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DLRN: Cali rap's new governors

By Zoneil Maharaj, Photos by Ariel Zambelichfeatures
Jul 29, 2010 - 1:25 PM

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Sacramento is one of California’s largest cities and, in terms of legislature and policy, the most important. But it’s hardly a blip on the music map. While the millennial success of metal acts such as Deftones and Papa Roach gave rise to a flourishing local rock scene, hip-hop hasn’t been so lucky. It’s almost as if hip-hop was shunned from the city. And if you ask producer Jon Reyes and emcee 5th Ave, collectively known as DLRN (pronounced “Delorean” and named after the car), that might be the case.

“There’s still a lot of not-in-my-backyard going on,” Reyes says.

DLRN, alongside a host of young and innovative burgeoning talent, aim to change that. After holding down the city’s longest running hip-hop monthly in their hometown with members of the Neighborhood Watch collective, DLRN gained national traction with their debut, last year’s No More Heroes. At times lush, somber and soulful; upbeat, playful and raw at others, No More Heroes staked the duo’s claim in the west coast rap scene. With their recently released The Bridge EP, they’re sweeping more heads under their campaign.

Photographer Ariel Zambelich and I sat down with the duo at 5th Ave’s Sacramento home to talk about their music, their city, and the obscurity of Sac's music scene. Say hello to Cali rap’s new governors.

Listen to "Grapevine" ft. Iman Malika and Hopie Spitshard (from The Bridge EP)

Download: The Bridge EP

Listen to "Chapter Seven"

Download: No More Heroes

Zoneil: Why the name DLRN?

Jon Reyes: Because our music travels through time, Zoneil. C’mon! (Laughs). We draw our influences from different time periods. I was trained in classical piano and I really like jazz music and a lot of old soul music, and so we want to create music that’s timeless like that.

5th Ave: I know when Glenda (their manager) first heard our stuff, she said it sounded kind of futuristic but steam-powered. I think we draw from the past and what we think the future might look like and bring it all together in this vehicle.

JR: And the car is fucking cool, too.

Ariel: Have you ever thought to go to Texas and check out the factory?

JR: The factory’s in Texas? Where?

Ariel: It’s just outside of Houston in some rural town.

5A: We shoulda made that trip. That’s gonna be my first big purchase.

Ariel: It costs like eight grand.

5A: That’s crazy. That’s gonna be my first big purchase. You’ll know we made it when I’m rolling around town in a Delorean, like, “I’m good, I got the car!”

Zoneil: Let’s talk a little about the Sac music scene. I’m from Stockton, so I always have some pride for what’s coming out of my area, but no one’s ever got Sac hip-hop to blow up. I mean the rock scene, you had Deftones…

JR: Cake

5A: Tesla, the biggest act out of Sacramento. (Laughs.) Mumbo Gumbo...

JR: I heard Tower of Power is from Sacramento originally. New Shoes is out here. You remember? (Starts singing) “I can’t wait, ta-toot-toot.”

5A: Yeah, Jon. (Laughs)

JR: I’m saying, our music travels through time! (Laughs)

5A: Nah, but man, the Sac scene is crazy. There is so much talent out here, and I’m being so sincere because I listen to a lot of hip-hop music, but right now it feels like there are so many strong acts. Last night, we did a show with Illecism, C Plus, Lee Bannon was there, Nicatyne, this new group TUS (The Usual Suspects) was there. It’s just crazy right now.

JR: I like the fact that our scene is overlooked because it forces everyone to come hard. Otherwise, you can’t really survive in a scene like Sacramento.

5A: I think it’s a scene that’s finally starting to form its own identity. I don’t sense a lot of outside influences in the Sacramento music. It’s a very unique sound—a little bit of aggression, a lot of frustration, a lot of sincerity—because nobody really pays attention to Sac.

JR: I think if Sacramento’s going to make its mark nationally, it’s gonna happen because we’re gonna do it together, which was kind of the point with the show last night. It was called “United We Stand” and it was a lot of Sacramento’s best talent coming together for a show at a local boutique. It was promoting the local businesses and really trying to develop that scene here.

Zoneil: This might not go in the interview, but back in the day I used to come out to Sac for shows at The Colonial for Living Legends shows and stuff. And there was another spot, I think Joe’s Style Shop.

JR: Where you go downstairs?

Zoneil: Yeah, the underground spot. I thought that was a dope venue.

JR: That was a dope venue. I saw DJ D-Styles there. It was the only show I saw there, but it was hella underground, you know? (Laughs) It was in a basement.

Zoneil: I was always hoping that at least someone from Sac might blow up. I mean, everyone knows Brotha Lynch Hung.

JR: And Blackalicious, too.

5A: Yeah, but they don’t rep Sac like that.

JR: Not like Brotha Lynch. (Laughs)

5A: A crazy fun fact is that Gift of Gab and Brotha Lynch were like the best rappers at Kennedy High School and were in a group together.

JR: They were a duo but they went separate paths.

5A: (Laughs) Obviously.

JR: There’s a lot of people that came out. DJ Shadow’s from Davis, Quannum formed there. Mixmaster Mike’s from Sacramento.

Zoneil: Is it really a concern whether or not you get national attention?

