Best You\’ve Never Heard: J.Beck

[heard]Do songs like “Laffy Taffy” and “Stiletto Pumps in the Club” have you wondering what in the world has gotten into hip-hop? Sure these songs are funny to hear and maybe even to sing and dance to, but when you find yourself pointing to your stilettos in the bar, you have to ask yourself – what is going on with rap music? So what\’s missing from most mainstream hip-hop these days? One answer can be found in Joe Becker’s album, appropriately titled Purpose Driven Flow. A purpose is exactly what the driven MC believes is negligently absent from the world of rap music today.
“The major problem is that you have people with this amazing chance to be heard and make a difference, but very few who are making a positive influence on their listeners,” Becker said of the genre today. “This makes people get the idea that hip-hop is only about violence, drugs and hos.”
[joe]In his album, Becker talks about the influence hip-hop and pop culture have on the younger generation, which flames his desire to create music that means something, and most importantly, teaches. As a teacher himself, Becker is all for taking full advantage of the mass audience music has the potential to reach and using it to spread knowledge. He expresses this idea of education through music in a verse from his song “OH Lord:” “Television blinds us, keeps us from the truth, pop culture is the education for our youth.”
Dedicated to bringing purpose and diversity to rap, Becker prides himself on his originality and content. “Most people out aren’t doing anything different,” Becker said. “My sound and style is different from any other artist out there.”
He makes this clear in his song, \”No One Like Me,\” which points out the many differences between Becker and other rappers:
Anyone can speak about hos and trees, but no one in the game has got a flow like me/anyone can put their voice over a beat, but no one has got delivery like me/anyone can bump a track out of a tape deck, but no song can bang hard quite like J. Becks.
But what could be so different about this rapper? For one, he started listening to hip-hop only toward his final years of high school, giving him a newcomer’s outlook on the music. He uses this fresh prospective to analyze rap and the culture it has created when producing his songs. The end product is hip-hop music created in a totally original way that smacks of motivation to make things better. His boy-next-door image debunks most visual stereotypes many people tend to associate with rappers and the hip-hop culture altogether. He is a successful college student and student teacher who has never been shot or tried to kill anything but the negative connotations associated with rap through hooks like these from \”Haters\”:
Is it cuz that I wasn’t what you were expecting? Is it cuz that I bring the straight up truth directly? Is it cuz I work hard and my flow is perfecting? You might not feel my lyrics but you gotta respect me. Is it cuz I ask what I gotta be a thug for? Is it cuz I never pushed weight as a drug lord? Is it cuz I bring a new perspective to the game? I might not be like most but you don\’t have to hate. [joe3]
Is it true? Has hip-hop finally spread its seed so far from the boroughs of New York City and the streets of L.A. they’ve made it all the way to suburban Michigan?
The 22-year-old Kentwood native started freestyling as a senior in high school, but was truly motivated during his freshman year at MSU. Here, he was introduced to other students with similar interests, who later became good friends and performing partners around campus and in nearby Canada. Two open mic night first-place wins later, Becker, then known as Cajun, created his first album: Energetic, Magnetic, Aesthetic, which he and friend Pat Fay, also known as MC Project, put together in a dorm room of Mary Mayo Hall. Yes, the same Mary Mayo where most students can’t even produce homework for class, these two managed to manifest an entire album, which became a local hit. “It was bad compared to the stuff I’m working on now, but we would walk down the hall and hear people bumping our music,” said Becker.
Next came their second album, Verse-Atility, followed by Fire, Becker’s first solo album produced in a studio, which paved the way for Purpose Driven Flow. Now, signed to record label Defnok Entertainment, Becker is reaching and pleasing a much wider audience. “I cater to a lot of different people’s interests,” said Becker. “I have people who generally don’t like rap, but like my music. My mentor who’s like 35 never liked rap until he heard my songs.”[joe2]
Becker\’s musical influences include Nas, Tupac, TI, Jewelz Santana and One.Be.Lo, who are currently cracking the speakers of his CD player. “I like Tupac because of his energy and flow,” Becker said. “Nas is very unique and talks about other issues with a lot of truth and makes it sound hot at the same time. Jewelz brings a ton of energy and a unique delivery. I try to bring all of these aspects into my raps.”
So what’s next for J. Beck? For now, MSU’s own is working as a high school social studies student teacher in Comstock Park, but the possibility of another album is strong. “I wasn’t really sure about making Purpose Driven Flow until I met a producer who hooked me up with some solid production,” said Becker. “If I get some crazy beats again I’ll probably pursue it more.”
Although he may be taking a small break to sell his album and focus on teaching, rap remains an important element in Becker’s life. He and Fay started a Web site, www.amateurbeats.com, which is dedicated to hip-hop production, where rappers can find that one unforgettable beat to match that perfect song they’ve been so desperately searching for and where producers can finally be recognized and heard.
Rapping was the key that opened the door of possibilities for Becker, who admits producing music is his passion. Writing and putting songs together from beginning to end would be, in his eyes, a dream job. “I truly believe this was a God-given talent and I plan to use all of the strengths that God has given me in my life,” said Becker.[one]
Look forward to seeing and hearing much more from this lyricist/producer, because he says he\’s just getting started. “In five years I want to be making a major impact on the world,” Becker said. “I just want people to hear my work.”
For more information on Joe Becker and to purchase his CD visit www.amateurbeats.com/JBeck.html, and www.myspace.com/purposedrivenflow.

