Garrett Caples

Black man in the cosmos

AFRO-SURREAL: All hail an interplanetary stream of Sun Ra reissues
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AFRO-SURREAL "The Black Man in the Cosmos" wasn't among the course offerings when I attended the University of California-Berkeley. The class was taught once, in 1971, by musician/composer Sun Ra (1914-93), whose lectures might include topics like the outer space origins of ancient Egypt, conceptualized as a black African culture. This cosmic tradition has a long history, particularly in Chicago, where Ra lived from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, and where Elijah Muhammad used it as the founding mythos of the Nation of Islam. Read more »

Fill 'er up

New poetry anthology American Hybrid has only half a tank
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An anthology of poets who allegedly combine mainstream and avant-garde aesthetics, American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (WW. Norton and Co., 512 pages, $25.95) — edited by Cole Swensen and David St. John — is an idea whose time hasn't come. The word "hybrid" is suspect, its trendiness invented by the auto industry to delay real electric cars, hence the cover's Prius-green font. Read more »

The color purp

East Oakland veteran G-Stack paints the town with his latest, Dr. Purp Thumb
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G-Stack and Dotrix4000 of the Mekanix arrive for our interview clad in Oakland's signature purple. The color looms large among the town's dread-locked youth, owing to the purple weed so popular here: in local slang, assorted leafy greens become "grapes," and references to "Urkel" proliferate for rhyming purposes. Forget Dipset's Harlem and OutKast's Atlanta — Oakland is Purple City. Read more »

"Brad Noble: Chaotic Resolve"

Productive opacity and surrealist abstraction
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The recent Washington Post obituary of Andrew Wyeth reveals that the figurative painter considered himself an abstract artist, because he didn't depict but rather evoked a metaphysical vision. This idea is at least as old as 1907, when antimodernist Max Nordau hurled it as an accusation at French symbolist Puvis de Chavannes, and while few use the word abstract with this meaning, I find the conception sympathetic rather than pejorative. If we can call it a lineage, then Brad Noble is part of it. Read more »

Herself redefined

The word is the thing in The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest
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although I don't enjoy real lakes

Barbara Guest, Biography

Barbara Guest (1920-2006) once told me she shared a taxi in Manhattan with Marianne Moore. Seeing Guest unsuccessfully hail a cab, Moore impulsively instructed the driver of the one she was in to pull over and pick up the young poet. Moore didn't know Guest was a poet, and Guest was too intimidated to confess it, though they had a pleasant chat before Moore dropped her off at her destination.

There's something fitting about this encounter. Read more »

Purple canon

The Year in Music 2008: Bay hip-hop received an infusion of new blood and fresh inspiration
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One of the hot discs in Oakland back in 2004 was In Thugz We Trust (Rap-A-Lot/Asylum) by Thug Lordz, a duo of mob music veterans Yukmouth and C-Bo. It was dope but it underscored a problem: all the big Bay-associated artists established careers in the '90s, before radio play and major label action dried up. During the pre-hyphy drought, it was tough to achieve any fame outside the hood.

Fast-forward to post-hyphy 2008: the canonical list of Bay Area rappers has expanded considerably. Read more »

Boys to men

Bay Area hip-hop legends E-40 and San Quinn return, older and wiser, but still goin' dumb
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Longevity in rap is the exception, not the rule, but those exceptions are glorious: witness E-40, who dates his career from his 1988 self-released 12-inch as a member of MVP. After 11 years with Jive Records, 40 signed to Lil Jon's Warner Bros.-distributed BME for his 2006 Gold-certified album, My Ghetto Report Card. Now the 41-year-old Vallejo veteran has returned with The Ball Street Journal, which dropped Nov. Read more »

Trackademics

GOLDIES 2008 winner: Different buzzes in different circles, consciously
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"You have different buzzes in different circles," Trackademicks says. "But when everyone's talking, it sounds like one big noise."

Few know this better than the 27-year-old rapper and producer born Jason Valerio. In San Francisco and Berkeley, the Alameda native is known as a conscious hip-hop performer whose sound embraces electronica,'80s R&B, and new wave. Read more »

Surrealism's island

Breton's Martinique still works like a charm
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REVIEW Since his death in 1966, André Breton has received more than his fair share of knocks. I've heard both critics and poets call him "fascist," though if pressed, they can only cite Breton's sometimes dogmatic leadership of the surrealist movement. Such loose talk is tiresome and ahistorical. A staunch Communist, Breton was nonetheless the first to denounce the totalitarian Stalin when the rest of the French Left turned a blind eye. He never went for Mao like the Tel Quel crowd. Read more »

Independence day

Bay Area label SMC Recordings goes national with a local rap roster
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Labels come and go. Not long ago, Moedoe and Frisco Street Show were among the most important outlets for Bay Area rap. Now both manufacture energy drinks instead: Hyphy Juice and Hunid Racks, respectively. Rap frequently favors money over artistry, but eliminating the art entirely is a bit much. To pose the Jacka's musical question, "What happened to comin' the dopest?"

The answer may be found at 21st and Mission streets, home of SMC Recordings.

"Rap's a hustle because of where it's from," 26-year-old co-owner and A&R head Will Bronson says. Read more »