Aliso Black on Life and Death
Aliso Viejo’s most prolific MC sounds like someone from Queens during hip-hop’s golden age of the 1980s and ’90s. “West Coast rap, I guess, you’re supposed to rap hella slow or something,” says Aliso Black, the 32-year-old born Aaron Williams. “I’m coming from a place where I’m very isolated, so my music is more a reflection of what I listened to growing up, that ‘boom bap’ sound you heard in the ’90s from East Coast cats.”
Still, for an OC rapper with a cerebral, confessional sensibility and NYC-influenced delivery, Black has good reason to follow the motto of seminal West Coast gangstas N.W.A and fire off “fuck tha police”-style flow. In February 2005, Douglas Bates, an off-duty federal Department of Homeland Security officer, shot to death Bassim Chmait, Black’s friend and fellow MC in Xtort Clan, as he arrived at an apartment-complex party near the lawman’s home in Mission Viejo. Bates was found not guilty in 2009. When Black heard what happened, he wasn’t so much devastated as determined. “It made me more hungry,” Black says. “Like I just want to get to the money and away from the bullshit.” The rapper quit his day job. As he explains it, “I can’t put on Dockers and go to work and come home and hit the phone booth like Clark Kent and turn into Aliso Black.”
Last month, Black dropped Soulful Saturday, the second installment of his three-year Weekend Trilogy. “It’s a street album, not a studio album,” Black offers, more as a matter of pride than as an excuse. The sound is pretty much whatever he (under his production moniker Dirty Lunch) and his friends (Brix, O-Phrap, B News) come up with: dusted, screwfaced beats; bootlegged Barry White samples; jazz licks chopped into woozy loops; even car alarms. Soulful Saturday falls somewhere between a mixtape free-for-all and a lost DJ Red Alert radio show of KMD and Chubb Rock on New York’s Hot 97 two decades ago. Compared to the hard bounce of last year’s Salesman Friday, Soulful Saturday is somber. Or “hip-hop blues,” as Black calls it.
“Ain’t it funny how shit can change in the blink of an eye?” a voice recites over a blaxploitation intro on the standout track “Get Own Up.” A clock-radio alarm keeps going off, and just before the snooze-button gets smacked again, a car window gets shattered, setting off the vehicle’s alarm. A frantic lick of a loop kicks in, with Black rapping in short, blunt phrases: “Shit creek, no heat, no eats, cold feat . . . Fast leaks, no retreats/Work till the morning, yes!”
Black explains, “Your business going down, the economy crashing down—the weekend continues. With Bassim dying, the weekend continues. My business is suffering; I got tax issues. But the weekend continues. All I got is this hip-hop shit, and I’m still in it.”
The sound and strategy make Black an anomaly in the SoCal scene. Not only in commercial hip-hop, but also the LA underground sound of Fat Beats Records, Stones Throw Records or beat-chopping purveyors such as Flying Lotus. Ask about Aliso Black just 20 minutes up the 405 at Long Beach’s Fingerprints record shop, and hip-hop-heads think you’re talking about Hollywood’s Aloe Blacc.
Black has focused on local impact—as in places he can drive to, even when his tank’s closing in on “E.” He makes regular rounds to such places as Ghetto Records & Pagers in Santa Ana and Universal Hair Salons in Tustin to give away CDs; Black calls it “hand-to-hand distribution.” He works with local promoters, such as Beat Club Co-Op at Tropics Lounge in Fullerton, and, like his Feb. 26 show, performs at such OC spots as Coconuts in Dana Point. “Having people hollerin’ at me from Germany means everything to me, but to be a part of the community, it’s a lifestyle,” Black says.
Being able to live it—however precariously—is what the rapper says makes him successful. “Make music from the heart, and you can never really be turned down,” he reasons. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s lyricism. That’s one thing, for real; you can’t fuck with it.”
Aliso Black hosts “A Tribute to Bassim,” featuring Big OZ, Kim Leyva, B News, and I & I, at Coconuts, 34235 Doheny Park Rd., Capistrano Beach, (949) 248-2448; www.pyroerogenizer.com. Feb. 26, 9 p.m. Free. 18+.
This article appeared in print as "Hip-Hop Gets the Blues: OC rapper Aliso Black rhymes about life and death in the Great Recession."
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