Seattle-based Diano Garcia gives a Afro-Beat makeover to Emerald City funk, hip hop

Interview by Howie Mitchell

When it comes to Seattle hip-hop, there is Sir Mix-A-Lot and honestly nothing else if you’re talking about national recognition. For a city that dominated mainstream music in the ’90s with its grunge icons, Seattle hasn’t broken its rappers in the same way it did with its alternative-rock acts. Ironically, Sir Mix-A-Lot was on the verge of a commercial breakthrough years before Nirvana, and you’d think a hip-hop revolution would’ve followed. Maybe it’s because the Seattle rap scene hasn’t found its voice yet, still trying to find its own identity from the overpowering shadows of East and West Coast hip-hop. Local talent Diano Garcia has the potential of turning that around. Built from parts of funk, rap, soul, psychedelic rock, and world music, Garcia has an adventurous style that could only emanate from the creative open-mindedness of Seattle.

Howie Mitchell: The Afro-Beat genre hasn’t been absorbed by mainstream hip-hop, which seems to me suffering from creative stagnation. Why do you think that is?

Diano Garcia: I’m not really sure. They both spring from the same ancestral well. Of course in West African music you hear more and more hip-hop influences being absorbed into Afro-Beat music. I think Afro Beat needs more time to find its way into mainstream American music; maybe then we’ll hear it seeping into hip hop.

Mitchell: Your music offers a variety of flavors, from psychedelia to world to funk. How did you become so eclectic in your tastes and creative expression?

Garcia: When I was a kid I listened to a lot of late ’60s early ’70s rock. At the same time I was really into War, the Ohio Players, Marvin Gaye, Steve Wonder. Eventually I got into Herbie Hancock. Miles’ progression 
through the ’70s still inspires me. I’d always been a vocalist, then in the mid-’90s I started studying traditional West African percussion. That opened the door to the amazing world of African music which obviously influences everything I do.

Mitchell: What artists moved you the most while growing up and in what ways did they affect you?

Garcia: I mentioned the artists and music I listened to growing up. Even though the styles were different, they all seemed to have to have a similar psychedelic effect on me. I grew up in a conservative suburban 
family. There wasn’t a frame work for me to relate that kind of experience to, but that’s how the music affected me. 10-years-old on the living room floor with the head phones on tripping balls. Definitely got me hooked.

Mitchell: You’re based in Seattle, which is best known for grunge. How does your music fit into the musical menu of the Emerald City?

Garcia: Seattle has a lot of world music fans. There’s also a vital hip-hop scene. It’s obviously a rock town. Hopefully, what I do will relate to a cross section Seattle music fans.

Mitchell: What can people expect from seeing Diano Garcia in live performance? Do you have a band? What is the set-up like?

Garcia: People can expect a high energy, deeply grooving show with beautiful harmonies and rhythms that move you you from the inside out. I’m really excited about the band I’ve put together. They do an amazing job of interpreting the music into a live format. You can expect to hear all the music from Turn It On plus songs from an album I’m just now in the process of finishing. We like to stretch things out in the live performance. Play the songs as written while using the grooves as templates to improv off of.


M.C. Mars delivers reality of street life from a cabbie’s perspective


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

M.C. Mars/Letz Cabalaborate

M.C. Mars is old enough to be your grandfather, but most of the stories he relates on Letz Cabalaborate probably wouldn’t digest well at the next family get-together. Mars takes you to the dirtiest streets of American society, a road he has traveled over and over again as a Bay Area cab driver, and he does so with the brutally honest X-rated dialogue and adult situations that reflect the daily existence of living in urban decay. What startled me most about Mars’ lyrics is not the salty dialogue; those of us who live with hip-hop can no longer be shocked by bad words. The surprise is in how smart Mars’ writing is, an explosive mix of Beat poetry intellectualism and underground rap vulgarity. If Lenny Bruce had lived long enough to front a hip-hop outfit, it’d sound like what Mars is doing here.

“Cabdriving Is a Video Game” combines spoken-word passages with straight-up rapping and an intense backbeat; imagine The Fast and the Furious from a cabbie’s windshield. “Hip Hop Taxi” celebrates carnal pleasures in the car while “Days of the Outlaw” goes the distance in revealing how dangerous driving a cab can be. You never doubt for an instance that Mars is writing from real-life experience here. “A-I-D-S Is a Manmade Virus” and “High Inner Vision” are both inspired by Mars’ battle with HIV. This is strong, powerful music.

