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Hip hop hits union ballroom

photo courtesy of third earth music
South African-born, New York City-raised rapper Jean Grae has clever rhymes and clever album titles, like her last full-length release, Attack of the Attacking Things, and her EP, The Bootleg of the Bootleg.
By Kevin Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, December 4, 2003
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Seems like every time you flip on a local hip-hop radio station, they tell you how they play "the real hip-hop" right before a Color Me Badd song.

Which is exactly why UA Education graduate student and founder of 12 OX'N productions Solomon Freed will be presenting an East meets West underground hip-hop extravaganza. It will feature the Cali Agents alongside the much-hyped Jean Grae from New York City tonight in the Student Union Memorial Center.

"We're trying to shine the light on a beautiful and soulful art form that has gotten watered down and commercialized," Freed said.

For those wanting to see people contort their bodies in Gumby-like fashion to a beat, a three-on-three b-boy/break-dancing competition will precede the MCs, with competitors coming from as far as Texas to throw down.

And don't worry about having to dust off the bulletproof vest you rocked in at that last 50 Cent show in Phoenix. The performers' vibes tonight will be all love - even if it is a meeting of the coasts.

"Cali Agents? Fuck 'em!," Grae joked.

Grae, who got her name from the "X-Men" character, is coming to Tucson fresh off the heels of her appearance at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, where she presented the revered Cup to the haziest of winners.

"I'm not really that much of a smoker but... my friends definitely had a great time," she said.

Grae's music centers on more emotional and thought-provoking issues than say, Chingy.

"I think the people who you most feel are people who aren't afraid to be vulnerable or to speak on things that may make them feel less than the pinnacle of the hard-core," she said. "I think being real is not being afraid to be you - no matter what it is."

While Grae is busy showcasing her many powers, Rasco of the Cali Agents would prefer fans of hip-hop to open their minds a little more instead of stereotyping one particular genre.

"There's a lot of major (label) stuff that's out that I don't like, and I'm sure a lot of people don't like," he said. "But then again there's stuff out there that I do like. And a lot of people on the indie-scene can't understand why somebody like me would buy a 50 Cent record or a Jay-Z record or whatever it may be. They think it's two separate things. To me, if it's good, it's good."

This may be why he describes Cali Agents as "middle-of-the-road" hip-hop that isn't too underground and isn't too hardcore.

"If there's anything I could change (about hip-hop), it would just be people getting a better knowledge of both sides of the game. And I feel we have that," he said.

Also performing will be Los Angeles' 2 Mex and Cinco as well as O.M.D. (Of Mexican Descent).

Local Tucson rapper, Influence, whose political and social-driven verses always amaze, stands as a must-see as the night's first performer.

Tonight is really about unifying diverse styles and methods of hip-hop expression, all for a common cause.

"I think it's incredibly beautiful how different sides of the same music can come out and yet still come together. And we can still feel West Coast and they can feel East Coast," Grae said.

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