Bang Bang: The Anatomy of a Taco Sesh Thang

The church parking lot is crackin’. Approaching cars pass and park in a nearby business strip. I follow suit with local beatmaker, RasJosh, and Yung Thesis of English Class Project (ECP) in tow. We emerge from my grandma’s old red Highlander (long story) and trek with backpacks about a half a block down to a local worship center’s auditorium room. RasJosh and I meet up with fellow West Coast Avenger MC, Sham, and enter the building- a large white structure with big angles, definitely made in the last 20 years. The congregation recently renovated and started to rent out the venue. I suspect they never quite imagined the scene we arrived at: smoke billowing out of every door, bulky security guards at foldout tables, and every kind of local food vendor inside: tacos, sweets, drinks, waters, medicated foods. In the auditorium the entire room perimeter is lined with booths. Some with awnings and banners, others with little folded pieces of paper with identifying information propped up on their cluttered and heavily trafficked tables.

Some were selling glassware or heady cases, bags and paraphernalia but most people there were dabtending off of rigged up e-nails. Blessings420, Nectar Stick, Homegrown Extracts and other colorfully named wax retail brands serve up hot THC-filled samples from the electric heated plates on glass bubbler set-ups. Some people buy some of said wax if impressed enough by the sample, most do not. It’s all part of the game in what most attendees of such events, “Seshes”, would describe as a “come-up”. You pay a few bucks at the door (25 plus in bigger metro areas…) and you can take countless dabs from the tenders hoping to impress you with their particular blend of crumble and terpenes or “terps” (natural flavors and scents, integral to the aromatherapy elements of cannabis and cannabis product use). Taco Sesh, famously, is free admission. A prescription will help you get in with less static, as would a performer’s pass, and other “seshes” are lowering and eliminating their entry fees to compete with Lyfe and Kieroglyphic’s event.

 

MC Lyfe, whom I know fairly well, and Kieroglyphics, who I know almost not at all, are hosting and DJing respectively in the bright auditorium, but it looked more like they were marshalling a rodeo. A large crowd gathers near the stage with hands outstretched for the chance to net goodies the hosts toss out: half grams of herb and oil extract, edibles and paraphernalia from sponsors present. Adding to the feeling that you’ve got into a very stony very cool secret club, the location is revolving constantly, I suspect to avoid unwanted tax scrutiny and police prodding in general. The flyers rarely announce the event address and people usually have to message each other to get the location information (and that’s just for the seshes in the Inland Empire).

Sham, Josh and I quickly notice the Sunny Days & Vibes squad almost intact, hovering around the stage. Asend, Greaseball (Lyfe’s counterpart in the Herbalistics), Kordisepz (Greaseball’s counterpart in the Burgundys), Pigeon Do, Cyzalean, Wonders Trillions, Fatfinger and more roll up as well as artists I met more recently like Rob Nori and Emacqulit. One by one homies did beat sets building up to a high energy Herbalistics set featuring Thesis and Notiz Yong performing new material. By the time Greaseball and Lyfe performed their new song “The Rain” from Lyfe’s Efyl project, Kieroglyphics was noticing that I knew damn near all the lyrics. We’d never met at this point as far as I remember and thinking I was just one of the biggest Herbalistics fans he’s ever seen (actually true)- he tossed me a canister of some bomb from the stage. Kiero stepped towards me on the stage and gestured to Lyfe- “Hey this guy is dope!”

Lyfe, still on the mic hosting the event, “Yeah this guy IS dope and he’ll be performing later tonight, are Y’ALL READY FOR THAT?!?” to an enthusiastic crowd of outstretched hands.

I hit the booths and got some pre-rolls and dab samples. The guys did the same and then we went back to the Highlander to get Josh’s gear out of the trunk and prepare to perform. Josh lost one of his interface knobs in the madness of crowds and smoking patios. We puffed a blunt as we went over our set at some benches right outside the Echoes of Faith Christian Center that Lyfe and Kiero had utterly swamped with stoners.

