, Focused Noise released a mixtape hosted by Boom Bap Project’s Nightclubber Lang, as well as three highly acclaimed albums, including Animal Farm’s The Unknown, Mic Crenshaw’s Thinking out Loud, and Serge Severe’s Concrete Techniques, all of which were applauded in URB Magazine’s Next 1000 Column.
Animal Farm’s The Unknown features the legendary KRS-One and peaked at #3 on the CMJ College Radio Hip-Hop Charts, where the album remained in the Top 10 for seven straight weeks. The group has also developed a large regional following after performing live throughout the United States with the likes of Common, Method Man and Redman, GZA, RZA, N.E.R.D., KRS-One, The Cool Kids, The Game, and at CMJ Music Marathon. Mic Crenshaw’s first solo album, Thinking out Loud, features Stic.Man from Dead Prez and peaked at #4 on the CMJ College Radio Hip-Hop Charts. Crenshaw has also shared stages with the legendary Fugees, Ice Cube, Outkast, Wu-Tang Clan, among many others. Serge Severe's album, Concrete Techniques has been received with great praise from fans and reviewers alike, and was named as one of the top Albums in 2008 by Rapreviews.com and Hiphoplingustics.com.
Thursday Oct. 8th, 2009-The Backspace(All Ages)
Ten years after the release of their debut single, Oakland hip-hop duo Zion I return with The TakeOver, a filler-free new mix of jabs, roundhouses and uppercuts that continue their streak as one of hip-hop’s most diverse groups.
For TakeOver, which features guest spots by Houston legend Devin the Dude, UK emcee Ty and Rhymesayers’ Brother Ali, producer AmpLive and emcee Zumbi incorporate the best parts of their live show—perfected through nonstop touring—and bring that vibe to the studio.
“Zion I has a reputation of being very spiritual and serious,” notes Zumbi. “I think The TakeOver is a lot more fun than our past records. We still touch on serious subject matter, but this album shows the other sides of our personality.”
Over the course of five LPs and numerous EPs and mixtapes, the group has proven to be a welcome enigma in hip-hop. Lyrically, Zumbi runs the gamut on a range of issues both serious and frivolous, discussing problems and pleasures both spiritual and worldly. Throughout, his fanbase keeps coming back for his smooth delivery and ability to raise issues without sounding didactic. Musically, Amp draws from both the usual (funk, soul) and esoteric (house, drum n bass) to create soundscapes that work as well on an electronic music mixtape as it does hip-hop. An accomplished remixer as well, Amp has remixed everyone from Linkin Park to MGMT, and most recently released Rainydayz Remixes based on Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Every production and remix, though, always brings it back to his main job in Zion I. “I started using way more effects on this album,” says Amp. “So I was able to bring in more elements that I’ve been using for some of the dance and indie rock stuff.”
Despite living a few miles from each other, technology facilitated the making of TakeOver, as the duo would e-mail verses and beats back and forth, with each member continually making notes and suggestions on both parts of the song. This fully collaborative effort ensured that both Amp and Zumbi would have a say in the final product during the entire production process. “Our songs go through many different styles and iterations,” admits Amp. ““Caged Bird,” for example went from an Electro R&B joint to a drum n bass track to its current version [as a soul-inflected, string-laden beat].”
While the final work is still Zumbi and Amplive, the two are quick to point out how their writing process has changed this time out. “We have an inner core of people who we let listen to the album in different stages and got feedback on what they liked,” says Zumbi. “On other albums, it was generally us just making whatever we wanted and then they’d just say what songs they like. Our skin is thick enough and we’re honest enough with ourselves that we can take criticism.”
This new method of recording was essential to the finished product, but the group always has a definite idea in mind, looking at their tracks as fans as much as musicians. “We try to make music that falls into a crack and fills a void for us as fans of music,” says Zumbi. “We discuss what we want the album to feel like and then we just let the unconsciousness take over and let things go. We just allow that process to take on its own life.”
From the electro-rap homage “DJ DJ” to the spacey futuristic synths of “Antenna,” The TakeOver encapsulates the diversity and versatility that have made Zion I Bay Area stalwarts for over a decade. As with any Zion I album, there’ll never be any compromise away from deep thought, but as anyone who’s seen the pair live knows, that means nothing if the crowd ain’t entertained. One listen to the album, and you’ll know The TakeOver may be the most appropriate title of the year.
