You can say that something recorded is dead, and I would sit and listen to you expound for awhile. The heartbeat of music, of culture, as a celebration and witness of life in all its miraculous wonder, this is where life happens. No mausoleum of recorded music can ever take the place of a spontaneous cypher.
On MacArthur Boulevard last weekend at the Laurel Street festival, some musicians unpacked percussion instruments and began absently tapping out rhythms as I walked by. A child who was with them, maybe four years old, began dancing and making his own rhythm on shell shakers. I stopped to watch and listen and bear witness, to feel the beat live within me. I stood away from the group, so that everyone passing by was walking between the rays of my attention and the sound of the music. Soon, a couple of people stopped to join me in watching. Heads bobbed. Amplified by the energy of movement, the spirit grew. Soon, a young woman was dancing.
The players played and the dancer danced. People walked by. Most simply glanced, some gawked, some stopped to watch and move. The leader of the group of musicians pulled several more percussion instruments out of a box, and summoned us watchers into the circle, handing each of us an instrument, a magic wand. We join in the music. The spirit grew and grew until soon there were twenty or more of us in the circle, everyone with an instrument, everyone adding their own piece to the group’s Samba rhythm. People entered the circle and danced. There were children, there were elders, there were couples. There were battles and dramas, ebbs and flows, all played out through the spirit and the beat. Then, when spirit finished weaving its moment, the music came to an end, and everyone dispersed, enlivened. Alive.
It’s true–no piece of recording can ever equal the visceral power of this experience. It must be lived. In comparison to this, a recording of music is dead, just as the written word calcifies a story told by spoken words, tones, and gestures. Yet, the written word is symbolic, and has a life of its own. It has resonances that reach back through unseen history, possesses resonances that are no less powerful because they are unknown or subconscious. Like a hermetic dream emblem, the proper arrangement of words, even on a screen, even on paper, can induce a mystical state–the experience of emotion, meaning transmitted across time and space.
All the more so, then, with recorded speech. All the more so, then, with recorded musical, rhythmic speech. True, the tones and flows are solidified, but also true that they thus become symbols and possess a magic of their own. The energy that goes into the performance, the recording process–some of it, anyway. Enough. Once it is heard, by a dozen or a million people, that energy spreads out and lives in their imaginal space. It grows in power, and in meaning. It returns to its creator anew.
I have known this process in theory since 2004. I have been actively engaging this process since 2007. Through rap music, comics, and writing, I built a story–a legend, a myth, something old and new, something that belongs to its time and yet reaches beyond: The Concrete Shinobi. This myth has lived and already lives again–it has already given wisdom and entertainment and knowledge, it has already become a little girl’s favorite bedtime story. It will continue to grow, because it is meant to. The ninja sneaks in through the doors of perception, bringing god-knowledge, truth & beauty. I don’t know how far this masked man will travel, but I do know he’s always got tricks up his sleeve and cards stashed in pockets.
The Baytime Vader is something else.
The future of the future.
Depending on what story you believe, the Baytime Vader is:
A time-traveling shaman from an alternate future, where the pyramids were crushed and the machine gods lost the war.
A persona of The Concrete Shinobi, who is a persona of Malik Diamond.
An alien invader from the fifth dimension.
A weird rapper whose lyrics don’t make much sense but are funny.
A man in the midst of a psychotic break, delusional, believing in ridiculous things like trees and ancestors speaking to him, dreams delivering messages, transitions into alternate realities, visits to the spirit realm, truth and beauty and justice, magic and gods and superpowers.
All of the above.
Like The Concrete Shinobi, the Baytime Vader has taken on a life of his own. The more of the story gets told, the more people who hear the music, the more real everything becomes. In 2009 I wrote, recorded, and released the first album, Baytime Vader, and less than six months later I had left Los Angeles and was living in the Bay Area once again. I moved to Oakland in 2013, and in 2014 I released Return of the Baytime Vader; soon I was doing shows all over the Bay. Within a year I had built an entire network of friends and acquaintances in the independent hip hop world, thrown several legendary house parties, got a job at a hip hop themed non-profit, and was traveling to schools throughout the Bay Area to teach kids about hip hop–the circle and the pyramid, the elemental sorcery, the basic technique and essential joy of creating, dipping into the pool of wonder.
Last winter, in a creative act of furious desperation, I wrote an recorded an entire EP worth of songs in about a week. Unlike all my previous projects, I went into it with no theme or concept in mind, no structure, no real sense of what it was going to be. I just knew I needed to write, I needed to channel, and I needed to say whatever the fuck I wanted to without worrying about whether it was too mean, too weird, too whatever. I just sat down, played beats, and wrote. The project came to life, spontaneous ordering–it developed its own theme, its own structure. This was not Malik Diamond telling a story about the Baytime Vader, in that persona, as the previous two projects had been; this was the Baytime Vader telling his own story. In his own words. Alienation
It was harsh. Cold. Menacing. Rusted metal in his blood.
I realized that in coming here, the heyoka holy man from a wild, healthy world was reflecting the insanity of this sinister machine world–and in doing so, was beginning to turn evil. This album was not just a collection of songs; it was a distress signal. A transmission, sent beyond time and dimensional barriers through the seas of other people’s imaginations, intended to summon help from the ancestors, the gods, the spirits.
And it worked.
Transmission received. Prayers answered. It worked, and it continues to work.