I dawdled around the side-exit by the stage and caught up with Lesa J and Noa James and discussed the ascendant concept of “Dabtenders”, the folks manning the e-nails and distributing sample hits to all the girls and boys at events like this. Lesa and Noa see the majesty in everything, as if every moment in life is a mammalian sea creature leaping in the sunshine.

Finally during a lull after our blunt break the West Coast Avengers, Sean, Josh and I hit the stage and gradually began setting up. We rock with RasJosh playing straight from his Maschine whenever possible so it was a relief when Kiero helped Josh plug into all the necessary hook-ups. We opened with “Dabtender”, a new WCA song about the real MVP of seshes as discussed earlier, the folks serving you your dabs. By the middle of the second choruses I heard attendees screaming in response to the refrain “Dabtender, dabtender, serve me a dab!” and a sizeable crowd had re-formed up by the stage.

Sweating and almost high enough, we exited the stage once Josh was packed up and continued to peruse the merchandise, getting scattered (and appreciated!) props from people throughout the campus. I thought back to my first cannabis farmer’s market on the border of Riverside and Colton back in 2010. I thought of my late teen years with Sean and other homies, fantasizing about when events like this would take place. But particularly I thought back to Sunny Days and Vibes shows from less than 3 years ago, when I first met the very same people in this room and how Lyfe had delivered on everything he said he would.

Sunny Days & Vibes was the concert series for the boom-bap kids, for the kids who rejected the supremacy of commercial hip-hop, for the less polished up-and-comers who showed up to bare their souls in front of the IE’s other grimy b-boys and b-girls. When I first found it I was blown away because it presented a diversity of genre within the local underground, subgenres, ways of life and fanbase. It was just as much social circle as a community of artists and like high school there was interesting little cliques- retro kids, futuristic kids, gothy kids, ravers, stoners and the rest.

Once I discovered Sunny Days & Vibes in 2014 I became addicted to the feeling of community it provided. We would book a set or a RasJosh beat battle and hang with everyone talking about poetry, herb and artistic ambitions. In the backyard of Maya’s Café, standing in line at the taco stand, buying a tall $5 Pabst can, we would dap each other as entering and exiting the venue like a stony post-tee-ball ritual.  

Lyfe knew even then that what he had helped to cultivate with Sunny Days & Vibes, along with graphic designer and behind the scenes force Alex “Ppaccee” Reynoso, was a hybrid of something with profit potential but also more significantly something that actually had social value to people, something that felt like more than the sum of its parts. He also, being a man of the people, listened when artists like me and Wonders Trillions and Botnee said we wanted to be at this kind of thing all of time.

      The first Sunny Days & Vibes events we played had bigger names headlining – Gavlyn, Oh Blimey, Germ Free, Vel the Wonder – with a cavalcade of openers like West Coast Avengers, Nat the Lioness,  Wonders Trillions, Dynamic x Martyrs, DevilGod, Ill Smith, Epyk and Soulitaire, Hvlloween. After listening to everything all of us grubby handed kids asked for, Lyfe started doubling and tripling the number of Sunny Days & Vibes shows per month, appointing Sunny Days & Vibes regulars like us and Notiz Yong and anyone else starting to make a name for themselves as headliners, to often mixed results.

This phenomena made me begin to realize how hard what Lyfe was doing really was to do well. He maintained a strict no pay-to-play policy. He knew he hated it when he dealt with it as a performer and it was part of his origin story: he once did some pay-to-play gigs and quickly realized he could put the whole damn event together more to his liking than some folks he was dealing with. Add that to Ppaaccee’s burgeoning graphic design education as well as his Herbalistic partner Greaseball’s prodigious MCing and both Herbalistics and Sunny Days And Vibes grew simultaneously and rapidly out of this desire to serve hip-hop heads like themselves better.