Friday Oct. 9th, 2009-Slabtown(21&Over)
Don't take Grayskul's sometimes dark, mystical aesthetic the wrong way--MCs Onry Ozzborn and JFK aren't trying to be Goth or ghoulish. "We never go into anything like 'oohh, let's be eeevil on this one. We're gonna get 'em!' It just comes how it comes," explains Onry.
Born out of the Pacific Northwest's Oldominion hip-hop collective, Grayskul emerged as a group in 2004 touring with Rhymesayers artists Eyedea and Abilities. And they made quite an impression as the opening act. In addition to holding an unrelenting energy, Grayskul brought to the stage their animated bassist Rob Castro, a television with no signal, and alien dummies propped atop their shoulders.
With their 2005 Rhymesayers debut, Deadlivers, this Seattle group kept the uncommon visuals coming in the form of imaginative storytelling. Going by the alter egos Fiddleback Recluse (JFK), Reason (Onry Ozzborn), and Phantom Ghost El Topo (Rob Castro), Grayskul conquered corrupt MCs and societal ills utilizing razor-sharp raps and electrifying boom-bap beats (from Onry, Fakts One, Oldomion's Mr. Hill and others).
Despite the comic book-like theme of the album, Onry clarifies how real the record actually is: "Deadlivers was taken by most as this dark, superhero journey through this crazy made up world of MCing, when in actuality, it was what MCs go through today in real life situations."
Not wanting to repeat themselves in the slightest, Onry and JFK are taking a more conceptual approach with their new album, Bloody Radio, which features Slug, Cage, Pigeon John, Aesop Rock, and vocalist Andrea Zollo. Produced by their Oldominion brethren (Mr. Hill, Smoke, Coley Cole, The Gigantics) and other Pacific Northwest reps (Sapient, Bean One), this release is an experiment in reconstructing the many sub-genres of hip-hop today and throwing them back in the face of those who insist on dividing the culture.
"Haunted" is an eerie synth-driven track that brings some Lil Jon-esque crunk down to a subterraneous level while "How To Load A Tech" with Cage is a curious dissection of hardcore, gun-happy hip-hop. And if you ever wondered what Onry and JFK would sound like flowing in the ever popular double-time style, look no further than the bubbly lead single "Scarecrow."
Reflecting on the concept of Bloody Radio, Onry says, "Back in the day, it used to just be categorized as 'hip-hop'--nowadays there's crunk, screwed, emo, gangsta, underground, club, horrorcore, etc. We basically look at our new album as reversal brainwash--hip-hop music somewhat sounding like all these genres, but interwoven with message, substance, concepts, wittiness, opinion, and most of all, honesty while still maintaining a sense of humor, imagination, and originality. Bloody Radio has something for everybody."
Saturday Oct. 10th-The Roseland(All Ages)
Synonymous with Bay Area rap, E-40 garnered a regional following, and eventually a national one, with his flamboyant raps, while his entrepreneurial spirit, embodied by his homegrown record label, Sick Wid' It Records, did much to cultivate a flourishing rap scene to the east of San Francisco Bay, in communities such as Oakland and his native Vallejo. Along with Too Short,Spice 1, and Ant Banks, E-40 was among the first Bay Area rappers to sign a major-label deal, penning a deal with Jive Records in 1994, after years of releasing music independently, going back as far as 1990, when Sick Wid' It released Let's Side, a four-track EP by the Click, a group comprised of E-40, his cousin B-Legit, his brother D-Shot, and his sister Suga T. Throughout the '90s and into the early 2000s, E-40 and his Sick Wid' It associates released a series of albums on Jive, and though they weren't big sellers nationally, they were well received regionally and proved highly influential, on not only the West Coast but also in the South, thanks in part to Master P, who began his No Limit Records empire in the Bay Area (i.e., Richmond) in the early to mid-'90s before relocating it to New Orleans. E-40's ties to the South became more direct in the mid-2000s, when, upon the expiration of his deal with Jive, he partnered with Atlanta rapper/producer Lil Jon and his BME Recordings label, in association with Warner Brothers. The first album to be released as part of this partnership, My Ghetto Report Card (2006), was E-40's most successful in years. Concurrently, the Bay Area rap scene, with its so-called hyphy style, was growing in popularity nationally, and there was no bigger champion of the Bay and its style than E-40, whose innumerable guest features helped foster the scene and whose son, producer Droop-E, had grown to become one of hyphy's foremost practitioners.
