Fifteen years ago, the Berkeley MC Shush sat in the back of his third-grade classroom and ciphered with his friends. One day, the teacher said that if they were gonna disrupt the class, they should have something to show for it. "She told us to go outside and write our own rhyme," Shush recalls. "When we came back half an hour later, and performed it for the class, the teacher liked it so much that she made us perform in all the other third-grade classes, too." Years of battling turned Shush into an artist who could spit a phrase before he saw it coming. In March he began attending the twice-monthly battles at Oakland's Jahva House, put on by the hip-hop collective Liberated Zone. According to co-founder Troy Nkrumahi, Shush was so visceral, crisp, and quick with punch lines that after weeks of kicking everyone's asses, he had to refrain from battling just to keep the competition alive. Now Shush hosts the show, and is occasionally joined by such underground gurus as the Coup's Boots Riley, M-1 from Dead Prez, and P.E.A.C.E. from Freestyle Fellowship.
Launched to drum up support for the National Hip-Hop Convention in Newark, New Jersey, in June 2004, Liberated Zone seeks to reorient the language of hip-hop to larger discussions about incarceration, corporations, and the so-called "war on drugs." For Nkrumahi, raising political consciousness among hip-hop generationers is also a way to combat street violence in Oakland. Fed up with the number of murders that occurred last year, he thought it would behoove youth to arm themselves with words instead of Glocks.
Nkrumahi stresses that this event is open for anyone to drop in, spit her own flow, and share her own story. In fact, Liberated Zone is putting together a compilation of the best, most slept-on emcees to come through Jahva House -- many of whom are still in high school. But it's all about staying underground: "KMEL has approached us many times, but we want to keep Clear Channel out of the whole thing," Nkrumahi says. And why pay the pimps, anyway? Liberated Zone happens the first Sunday of every month, 6 p.m., at Jahva House, 3706 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, 510-435-0497. Info: HipHopConvention.org-- Rachel Swan
Rock it, don't stop
As of this writing, you've still got two chances to see Chris Rock's "Black Ambition" tour at Oakland's Paramount Theatre (2025 Broadway). One show is definitely sold out, but you might still be able to get tickets for the 10 p.m. Friday or 7 p.m. Sunday appearances. What's the big deal, right? Rock is all over the place, hosting the MTV Video Awards and the Chris Rock Show for HBO, putting out records, winning Emmys and Grammys, and appearing in Head of State. But he hasn't toured in four years, and somebody that funny and outrageous is all the more so when he's cursing up a storm right there in the big, beautiful room with you. Shit, he might even react to your heckles. $39.75-$55.75 from 510-625-TIXS or Ticketmaster.com -- Stefanie Kalem
Ayodele Nzinga, aka WordSlanger, is a familiar face on the Bay Area poetry scene. Whether it's on the page or the stage, WordSlanger elucidates subjects dear to her heart. But the Fire & Rain event taking place tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley) is for a cause that is perhaps closest to the poet's soul. It's to help pay mounting medical bills for her teenage son, Koran Akindele, who was hospitalized in September with burns over 22 percent of his body. Performers include Wavy Gravy, Original Action Pack, Rashidi (Company of Prophets), and many more, plus there will be art, services, books, and T-shirts for sale and auction. Info: 510-525-5054 or 510-558-8325. -- Stefanie Kalem
Operation Desert Laff
Don't get Andrew Norelli started on Afghanistan. He can get nasty. Bedsheet jokes, that kind of thing. Kid likes to wave the flag. Keep him away from Kabul and Osama bin Laden and you could have a pretty jolly time this weekend at Tommy T's Comedy House (1655 Willow Pass Rd., Concord). San Francisco-based funny guy Norelli, who has worked the same stage as Dave Chappelle, Dave Attell, Tommy Davidson, and Kevin Nealon and who has cut a CD called At Least It's Funny, joins veteran local comic Larry "Bubbles" Brown for 8 p.m. shows Friday ($15) and Saturday ($20). Club info: 925-686-6809. -- Kelly Vance
What the Fork - January 19, 10:29 AM
Culture Spy - January 18, 10:25 AM
What the Fork - January 17, 1:52 PM
Culture Spy - January 11, 9:55 AM
What the Fork - January 3, 2:06 PM