 

On the one hand, by the time my group the West Coast Avengers joined the fray summer 2014, he was giving the SDAV regulars the space to grow and the chance to blow. Nothing was stopping us or anyone else he let headline SDAV shows from going all out and trying to get as many friends as possible to make each event huge. When we fell short of that, and we did at least once, two things became apparent: how much the hugeness of previous SDAV events came down to Lyfe’s hustle and how much the coolness of SDAV gatherings, like anything else with any cultural cache, derived from a level of scarcity and a sense of fleeting but delicious inclusion. When there was three SDAVs a week, it was harder to get the whole gang to come to every single one- or even to care. That’s no fault of Lyfe’s- we all talked like we had the fanbase to get a Thursday night show crackalackin’- he just gave us the shot. The over-extenuation of the SDAV brand became almost comical at times- notorious for not having a doorman, booking excessive numbers of openers- lesser and lesser known headliners, uncooperative venues all of the sudden changing terms seemingly agreed to on fliers and more. As 2015 progressed and I threw more of my own shows, partly in reaction to what I perceived as the gradual dilution of my favorite local Inland Empire concert series, I quickly learned a lot about why Lyfe’s showcase had these issues: if you book 12 people, somewhere between 2 and 5 of those 12 acts will flake on you by the night of the actual show. You book 12 people not to cram 12 people onto a one-night bill but so you’re not caught with your pants down when half your bill flakes on a Sunday show they said they’d be able to make when you asked them a month ago. No one wants to play first to the beginning crowd or at the end as the night ends so when you have a lot of people on the bill you have to make tough decisions or at least have enough performers itching to rock that those issues aren’t a problem- because as a promoter that stuff can’t be a problem, you have to be collecting ticket money and coordinating logistics with the venue.

Lyfe himself became aware of the diminished brand value of The Sunny Days And Vibes in late 2015 and early 2016 and started a short-lived new concert series called The Guest List. He was explicit about ticket sale requirements, he got Botnee of Feel The Real Clothing to DJ, and got some headliners like Afu-Ra and other respected heads in underground hip-hop world to help him launch it.  He held events at M15 in Corona and Status Nightclub under The Guest List banner, bringing Ppaaccee back into the fold to help design flyers and establish the aesthetic distinctions between SDAV and Guest List. I never ended up playing a Guest List event and the series fizzled out as word spread of venue malfunctions and non-cooperation.

The other dimension of Lyfe’s public presentation as an artist and promoter that was always near the surface of the minds of fans and observers is that the world, at least our world here in the I.E., has always wanted more Herbalistics music, and at a faster pace, than the Herbalistics actually produce. There was little dispute among particularly younger hip-hop heads in the I.E. and Riverside area that the Herbalistics sound was among the freshest yet warmest in the Inland region. They’d easily had a mixtape’s worth of songs on their SoundCloud. Greaseball’s Bad Cat EP is available on bandcamp

(http://www.jooseboxx.com/2014/12/funny-fundamentals-review-of-johnny.html). Lyfe always had solo tracks on SoundCloud and YouTube as well. Yet there’s always a sense that these dudes should be running the music scene with more releases. I don’t think more than 2 Herbalistics songs came out in 2016.

I say all that to say when Lyfe not only came roaring back with Taco Sesh in late 2016 but also dropped his solo debut “Efyl” in late February of 2017, he had clearly cracked the code in his life, managing to balance both creativity and the hosting and management of a major event on a more than weekly basis; and that’s gratifying to see. It’s easy to just fall into decline, even easier to see it happen to others, but it’s rare to see people emerge from such a phase stronger. Album and my review for it linked here:

http://www.jooseboxx.com/2017/03/it-was-world-review-in-brief-of-mc.html.

Lyfe had been teasing the Efyl project for years, dropping singles, videos and album art all throughout the 2 years leading up to its release. Local rappers constantly teasing a never-released album had become about as comical as anything by the time he did drop his album so it was another rebuke to Lyfe’s doubters, another reminder that he won’t be stopped.