5A: I don’t think it’s necessarily a concern. It’s cool that every time we look up, it feels like someone somewhere is checking for us. For instance, I was talking to Rashaan Ahmad from Crown City Rockers and he was saying that when he was in NY, a public access show he was interviewing with was playing our “Dear Langston” music video. Or, like, we have radio stations in Spain asking us for drops. When we hear about that, it’s like, “Oh shit, that’s cool, people are paying attention.” But I think because Sacramento is a bubble, we really just do it for us and our people.

Zoneil: Can you explain the concept of No More Heroes? I’ve been kinda tripping off the intro.

JR: The intro was done by our good friend David Scott. He’s just the most lyrical, imaginative, creative guy that either of us knows. His mind just goes places. I sent him the beat first and was like, “Hey David, can you throw something on this?” It kind of set up where we were going with the album. When we did the intro, we probably only had one or two tracks done. If anything, the intro and the outro are perfect bookends to the album. He sets it up and we go into “Chapter Seven” off that. But the narrative, it’s a story of this character he created. I interpreted it as he was losing faith in himself and the world was bringing him down with that. It’s the story of his struggle to reclaim himself with the world around him beating him down.

5A: Also, when we decided to call the album “No More Heroes,” we wanted to not necessarily be a concept album in that every song fell under a certain theme. I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit cynical, but when I look at hip-hop and the people that, at least at the time that we were making the album, the people that were really popular, I didn’t really relate to it. I remember coming up and seeing artists in the spotlight that I really admired and respected, like great presence, great talent. I didn’t feel like there were any more heroes to me when it came to rap. I think the narrative just followed, like, “If there are no heroes right now, what can we do? How do we address this problem? Do we create new heroes? Who do we look up to? And that’s where the title came from—us trying to be those characters for our city.

Zoneil: So what’s next for you guys?

JR: We’re putting out The Bridge. It’ll be a free EP download. We’ve got Prometheus Brown from Blue Scholars on there, as well as several folks from Sac like Illecism and Iman Malika—she’s a talent out here waiting to be heard.

As we're wrapping up the interview, Ariel asks another question...

Ariel: In Sac, it seems like there’s a stronghold with only a handful of promoters that work with the few venues in town. It seems like they have a real push for either this super electro DJ kind of stuff or this heavier rock. Do you find it’s hard to do break through that even in the local scene?

5A: At first. In ’06 we formed the Neighborhood Watch, which was us before we were DLRN, State Cap, Dahlak from iLL-Literacy, Random Abiladeze, because there weren’t a lot of promoters out here. We came together to become our own promotion company, book shows together, go on the road and perform. When it comes to hip-hop in Sac, there’s only one promoter I see consistently bringing out really good touring acts or doing quality shows. I think the support would be better if we did have more promoters and venues because everybody wouldn’t be trying to get the same slice of pie.

JR: Well, a lot of those places don’t want to play hip-hop. For a long time, Sacramento PD has been cracking down on hip-hop. They target hip-hop shows because of the reputation it has. And that made it difficult for us, which is a big reason we started Neighborhood Watch. From that, we got a consistent monthly.

Ariel: Even the summer concerts in the park are all rock, and those draw huge crowds. It’s surprising that the format never changes.

5A: I think what it is is that Sacramento doesn’t want to have a reputation as a music city or artistic or cultural because it is the capitol and it’s like, “Well, let’s be business. We conduct business, this is a family town.” And they associate hip-hop with profanity or this, that or the other.

Zoneil: It probably goes back in the day when C-Bo and Brotha Lynch were really popular and that was the kind of rap that was coming out.

JR: Yeah, and there’s still a lot of not-in-my-backyard going on. That’s really stalling a lot of the development downtown and, really, the push.

5A: It’s just waiting for everybody else to catch up. We’ve been making ourselves better for years. The competition here is crazy. And the artistry—I can go for weeks just listening to only Sacramento music, whether it’s indie rock or punk or electro or hip-hop. There’s just so much going on right now.

JR: It’s funny, since I’ve moved to the Bay, people are just so surprised when I’m introducing them to Sacramento music, just because there’s that competition, we all push each other to master the art.

5A: Next we gotta start kicking the wack ones off the stage. We’re too nice for that, we just let them play. People don’t burn bridges in Sacramento—that’s my next qualm with this city. No one gets in a rage and burns bridges because it’s too small. When it gets bigger, you’re gonna see a lot of that, you’re gonna have rap wars in the streets, emcees gonna be throwing each other off stage. (Laughs). That’s when you know the city has made it, when you can throw a person off the stage and nobody says anything. Right now, everybody’s so friendly and cordial.

JR: That’s not hip-hop!

5A: When we started the Watch, that’s the last time something like that happened, when all my mics got cut at a show ‘cause we went on too long, and they were like, “You’ll never play in Sacramento again!” We’re like one the biggest acts in Sacramento. (Laughs). That shit really did happen. Now look what we did. Maybe we really do need to start throwing people off stage.

For the latest on DLRN, visit www.dlrnmusic.com


Zoneil Maharaj is editor-in-chief of Oh Dang! He'd like to apologize to DLRN for taking forever to post this and thank them for showing him the "Miracles" video.

Ariel Zambelich is a contributor to Oh Dang! Check out more of her work at www.arielzambelich.com.

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