Jam’g reinvents modern hip-hop with old-school style and positive messages


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Jam’g/Just (Because)

Is it possible for hip-hop to actually be fun again? After being dominated by gangsta rap and the bling-bling crowd, Jam’g arrives to steer the ship back to its original route. This old-school approach (for the lack of a better term) is best exemplified by “See You at the Lake” with its pulsating keyboards and colorful samples which sound like colliding alarm clocks.

Influenced by George Clinton and Prince, Jam’g records music with a different sensibility than most of today’s rappers. This isn’t music that gloats about having material items or glamorizes violence. In fact, when Jam’g does tackle serious subject matter, he does so with a sense of morality and social responsibility. “Life in San Quentin,” for example, strips away the MTV glow of thug life as its protagonist never wants to return to an existence behind bars. “Be 4 U Go” chastises a man for his playa ways. I love how Jam’g shows both male and female perspectives on this CD, giving equal time to both boy rappers and girl R&B vocalists.

On the surface, Just (Because) may seem like another party record. But pay attention to the words, especially on “Let’s Party Tonight,” which you may think is about getting it on with chicks in a club. It’s not. It’s actually an anthem for women who are seeking real love and not be treated like props. Bravo!

Eggshell Egoz outlast the Red Hot Chili Peppers with their funky energy


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Eggshell Egoz/Funky Poetz

To be fair, Eggshell Egoz don’t sound as much like the Red Hot Chili Peppers as they could’ve. Yes, the influence is definitely there – quite blatant, actually. But Eggshell Egoz do try to make their own flip on the fusion of rap, rock, and funk. In fact, they probably exert more energy on Funky Poetz than the Peppers did on their last couple of albums.

While the Peppers are entering their middle age and slowing nearly everything down to recapture the Top-40 magic of “Under the Bridge,” Eggshell Egoz are jumping out of the cage. The title track and “Slippery Slime” percolate with some über pulsating bass lines and face-slapping percussion. It is fun stuff, the kind of partying music you want blowing out of your speakers on a summer afternoon. “Riverbend” is driven by crunch-rock riffs and semi-rapped vocals that simply crush the bad memory of Sugar Ray. When Eggshell Egoz want to chill, such as on “Taking My Time” and “Manic Peaches,” they recall the best of Sublime without the haze of smoke.

Strong performances, not gimmicks, drive Lea Jones single

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Lea Jones/”Lucky Boy” (single)

To be honest, whoever ends up with Lea Jones will certainly be one lucky boy. However, those of us who are painfully aware that we are definitely out of the league of consideration can be content in admiring her talents. And “Lucky Boy” certainly jumps out of the gate with a sword-sharp beat utilizing funky guitars and bouncy keyboards that are actually not as thrust blatantly into the mix as most rap and hip-hop. Certainly, “Lucky Boy” isn’t purely in the rap genre, more like a crossover with pop. Jones doesn’t rap but guest Mike Pye does, adding color to her classy dance show. I like how slick yet minimalist this track sounds; producer Jean-Michel Soupraya doesn’t saturate it with artificial ingredients, keeping the music down-to-Earth and letting Jones drive the car mostly by herself. Not a lot of fancy tricks just strong performances throughout.

Skip-Dawg offers moving tales in ‘The Illest Emcee’

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Skip-Dawg/The Illest Emcee

Praise Skip-Dawg already for sounding nothing like Eminem. Now that Eminem has become the model for white rappers to be compared to instead of – thank God – Vanilla Ice, it’s inevitable that the E-word would be brought up once Skip-Dawg’s skin color was seen. In fact, upon its arrival at the Fear of a Rap Planet office, the first words that our secretary uttered was, “Eminem wanna-be?” Nope, not even close. In fact, I don’t think Eminem has ever rapped with as much heartfelt emotion as Skip-Dawg does on here. On “Here We Go Again,” Skip-Dawg empathasizes with the young men going off to war but then wonders when the American governnment will clean its own streets of injustice and violence. Has Eminem ever displayed such depth?

“Cousins Track…(To Say Goodbye)” is something you rarely hear in rap. It seems to be an autobiographical look at Skip-Dawg’s lung surgeries and the sad feelings of mortality that can overcome a person, especially one as gifted as this, during such a stressful ordeal. “Times in My Life” is a tasty ode to his lady love with witty come-ons like “You do me like the wind does the chimes.” It only clocks in at about a half-hour, but The Illest Emcee will stick in your memory banks far longer than that.