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City Street Lights and Keg Cup Snowmen

Now that it\’s December, the holiday season is in full swing. Take a look at some of our favorite holiday decorations around the Lansing/East Lansing area.

Street lamps in downtown Lansing
[day][night]

Even the street lights are dressed for the holidays with a snowflake wreath and colorful lights to spread the merry spirit. The same street light, from different angles, during the day and at night.

Outdoor Ornamentation
[house]

Looks like someone better wish for a low electric bill this month…

Meridian Mall, 1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos
[malls]

Meridian Mall is ready for the jolly man himself to receive and grant Christmas wishes for children, big and small.

Jon Anthony Florists, 809 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
[window]
A particularly good window display. Mr. and Mrs. Claus grace the front window of Jon Anthony Florists, catching the attention of drivers.

MSU dorms, East Lansing
[dorm]

Ah, the dorms. Yes, it’s that time again, when giant snowflakes and wreathes suddenly appear on halls across campus to lighten our hearts with holiday cheer.

Light Festival
[mac]

The most decorated house on M.A.C., and possibly the winner in the area, this house on the 300-block near Albert Street is a true sign of holiday cheer.

Looks Like It\’s Time to Light Up
[clock]

Aren\’t sure what time it is? The clock tower on the corner of Albert and M.A.C. offers a glowing vision to passing shoppers.

Twinkling Evergreens
[lights]

Even close-up, with the wires in full view, it\’s hard not to find an appeal.

Silver Bells in the City

The lighting of the official Michigan tree took place at the Capitol building Nov. 18. Nearly 50,000 visited the event last year. With the Capitol and large tree as the backdrop, the holiday season had its official beginning in the area.

[capitol]

[bells2]

[capitol2]

[bells4]

Is your house/apartment/dorm missing the holiday spirit? Try these easy homemade decorations with materials you\’re sure to have lying around.

Beer Can Garland
[garland]

Materials: string, popcorn, construction paper, beer cans.
Use this beer can garland to dress up any plain areas around the room.

Beer Can Tree
[tree]

Materials: beer cans and a bow, pretty much.
Not too hard – just let a friend stack cans while bored, and a tree forms!

Red Cup Snowman
[snowman]

Materials: cotton balls, q-tips, construction paper, paper or plastic cups.
This little snowman is perfect for dressing up your study area and spreading holiday cheer.

Menorah
[menorah1]

[menorah2]

Materials: newspaper, red cups.
Just had a party? Are there tons of red cups covering the floor? This menorah is a perfect way to recycle and celebrate.

Wreath
[wreath1]

[wreath2]

Materials: a paper plate, newspaper, construction paper.
Decorate a door or knob with this paper plate wreath to greet holiday guests.

Stockings
[stockings1]

[stockings2]

Materials: newspaper, cotton balls, construction paper.
Don’t know what to do with all those old (or new) issues of The State News? Try making a holiday stocking for the special people in your lives by cutting and taping until it’s just right.

Fireplace
[fire]

Materials: construction paper, paper bag.
How does Santa come to your house if there\’s no fireplace? You make one, of course! With a flair for design and quick ablities with the scissors, Santa\’s got a place to come in.

