Beats and Rhymes: Dancin' Times

Grand Star Jazz Club photo by sunny_j used under a Creative Commons license.

'Dancin' Times' is a musical collaboration between Phillip Martin, DJ Dave and me. Dave's hypnotic beat provides the soundtrack to personify the ethos of Los Angeles club culture. Phil and I trade verses about our adventures in the nocturnal underground.

For many years Phil and I would perform poetry somewhere early in the night and then close out the evening at a club where one of our comrades were DJing. We usually hit Firecracker, the Root Down or the Chocolate Bar. These venues characterized the Millennial Los Angeles Hip-Hop, funk, soul underground intelligentsia, the avant-garde. For those of us who came of age in the 1990s these Jams are sacred. Filmmaker and photographer Brian Cross says, "When Firecracker opened most people didn't even know where Chinatown was - let alone go down there to socialize. Daryl, Alfredo, Lisa Yu, Wing, Jim, C Boogie, Paris and Coleman built an institution on the backs of a bi-weekly party that was simply that. Good music, fun times, cool space. In the process a whole scene grew up around that part of town and many legends graced the doors of Frank's Grand Star."

Los Angeles club culture
is burning like a firecracker
People are loving the euphoria..
Sweat is pouring, people bouncing..
Ladies scent lingers on body movement
Nothing matters but the music!

These spots are influential in a way the Sunset Strip or Cahuenga could never be. More than just a party, meat market or sloppy bar scene, it was an underground space where West Coast Hip-Hop kids gathered to build artistic, intellectual, and spiritual consciousness. The zeitgeist of this scene corroborates with KRS ONE in his 2009 book "The Gospel of Hip-Hop." KRS describes the Jams held by Kool Herc in the South Bronx in 1973, at the birth of Hip-Hop: "Jams were a creative escape. It was a time to step outside the confinement of mainstream life and create ourselves, to dress up in the clothes ("gear") that amplified what we thought of ourselves, to talk, walk and live according to our perception of ourselves without compromise."

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The movement that evolved into the Root Down, Firecracker & Chocolate Bar emerged from underground Los Angeles -- backyard jam sessions, the Good Life Café, Acid Jazz, Peace Pipe, Unity, URB Magazine, graffiti crews, East Coast Hip-Hop, b-boy battles, Echo Park art parties. The city's energy after the 1992 Riots created a fertile landscape for music and art.

We were connoisseurs of music and knowledge, driving all over Los Angeles hitting hip hop shows, house clubs, house parties and a few raves; but it wasn't until we discovered these places that we were embraced by a community of creative people ready to build. Poets, painters, photographers, designers, DJ's, visual artists & educated partiers -- we found each other and ourselves on the dance floor. People, music, vibes, beats, bass, life. A generation of us can testify, it's been an amazing ride. LA!!

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