Born Earl Stevens on November 15, 1967, in Vallejo, CA, E-40 made his rap debut in 1990 on Let's Side, a four-track EP by the Click, a group comprised of E-40, his cousin B-Legit, his brother D-Shot, and his sister Suga T. The EP was co-produced by Mike Mosley and Al Eaton and was released on Sick Wid' It Records, an independent label founded by E-40. In 1993 E-40 made his solo album debut, Federal, a nine-track LP/14-track CD produced by Studio Ton and released by Sick Wid' It Records in association with SMG (Solar Music Group), a regional distributor. Then in 1994, on the strength of the regionally popular independently released single "Captain Save a Hoe" (aka "Captain Save 'Em Thoe"), from the six-track Mail Man EP, E-40 signed a recording contract with Jive Records, the home of Bay Area pioneer Too Short since 1987. Jive re-released "Captain Save a Hoe" on 12" and also re-released the Mail Man EP, adding two bonus tracks; all the songs on the EP, including "Captain Save a Hoe," were produced by Studio Ton, except one of the bonus tracks, "Ballin' Out of Control," which was produced by Mike Mosley and Sam Bostic. In 1995 Jive released four E-40 albums: a re-release of Down and Dirty, a 1994 album by the Click; Game Related, a newly recorded album by the Click; a reconfigured version of Federal, his 1993 solo debut; and In a Major Way, a newly recorded album produced by Studio Ton, Mike Mosley/Sam Bostic, andFunk Daddy. Of these numerous releases, In a Major Way proved E-40's breakthrough; featuring a collaboration with fellow Bay Area hardcore rappers 2Pac, Mac Mall, and Spice 1, "Dusted 'n' Disgusted," in addition to several songs that would also become fan favorites ("Da Bumble," "Sideways," "Sprinkle Me," "1-Luv"), the album was very well received regionally and took the rapper's career to a new level of respectability.
Beginning with Tha Hall of Game (1996), E-40 released six additional solo albums on Jive -- The Element of Surprise (1998), Charlie Hustle: The Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire (1999), Loyalty and Betrayal (2000), Grit & Grind(2002), Breakin News (2003) -- plus one further album by the Click, Money & Muscle (2001). Over the course of these albums, E-40 maintained his regional following and picked up additional fans nationally, yet he never did break into the mainstream. Besides "Captain Save a Hoe," only two of his Jive singles ever charted on the Billboard Hot 100 ("1-Luv," 1995; "Things'll Never Change," 1996), and following his initial burst of popularity from 1994 to 1996, his sales generally declined from one album to the next. E-40's career isn't well measured by chart hits and album sales, though, for he more or less remained an underground rapper, albeit one with a major-label contract, working almost exclusively with an inner circle of Bay Area rappers and producers. His long list of guest features is representative of his popularity (not to mention his generosity), as practically every regional act sought his presence. A guest feature by E-40 gave an unknown West Coast rapper instant credibility, even if it didn't amount to a national hit. During the late '90s, E-40 also began being featured as a guest on Southern rap albums (for example, appearing on8ball's Lost, Master P's MP Da Last Don, and Scarface's My Homies in 1998 alone).
E-40's ties to the South became most clear in 2006, after the expiration of his contract with Jive, when he partnered with Lil Jon and his BME Recordings label for My Ghetto Report Card, released in association with Warner Brothers. The album -- featuring production from Lil Jon as well as Bay Area beatmakers Droop-E, Rick Rock, Studio Ton, and Bosko -- was E-40's most successful in years, arguably since Tha Hall of Game (1996) or even In a Major Way (1995), and it marked his return to the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in a decade, with a pair of impressively charting singles: "Tell Me When to Go," featuring Keak da Sneak (number 35), and "U and Dat," featuring T-Pain (number 13).