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Best You’ve Never Heard: La Famiglia

[heard3]“Go dudes!” shouted 50-year-old Julie Jones while throwing her fist in the air with the rest of the crowd. The atmosphere was energetic at the East Town Street Fair on Sept. 24 in Grand Rapids, which ended with a bang as local band La Famiglia took the stage. Pedestrians stopped their shopping and followed the hypnotizing guitar beats gracing their ears to get closer to where the band, who has played with everyone from Talib Kweli, G-Unit (featuring 50 Cent and Young Buck) and Toots and the Maytals, reggae legends, was playing. [band]
Children were hoisted upon shoulders to get a better look as excited fans worked their way to the front of the crowd, closer to the stage. The energy seemed to be contagious, first infecting the band members and then spreading through the crowd. Looking around, one couldn’t help but notice the array of different people in the audience – all colors, ages, shapes and sizes – all yelling out “616” (G. Rap’s area code) while pumping their fists. The band members are a small sample of this diversity, just as different as their audience, which is the reason they decided on the name la famiglia (Italian for “the family”). “Because we are such a diverse crew we kind of came up with the joke that we were the family,” said Gagliardo. “Before the band even had a name we had the opportunity to open for Talib Kweli. The name was suggested and everybody thought it would work.”
[beats]The band consists of Corey Harris on vocals; Michael Gagliardo on vocals and guitar; Karisa Wilson on vocals, guitar and violin; Steve Thielman on keyboard; Joey Weinstein on bass; Rodney Rhodes on drums and percussionist Leonel Garcia, all talented and devoted musicians just trying to find their way, as expressed in their song, “I’ll be OK.” Weinstein said the group met through Gagliardo, who was in the process of hiring individual musicians to play over tracks in his studio. [drums]
“The ones in the band now were pretty much the best or my favorites from getting session players into the studio,” said Gagliardo. The music this family produces really cannot be labeled as one certain type. Each member adds his or her own unique sound to the band, creating a musical melting pot; the result is a sound like no other. “Sometimes we work separately, collaborating our ideas when we come together, and other times we just get together, press record and improvise,” Harris said. The band is jazz gone rock gone funk gone wild, with some world percussion and hip hop as the main course. Gagliardo describes the music as having a lot of energy and different styles fused in it, but says that it’s “real” live music that appeals to various types of people. “Due to all the different elements incorporated in our music we seem to get a real eclectic group of people; some interested in the musicianship, some in the rhymes and some for the energy,” Gagliardo said.[guitar]
Harris and Gagliardo are definitely a breath of fresh air to the rap scene today. Each has something to say that’s actually worth hearing, with an original way of getting it out. Instead of sex, drugs and being “icy,” these vocalists choose to focus on topics such as politics, life, change and poverty. The group pays homage to Grand Rapids and touches on issues affecting their hometown in the song, “City Nights.” “Music” is all about the group’s determination and efforts to become successful in the one thing they all love, explaining, “music, that’s why we do it.”
[mike] The band members bring in a variety of their own musical interets. In Harris’ CD player, it was A Tribe Called Quest. For Gagliardo, Camp Lo’s second disc. Weinstein was rocking to Mingus, Live in Paris (1964), and the Roots’ Things Fall Apart.
So what’s in store for La Famiglia in the future? Gagliardo said, “[W]e would all love to play anywhere in Japan. If you can make it to Japan with your band it’s a sign of success. The plan for now is to keep taking it to another level. We hope to have more exposure and better quality and eventually a bigger market and broader spectrum of audience on which we can make an impact.” La Famiglia plays mostly in the Midwest and can usually be found in clubs and festivals or opening for national acts. They have shows in both Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo in November, so if you’re in the area, check them out. The first La Famiglia mixtape with live performances and classic hip hop references was released in November 2004, and is available at Vertigo Records on 129 S. Division St., and Schulers Books & Music on 2600 28th St. S.E., both in Grand Rapids. La Famiglia Volume One, released on March 25, is available to buy for your listening pleasure online, and is also for sale at the above stores. For sample songs and more information on their November shows, go to www.mikegproductions.com. [sweat]
Shows for November are as follows: Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. at the Blackrose Unplugged Sequel at 100 Ionia S.W. in Grand Rapids with Action Jackson; Saturday, Nov. 26 at Club Soda in Kalamazoo with Omega Supreme, beginning at 9 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. at Billy’s Lounge on 1437 Wealthy S.E. in Grand Rapids.

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