In the Lab 

The East Bay's very own hip-hop workshop.

We've all seen Making the Band, right? You know, the MTV "reality" show with P. Diddy overseeing a bunch of hip-hop hopefuls? Well, the East Bay now has its own real-life version of that concept, and, true to the region's sensibilities, it's not about commercial exploitation, but community and artistic development.

It's called The Lab, a performance workshop taught by Company of Prophets emcee Brutha Los and La Familia bassist Raul Perales, and it's become a weekly happening, Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. at Berkeley's La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Avenue. The class, which debuted October 5, is off to a great start, e-mails Los: "I've been excited and surprised by the level of musicianship that the participants brought from the first day." So far, the duo's focus has been on "trying to get a cohesive sound" from their classes, which have averaged six to eight participants ranging in age from 15 to 22, with varying degrees of skill and experience, coming together in a group setting for perhaps the first time. "Ain't no such thing as practice," says the rapper-teacher, who also instructs a similar workshop at Youth Uprising in East Oakland. "When we hit, we hit. Either come on and play, or hang out until you want to play."

The rhythms the students work on draw from the entire black cultural diaspora, from hip-hop to funk to jazz to Latin to Afro-Cuban. "All African-based musics are experimental by nature; the only way to learn it is to do it," Los explains. "There are no books or charts that can teach what we do." A typical class opens with a jam session, and then the class breaks down into sections. Perales works with the rhythm section, while Los shows the rappers how to work with live musicians. "It takes every player on the set cooperating to make the thing fly," he says. Working with kids, he adds, has given him perspective on his own artistic efforts: "They come because they love the music, and that reminds me why I do what I do."

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