The New NBT 

From a pop-cultural standpoint, the Bay Area always has been on the cutting edge of mainstream American society. From the Barbary Coast days up until the present era, the region's cultural contributions have been many. For example, there's the Beat Generation, the Summer of Love, the Free Speech Movement, Silicon Valley, and the Black Panther Party. All germinated in this corner of California. How about funky R&B? World beat? Acid jazz? Heavy metal? Ska-tinged punk? Hardcore playa rap? Turntablism? Digital cinema? Urban soul? Medical marijuana clubs? The Bay Area can claim credit for the indigenous existence of all of these Next Big Things (NBTs), before they were NBTs. And while San Francisco generally gets all the credit for NBT-isms, longtime East Bay residents (or basically anyone who's lived here for more than five years) know that's far from the truth.

For instance, Allen Ginsberg wrote his manifesto "Howl" at Berkeley's Mediterraneum Caffe, not in Frisco's North Beach. The "Free Huey" protests took place at the Alameda County Courthouse, not Ghirardelli Square. Before megastardom, Green Day and Rancid often played keg parties at UCB's Cloyne Court. Metallica recorded their classic No Life 'Til Leather EP while living in El Cerrito. Joshua Redman and Charlie Hunter both attended Berkeley High, as did Matt Dillon. Del tha Funky Homosapien once worked at Leopold Records and was a fixture in Telegraph Avenue freestyle cipher sessions a decade before being nominated for a Grammy for his performance on Gorillaz' "Clint Eastwood." Fellow 2001 Grammy nominees Mystic and Planet Asia likewise clocked time in the East Bay before being "officially" discovered -- Asia, in fact, is a former employee of Amoeba Records. Years before the movie Scratch, DJ Billy Jam was hosting the now-infamous Shiggar Fraggar turntablist jam sessions at his North Oakland house, attended by the likes of Q-Bert, Disk, Shortkut, and Mix Master Mike. And Too $hort -- who has more platinum and gold records than any rapper in the world -- started out making custom-made rhyme tapes for pimps and hustlers in deep East Oakland. For that matter, the homies in "tha O" were saying "fa shizzle ma nizzle" way before Jesse Jackson and Snoop Dogg. All that goes to say, the East Bay is no stranger to NBTs, thank you very much.

So what's the next NBT? Just take a good look around and you'll find all sorts of things going on here that could very well end up becoming national or international phenomena. One place to start is the local music scene, which historically has always been good for an NBT or two. East Bay groups like Cat Five and Blackalicious already have been lionized by the European press (if a little underreported in some local quarters). Meanwhile, Oakland drum 'n' bass label Thermal has been steadily gaining favor with DJs and electronic music heads across the globe. And if you liked Mystic's take on neo-soul, just wait until you hear what Goapele and Kimiko Joy have to offer. Also, if I were you, I'd keep my eye on the local spoken word scene, which is chock-full of budding poets, some still in high school. Swift with their tongues and wise beyond their years, these kids represent the future -- both figuratively and actually.

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