"The more we'd go out and say, 'We got a new record, it's called Niggaz and White Girls,' fools be bustin', saying we're ignorant and shit," says Kirb, aka Oakland MC/producer Kirby Dominant. "It's been such a taboo thing for people to think about that we decided to tackle that."
Tackle the subject they do. On one track, Kirb tries to get out of holding hands with his Caucasian lady friend when he runs into his African-American brothers; on another, the female host of a radio show tells the MCs that their dreads are going to fall out if they hang with white girls. On "What's the Big Deal?" a pale-faced nerd promises revenge, going after "the Nubian sisters" by bumping Usher and tricking out his Corolla. On "Fuck You and the White Bitches," Kirb attempts to explain to a black sista why he went to see Revenge of Sith with "Becky" instead of going to see "motherfucking Goapele."
"That's the only thing I can take those bitches to, that and R. Kelly, motherfucking Omarion," Dominant laughs. "I can barely get them to a house club. There's some [black girls into the same music as me], but for the most part they think I'm fucking weird, and I think they're regular."
Dominant wasn't always so fucking weird. He had a prototypical gangsta-rap background, growing up "in the streets" of Oakland and Stockton, landing in jail by age 16. (His first rap, oddly enough, was an anti-drug verse for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, when he was 10.) Upon being released into the care of his mother, who lived in a tiny, secluded town near San Bernardino, he started to get serious. "There wasn't shit to do there weren't no gangs, certainly no drugs so I was just reading and writing."
During high school in Oakland and Stockton, he took to schooling himself on the ins and outs of hip hop. "I'm buying every motherfucking rap record that comes out, from Arrested Development to Big Mike," recalls Dominant. "Back then you could buy every rap record that came out, every album was in The Source."
When he began attending UC Berkeley in 1994, he hooked up with a whole slew of like-minded MCs. "I met the Mystik Journeymen, and they basically changed my whole shit up," says Dominant. "If it wasn't for Berkeley and those dudes, I wouldn't be an MC today. I'd be some kind of teacher or working at a nonprofit. ... They had songs about Vietnam veterans, and my songs were about nothing, killing MCs and shit. I didn't know you could really rhyme about somebody dying, and you missing them. There weren't songs like that."
In 1998 Dominant put out his first solo record, Rapitalism: The Philosophies of Dominant Pimpin', under the name Kirby D. Thus started a wave of collaborations for him a Konceptual Dominance LP with Bay Area MC Koncepts Unlimited; a Dominant Mammals LP with Vancouver producer Moka Only; a Paranoid Castle disc with Canadian producer Factor all of which mixed the jazzy, literate vibe of early-'90s rappers with the more experimental sounds of late-'90s underground acts.
That sound, however, is long gone, Dominant says. "I'm not really on that backpacker shit anymore. I'm a 30-year-old black man, and I want to make music for other 30-year-old black people. What I noticed is that when we started doing this shit, like with the Journeymen, there was black people there. There's no more black people at shows anymore. ... I want to make shit that's melodic, with adult subject matter that's not abstract, shit that can be electronic but there's gonna be some thuggery in there. It's the mix of music that maybe white folks can get, but it's the subject that black folks can relate to at the same time."
Matthew Africa, renowned hip-hop DJ at KALX-FM, notes, "I think that recently he's been trying to stretch out and try something different, probably as much for commercial as artistic reasons."
Dominant's forthcoming solo disc, STARR: The Contemplations of a Dominator (due Nov. 7 on his own Rapitalism label), attempts to reconcile his influences, from daisy-age rap groups Souls of Mischief and A Tribe Called Quest to electro-house producer Felix da Housecat and moody indie-rock band Pinback. Several songs including the first single "Radio Shock" feature the kind of smooth female backup vocals and slinky synths heard on KYLD-FM, with Dominant riding the beat in his trademark good-time flow, dropping lyrics that match (such as "Bodies wigglin'/ Everybody's gigglin'/ Then you see 'em/ Move aside when I'm enterin'" from "Dirty Dancin"). On "STARR," he marries a sultry, mid-tempo groove to the type of clever put-downs that old-school rappers used to lay down ("I'm big in your chest like the monster of Loch Ness"). But other tunes he plays me at his Lake Merritt apartment are far weirder, full of electro beats, bluesy piano riffs, and spaced-out trumpet via jazz artist Roy Hargrove.
Dominant readily admits he's not sure how the solo record will be received, figuring it might be too out-there for rap audiences and too urban for indie rockers. Right now, though, he's enjoying the notoriety of Niggaz and White Girlz, which has been lauded in Fader, XLR8R, and even Vice, which gave the album 8 out of 10. (The response has been so good, it's pushed the release date for STARR back a whole year.) The idea for the disc came from someone asking Dominant to rap over the popular hip-hop rhythms of the day. The MC wanted something with a little more shelf life, and since he was going through a heavy '80s revival period, he decided to chop up new-wave tracks by acts like the Smiths, B-52s, XTC, Human League, and the Cure.
Such a retro move could've been horrible, a total obvious crossover move. And maybe it is to some. "As a gimmick, it's genius, from the high-concept premise to the title," says Africa. "However, I was surprised to find it transcends the gimmick and works as music."
How can you not love Dominant and fellow MC Chris Sinister laying their bouncy, goofy flows over samples of the Talking Heads and Gary Numan? Or dropping allusions to Simple Minds, Bell Biv DeVoe, and Chuck E. Cheese (see the duo's video for "Change Your Mind")? Can you imagine 50 Cent rapping about renting a hot car to pick up chicks because his own wheels aren't fly? Or complaining he's feeling "Joni Mitchell blue"? Thugs haven't come off this dorky since Shock-G donned his big nose and glasses.
And just in case people start to stereotype him, Dominant has several other albums in the works, including an electro-lounge album under the name Assistant Green and an hour-long rap opera with San Francisco Conservatory of Music student JooWan Kim.
"I'm a 'hood nigga with an education," Dominant says. "I got this duality that needs to be expressed, and I think that's what separates me from a lot of rappers."
Not to mention the fact that he's funny and smart and daring enough to pull off the best rap skits ever.