909 and 951 Love
By Robert Kreutzer
Noa James brings music and fashion to the IE
The IE don’t get much corporate love, so Noa James and some his friends in the 909 and 951 one are doing it for themselves.
A well-regarded underground rapper from San Bernardino by way of Queens, James and some friends are sick of the Inland Empire not getting its props. So instead of waiting for promoters in shining armor, they’re shining up their own armor. James says that’s what the D.I.Y. Music and Fashion Festival at The Glass House on Sept. 8 is all about.
“There are a lot of artists in the Inland Empire and we’ve been doing everything ourselves—album art, bookings, PR, videos, all that,” explains James, talking by telephone. “We also started realizing that the same thing was going on with fashion— people doing their own patterns, marketing etc. We even had guys learning to sew because it costs so much to get it done.”
The festival will feature several Inland area rap artists (Curtiss King, Twin Towers, Cam Archer, Chief, Fredo and more), as well as fashion designers. Most of the people involved already know each other and have a history of cooperation.
“There are some 30 artists who watch out for each other, help each other, guest for each other,” says James. “There’s no politics among the lot of us. We’re all here to help each other go where we want to go.”
While not a threat to make hip-hop forget L.A., the Inland Empire has seen some of its own bust out beyond the San Bernardino county line. James is a known quantity, especially in underground hip-hop, the strain of the genre where intelligent lyrics and creative beats are still formulated. But others rappers from the area have actually managed to get noticed beyond the San Bernardino county line.
In the early ’90s, Riverside rappers A Lighter Shade of Brown got some MTV and national radio airplay with some of their songs, including “On a Sunday Afternoon” and “Homies.” Around the same time, former Moreno Valley resident Skee-Lo also appeared to be gaining some national traction. But then, gangsta busted through and wiped Skee-Lo and any other non-deviants off the charts, though Skee-Lo still manages to get on TV now and then.
Still James really wants to see the current crop of IE artists get their due.
“We want people to know we’re out here,” James declared. “People would be surprised at what’s here. Stevie Crooks from Moreno Valley, for example, actually has his own big tour bus, but people don’t know about that. I’m bigger in Japan than I am here. I had a No. 5 hit there with ‘Yokozuna.’”
According to James, it’s not just that labels and promoters are turning up their noses. He said there’s a little too much self-loathing.
“A lot of people in the Inland Empire don’t like the Inland Empire,” sys James, “and others can’t wait to move. But I’m proud of where I’m from—I have 909 tattooed on me. We’re getting it done and people are accomplishing stuff. Some call us the boonies, but this is where I’m from, and I’m not ashamed.”
This marks the third year that James has had the D.I.Y. fest. He says he is encouraged by the event’s steady growth.
“I did it at the Vine the first time,” James recalls. “That was a test run. It did well, so we moved it to The Glass House last year.”
While the show does tilt a bit towards underground rap, James said concertgoers can expect a wide variety of rap at this year’s event.
“The music is all over the place,” says James. “We have some mainstream artists and some underground. We’ll have everything from club songs to conscious songs. I want people to know there are great artists right here in the Inland Empire. We’re reaching out and people should come and check us out.”
D.I.Y. Music and Fashion Fest at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Sat, Sept. 8. 7pm. $10-$15.