Diano Garcia busts all rules, slams together hip-hop with world and jazz

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Diano Garcia/Turn It On

Do you want to hear the future of hip-hop? While thousands of rappers, on major labels or out of them, are recycling the same shuffling rhythms and pulsating keyboards, Diano Garcia takes the essence of hip-hop, the funky urban vibe, and slams it together with pop, world music, jazz, and whatever the hell this gentleman can find. Sure, label it as Afro-Beat if you will, but that doesn’t begin to describe the dizzyingly eclectic and wildly original vision that is showcased proudly here.

The exhilarating “Music Music” is awash with punchy horns and a breathless, marathon-running rhythm; you’ll be sweating heavily by the time it’s over. “Vows” rocks even harder as Garcia’s charmingly raspy voice glides across African beats, more horns, and magnetic synthesizers. The tracks which most openly aim for hip-hop – “Culture,” “Soap Box,” and “Something Say” – are unlike anything you’ll hear on the radio as Garcia never follows the rules and simply lets his imagination go bonkers. Lucky for us.

iCande delivers ear candy on delicious debut album


Reviewed by Howie Mitchell


It’s pronounced “eye candy,” and there’s no false advertising in that. Consisting of four very attractive young women – Alex, Alyssa, Shannon, and Tayah – iCande are being revved up as the next Spice Girls. While the rock-critic snobs may have dissed the Spice Girls for being superficial fluff, they released highly entertaining and sexy bubblegum pop tunes that proved to be an uplifting respite from all the gloomy grunge and gangsta rap at the time. iCande are following a similar formula, marrying various forms of dance music with R&B and girl-group pop.

That songwriter Kirsti Manna – who has penned a couple of country-radio hits – has either written or co-written nearly each track on SOPO has given these girls quite an advantage over their peers. Almost every cut on here is a single waiting to happen, from the ’80s-flavored Madonna tribute “Boy Toy” to the synth-heavy urban beatbox “Jealous” to the mellow soul grooves of “Bring Your Heart Around.” Eye candy? Make that ear candy as well.

It’s not all disco, either. “iCande” has driving guitars and “Meltdown” inches closer to modern-rock territory. The diversity of sounds later isn’t jarring as the songs blend together through the delicious harmonizing of the girls.

L. Michele hones Brooklyn-bred talent on slick EP

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell
L. Michele/L. Michele
With a proudly announced Brooklyn-based background, L. Michele was certainly raised in the right environment for the kind of cool-as-ice R&B that she specializes in. While living in the perfect place is never a guarantee of success, or a barometer of talent, there’s no doubt that L. Michele has honed her skills. On this self-titled five-cut EP, L. Michele displays everything that she’s capable of, from sexy, easy-does-it R&B (“Could It Be”) to piano-painted soul (the aptly titled “Love”) to Beyonce-esque urban pop smarts (“1,000 Words”).
The grooves here don’t overwhelm her; often producers of independent R&B artists are so insecure about the singing of their prodigy that they do too much to color what they perceive as limitations. That doesn’t happen here. L. Michele is given the space to breathe, to strut her magic. The finest track is “I Can’t Be,” which shows already shows developing maturity in a bright young thang.

Zanya Laurence reaches Alicia Keys highs on ‘Soul Theory…’

Reviewed by Howie Mitchell

Zanya Laurence/Soul Theory…

The widespread influence of Alicia Keys cannot be measured anymore; however, only the artists who step beyond the conventions of R&B could be considered rightful heirs to her throne. Thankfully, Zanya Laurence is someone who is seemingly inspired more by Keys’ creative ambitions than her trademark style. That is how the best musicians develop, to absorb what has gone before and make it your own.

Like Keys, Laurence delivers a diverse menu, mostly light R&B sprinkled by smooth jazz, acoustic pop, and neo-soul. On “This Is My Life,” Laurence’s passionate voice forms an intimate bond with the piano, nearly becoming a single instrument. Her singing is both sweet and bittersweet, sometimes playful as on “Lose My #.” I find myself becoming most attracted to the unplugged charms of “Sunday” and “It Won’t Be Easy,” as the acoustic guitars offer a rain-drop ambience to Laurence’s voice that is absolutely lovely. The driving “Rhythm” is as close to hip-hop as Laurence gets here but this slickly produced and well-crafted R&B CD will have fans of the genre in a slow-jam buzz that won’t fade away for quite a while.

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