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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Mountain Grown:
Asian American rappers the Mountain Brothers step out from behind the speakers and turntables

RAPPERS ARE HIP-hop's spokesmen and women. At their best, they set off a party, remind us of our history and inform us of our reality. At their worst, they perpetrate negative stress and wackness. Emcees give hip-hop a voice and a face. DJing, meanwhile, is a stealth activity. The identity of the DJ--hidden behind a bank of speakers and turntables--is shrouded in darkness. Although Filipino-Americans (Invisible Scratch Pickles, Beat Junkies) are setting the standard for DJing these days, few Asian Americans are representing on the mic. In a hip-hop world obsessed by "realness," the sight of an Asian emcee often brings forth a flood of stereotypical presumptions.

Truth is, there are more Asian Americans involved in hip-hop than ever before, and a few of them are emcees. A sampling of the best AsAm/API microphonists includes Key Kool, Rono Tse, Mystery and the High State, In-Cite, Tim Kahihikolo from Willies Conception, Slim Daddy Milo, Lyrics Born, Arata and Shingo--even the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.

Of the Asian Americans in rap, the Philadelphia-based Mountain Brothers are most likely to make an impact. After winning a national talent search sponsored by Sprite, the Mountain Brothers--Chops, Peril and Styles--recently inked a deal with Ruffhouse, home of Cypress Hill and the Fugees.

The Mountain Brothers have felt the odd stares and glares when signifying before a predominantly black crowd back east, but "we've found that any stereotyping ends in the first 10 seconds," Chops tells me. "Once they hear us, everything's cool."

With lilting Roots-inspired backdrop, the Mountain Brothers stick to subjects they know, from searching for money and fame ("Paperchase," "Go for Broke") to boastful platitudes ("I Feel Good Tonight," "Optometry," "Ain't Nuthin").

They make heads bob solely because of talent, not because of skin color. They are a reason to feel good about the future of hip-hop. The Mountain Brothers perform Sunday with the Socialistiks at the Cactus Club in downtown San Jose.

Do the Math

One of the more enduring figures in Bay Area punk rock is Molly Neuman. By day, she clocks in as a principal contact at Lookout! records. At night, she drums with punk-rock puritans the Pee Chees. After attending to Lookout! matters in England, Neuman returned to the U.S. to see a Maximum Rock and Roll cover story ripping the record label and attacking her character.

Columnist George Tabb had multiple bones to pick about the Lookout's mishandling of his band, Furious George, and what he perceived to be the "selling out" of Lookout! According to Tabb, a full-length deal that was promised was not honored, for whatever reason.

Neuman has kept her cool over the article. "Whatever our hesitation in working with [Furious George], I'm glad we didn't, because this could have happened over any other issue," said Neuman. "It's to our benefit to deal with the name-calling and gossip-mongering in whatever way we feel is best, and I think we made the right decision. I just think it's a point of view. For me, it's unfortunate it got to the point of name calling."

When not being attacked in the press, Neuman has been working with the Pee Chees, who recently entered the studio to record six songs: two for compilations and, in a concept project, four cover songs for four solo seven-inch vinyl releases.

The covers laid down in the session were two Vibrators songs ("No Heart," "Love Is the Law"), Eddie Money's "Two Tickets to Paradise" and Elvis Costello's "I Want You." The follow-up to the excellent Do the Math album will be recorded in a month and a half and be issued by Kill Rock Stars in August. The Pee Chees, Angora and Rally 200 perform for free at San Jose's Pirate Cat Records at 1pm on Sunday (Feb. 23).

They Might Be Shows

The Edge in Palo Alto has some doozies lined up, including They Might Be Giants on March 13, the Wallflowers on March 31 and Iggy Pop on April 9.

Heard of the Noise Pop Fest? Get jacked into the local version, which is called the Twin Harmonic Pop Shows. March 1 features Spoon, Engine 88, Van Gogh's Daughter and IBOPA. March 7 has Van Gogh's Daughters, the Keeners, Peel and a trio of 15-year-old Palo Alto high schoolers called the Babysitters Club. Both shows take place at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto.

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From the February 20-26, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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