 

Last week the Avengers and I went to the Wednesday 4/19 Taco Sesh with Joaquin Daniels. Arriving at the 8:30 PM peak of Taco Sesh you’ll be crowded uncomfortably but also excited at the THC-soaked reverie taking place. Every time I go, the extent to which Lyfe and Kiero are working is more apparent. The first time you’re just so overwhelmed by the bacchanalia taking place that you assume everyone’s having the time of their lives but Kieroglyphics and Lyfe do this 3 times  a week. Like any job, some days are better than others. This was a crackin’ Taco Sesh but dudes looked as busy, stressed and to be honest as sweaty as I’d ever seen ‘em in April. There was a high rise balcony in the warehouse the DJ setup was stationed at, MCs would go up with their USBs and walk down the steps with the wireless mic in hand. The warehouse opened upon the side where Chicana Con Hambe had set up her Taco Stand next to another snack booth.  At this particular pop-up Sesh location, there were trucks backing in and out of the other side of the warehouse. From the high-rise DJ/performer area the trucks’ entrances and exits were visible and looking at that at the same time as THC-soaked reverie of indoor weed swapmeeting just below, a wall away, from above made me think that we were reaching peak post-industrial capitalism in the I.E. but what the hell do I know?

KastOne, Ital Santos, Slick C and other friends advised me on what booths to sample and buy from. We’re seeing a culture and economy evolve rapidly before our eyes. A zombie youth populating post-industrial backstreets, warehouses alight with littiness under the nose of the would-be retirees and working parents of the I.E.

 

The next day’s 4/20 Sesh at BudCo in San Bernardino was like an outdoor swap meet, a mini-festival, with joints being handed out and the I.E’s finest ready to rock the ever-growing crowd. I thought to myself, “this can’t diminish in the same way the old SDAV shows did because it’s lifeblood is cannabis which is perennially popular” and furthermore that it’s awesome that Lyfe directs the resources and platform it generates to promoting local quality hip-hop. RasJosh from my crew WCA has been saying lately that to him that an event like this where people can indulge in getting high on cannabis products easily would blow up and sustain massive and growing popularity is a no-brainer to him. It’s easy for me to forget that struggle since I’ve had a house for a few years now but being honest with myself having a safe place to just post and toast was the forever struggle as an adolescent and even through my very early 20s. I have friends who think the Sesh is so growing that it will start running into society’s barrier walls, the ones that tend to come down on rebellious entrepreneurs in a racket the establishment wants no part of but I think cities will learn to work with and tax ventures like Taco Sesh…or at least I hope they do but maybe this is all moving faster than someone like me can speculate.These days it looks like Lyfe is turning the Monday I.E. Taco Sesh into a showcase of talent battles of rappers and beatmakers. He is branding more Taco Sesh events as Sunny Days & Vibes partnerships and bringing out more rappers and artists we all grew up on into the event cycle, the latest being Kurupt, a personal favorite for a lot of us over the years particularly for those of us that were growing up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s wild to me that Lyfe doesn’t even push his album hard given that it took him years to create and drop but for fans like me it just makes it all the more esoteric. I also suspect the money of Taco Sesh is professionalizing him more than ever so he knows where and when to push the music and when to push the hustle.

Friends like Notiz Yong and Greaseball have tried to put me in touch with the people behind the Sesh in terms of funding and organizational logistics but whenever I try to talk to such folks they are honestly even busier than Lyfe and Kiero. I realize now that I’ve shown up to a half dozen of these throughout the I.E. and performed at a couple with the squad that the exactitudes don’t matter and the basic anatomy of the situation is thus: there are organizers not involved directly with music or cannabis but who arrange constantly shifting yet recurring venues, collect money from vendors as well as sponsored goods for giveaway portions. There are talent managers like Kiero and Lyfe who make sure the event is hosted, entertained, plugged in and generally under control running smoothly. They delegate door and inter-building security while the venue itself usually has outside security keeping things running smoothly. One of the mid-Inland Empire Taco Sesh locations seems to be a biker bar part of the time, with tough Angels looking cats guarding doorways your homies can’t walk into. There are food vendors who probably incidentally supplied the Sesh with its nomenclature and product vendors selling everything from glassware to cannabis products and every heady thing in between. Lastly there are patients and performers who populate the place with need and ambition, the hungry thrum of life coursing through the veins of youth culture.

Tristan “Tanjint Wiggy” Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com.

 

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