Holy Hip-Hop Crusade
This being the city of sin, and this city being purgatory for rappers (lots of 702 talent, zero major deals), Joey Sanchez's impassioned idea for a Christian hip-hop world order sounds like it might need a little help from above. Founder and chief executive officer of Media Gospel, Sanchez, 36—aka Joe Lyte—envisions "holy hip-hop" saturating pop culture the same way secular hip-hop does now: through magazines, television, movies. The movement's focal point is the two and a half-year-old idradionetwork.com. Sanchez says listenership has grown from a few hundred to 18,000 in October. Online in a few months will be Christian Mylyte—a Christian hip-hop MySpace page—Spirit Flow TV, an Internet-based station dedicated to holy hip-hop, and Psalmsville.com, "which will sell, market and promote holy hip-hop acts and work to get their products in brick-and-mortar stores." His artists have performed in churches, at religious events, even at Cram Middle School.
"The same way movies like Passion of the Christ opened the door for Christian films," says Sanchez, lead disciple in this holy hip-hop crusade, "we want to open doors for Christian hip-hop."
Sanchez moved here from California in 1987, graduating from Eldorado High School. An avid hip-hop head, he produced a handful of rappers before giving his life to Christ in 2000 and devoting himself to "blowing up" holy hip-hop in 2003. Ground zero for the crusade is his home studio.
"God led me to a pastor who had a friend in holy hip-hop," Sanchez says. "The guy's name was Two-Five. Dude had great beats and lyrics, comparable with what was on the radio at the time, but he had Bible verses and Scripture references in his lyrics. So we cliqued up and, six months later, had an album out.
"He [God] wanted me to create a media company to take the gospel to every aspect of the media," Sanchez continues, "so I started idradionetwork.com. It started with the music I love before I got saved—hip-hop. I mostly listened to the Jay-Zs, anything from Dr. Dre, Eminem, anything that were West Coast bangers. My goal with the station is to find holy hip-hop people who are representing God on that professional level and could penetrate the secular industry." Though not necessarily holy hip-hoppers, gospel artists like Kirk Franklin might be the most recognizable of the genre's performers. A Franklin video has hip-hop staples like 16-bar lyrics, urban apparel and dancing; noticeably missing are the babes and the bling. The labels don't have ominous names like Death Row. More common are names like Blood Bought Entertainment, a label name that references Christ dying to atone for mankind's sins. Compton-based Twzo is an artist on the label. Not so well-known but generally viewed as holy hip-hop elders are the Gospel Gangsters. Many traditional church-goers loathe the fusion of gospel and rap, preferring their music sanitized and sanctified. As 36-year-old Marcus Mooney (aka Twzo) says, "We talk and look like the cats out there on the streets. But a lot of kids won't walk into a church because they're afraid they won't be accepted. The difference with holy hip-hop is what's coming out of our mouths. We have Christ in our hearts."
Mooney started rapping when he was 15, bouncing in and out of different groups. He got saved 18 months ago and, earlier this year, decided to rap for Christ.
"It's really not a challenge to do holy hip-hop," he says. "It's actually easier rapping for Christ than it its rapping secular music because you have a lot to talk about. Everybody can talk about gold chains and rims, but not everybody can actually talk about something that's going to hit people in the heart.
"Coming from Sin City," Mooney continues, "this movement might be looked at funny. But we must keep praying and keep ourselves girded up. The movement is strong. We had a show a few weeks ago and got a lot of good feedback."
Local CD Blitz
A Fist Full of Hell (3 1/2 stars) Bands calling themselves "punk" these days should pick up a copy of this career retrospective from The Vermin. Packed with 30 of the Las Vegas band's signature sneering blasts of musical venom, A Fist Full of Hell highlights the best of The Vermin's four previous releases (one recorded live at the now-defunct Divas strip club). Though the full Vermin live experience—in which you'd be as likely to see bassist Rob Ruckus naked as you would to be the butt of one of Dirk Vermin's jokes—is somewhat diluted on record, these songs still kick, bite and punch in ways that would make AFI's eyeliner run.
Happy Ones (3 stars)
These stalwarts of the Vegas music scene have come a long way since debuting as a folk-pop duo more than a decade ago. Happy Ones is the band's most fully realized disc, full of its signature funk-infused pop-rock. Most of the songs veer toward a loose, funky, jam-band territory, but the second half of the album finds Melancholics living up to its name with darker, more interesting numbers such as "Expiration Date" and "Big Rat," as well as "A Greater High," a three-minute pop gem with female backing vocals that has serious single potential.
The Day After ...
A Different Way to Get By (4 stars)
Maybe The Day After ... had to shake off some dead weight, because in its new form as a three-piece outfit, the band sounds reinvigorated on A Different Way to Get By. The strength of The Day After ... has always been Jenine Cali's raw, throaty vocals, combined with pounding, post-grunge guitar work. But with the band's recent acquisition of drummer TJ Thompson and Cali's newfound love for The Catherine Wheel, songs like "Breaking Bones" and "Brand New Skin" take the band to a new level. It's no surprise then that one of the tracks, "Car Crash," spent a full week as champion on Xtreme Rock Radio's "It Came From the Mailroom" program.
Escape the Fate
Dying is Your Latest Fashion (2 1/2 stars)
Surely it's somewhat ironic that death is mentioned in one form or another in every song on Escape the Fate's Epitaph debut, given lead singer Ronnie Radke's alleged involvement earlier this year in a fight that led to a teenager dying from gunshot wounds. That irony is about the only thing interesting about this album, though, which proves the band can't decide if it's going to be a bland emo-pop group or a mediocre, screaming metalcore band. Sure, "Situations" is ready for insertion into heavy rotation on active-rock radio, with its catchy chorus repeating the album's title, but nothing on Dying is Your Latest Fashion explains why Epitaph was so hot to sign this unremarkable group.
Vegoose: Down but not out?
Though this year's Vegoose festival drew crowds numbering approximately half those from last year's inaugural event, promoters are already pursuing acts for a 2007 edition, Jonathan Mayers of Superfly Productions told the Weekly. "We've already had some initial discussions with some key artists, and we're really hopeful we can put it over the top next year," Mayers said. "We had a lot of strong artists out there this year, but I don't think it was over the top, and we like to put our events over the top. There were a couple of key acts that didn't fall for us. So we want to be much more aggressive and hopefully, we'll see them there next year."
Mayers stopped short of guaranteeing that Vegoose '07 will take place, however. "We definitely want to be back. We feel like we've made a significant investment, and we feel like we've made a lot of great relationships there, so of course we want to build off that," he said. "But like every business we have to do our due diligence. We have to go down the path and see how things shake out."
In 2005, crowds were reported at around 36,000 per day, while the two-day 2006 attendance has been pegged at about 37,000. Though organizers won't break down that total by day, it felt significantly more crowded on Saturday, when Tom Petty, The Killers and The Mars Volta were featured, than on Sunday, when jam bands Widespread Panic and Phil & Trey topped the bill.
Although the lack of a marquee name such as 2005 Vegoose headliner Dave Matthews, or Radiohead, which headlined the Superfly-produced Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June, has been widely tapped as the principal cause for the dramatic decrease in attendance, Mayers said logistics also played a significant role.
"We would have liked to announce the lineup, going on sale, etc. a little bit earlier to give people a chance to make plans earlier," he explained. "Vegas is definitely an expensive destination, so the earlier you can give people to make plans the better."
Mayers added that, by percentage, local attendance rose in 2006, but that he hopes area support for the festivalwill grow. "In Vegas, obviously, there's a lot of entertainment messages out there, and maybe it does take a couple of years for it to sink in to the local market."