Feel The Power of the Smooth Beast
By Aaris A. Schroeder
Most Recent Album: Smooth Beast
Release Date: Winter 2016
Smooth Beast, a traditional boom-bap style HipHop foursome with blues and Latin pizazz came together through “Return of the Cypher,” [R.O.T.C.] in ’14 at one of the few hip-hop venues/events left in San Francisco, CA at The Boom Boom Room. Smooth Beast has been working hard all year to release their self-titled album “Smooth Beast,” winter ’16.
The members, all currently residing in Oakland, CA are comprised of emcees Mike Fish (production/engineer/emcee), Karen Less, Gigio and Monolyth who sought each other out due to their stylistic nature with music. Mike Fish and Karen Less are long time friends through mutual acquaintances. The two of them, along with Fish’s girlfriend, SuYen Averroes (Fish’s significant other of whom he met at a Cuban Salsa night in Oakland) met Monolyth and Gigio at R.O.T.C. one evening. The rest is history. Even SuYen is now influential in Smooth Beast’s band decisions. She helps with the band’s presentation, organizing meetings, practices, events and keeps things light and positive.
Everybody works together to make “The Beast” “Smooth.” The four of them knew they could make good music so they did it together, eventually lead to creating what is now Smooth Beast.
“On the live tip, HipHop doesn’t thrive like that [in S.F. anymore] but in terms of artistry, cats are really killing it. Artists that are on the come up are way more hungry than before – maybe because [venues] have shut down, [so] cats are more excited,” says Gigio. He also points out that artists and performers “need to have creative ideas, get uncomfortable” in their own skin and “create their own media.”
“Don’t take any shortcuts [and] bring awareness when you do it,” Gigio states.
Monolyth; originally from Louisiana with a Washitaw-Creole background from Poverty Point and an S.F. Native, shares that the entire Bay Area is known for community building, politics, education and a revolutionized community at large. “We want to capture independent artistry and media. We can say a lot of things that we normally couldn’t say in [mainstream or public forum] media.”
On the component of creating independent media, Mike Fish speaks out, “Without journalists, it is hard to be an artist, otherwise we have to do that ourselves.”
Smooth Beast has a kinship that goes beyond creating music. They can talk about politics, community, life struggles while hanging out and BBQin’.
Their style, just like many indie HipHop artists goes deeper than just that boom bap beat. There are reminiscent sounds of reggae, pop, rock, Latin-fusion, Afro-Cuban and even blues.
“[The] Blues influence is on the track, ‘Belly of the Blues’ that we released on SoundCloud is John Lee Hooker who opened the Boom Boom room in the ’30s. What is dope about the blues is that there is always a free flowing structure. We made our hip-hop format off that,” Gigio explains.
Smooth Beast is like the Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, according to Monolyth, “Captain Kirk is [always] exploring.” Even the nature of the group coming together over a year ago and networking within the HipHop community is surreal.
“You will hear a lot of eclectic beats [in our music].” says Monolyth whose background ranges from hip-hop to funk and rock bands such as Midnight Voices, a HipHop group associated with The Upper Room and Funkonauts.
Monolyth met local East-Bay emcee Kensho Kuma while working at a Level 11 Adolescent Treatment Facility at The Walden House 214 in ’02. He has over 20 years of experience in the this field. Monolyth was a Veteran Counselor at the time working with youth, Kensho worked underneath him.
The two guys were in a gym at The Walden House, surrounded by many youth and Kensho decided to bar out with Monolyth.
“Not a battle, but just spitting endlessly. I could just tell he was an authentic HipHopper.” Kensho replies, mentioning that Monolyth has a feature on his first album entitled, “Rewritten Code of Honor,” [’06] and “The Program E.P.,” that sold out in Japan while he was touring.
Kensho Kuma and Monolyth recorded, “2010 Suicides” together in ’10.
“Monolyth has always been a down-to-earth, humble dude and I expect nothing less than the best for him. Not only as an artist but as a human being. Gigio is also another dude that’s really chill and is a pleasure to be around. Mike Fish is a solid performer who holds it down every time. Smooth Beast is a well balanced group and I expect them to rip some big shows in ’16.” says Kensho Kuma.
Smooth Beast has so many musical outlets and influences. Mike Fish, who has lived in Oakland going on four years is into KRS-1; Tha Teacha, Big Daddy Kane, Freestyle Fellowship, N.W.A., Tears for Fears, Bob Marley and more. Gigio and Monolyth both love Michael Jackson.
“I’ve seen Jackson 5 perform before. I’ve been involved with music my whole life,” says Monolyth, laughing who also digs Guru and X-Clan.
“I was writing before I knew I was rapping. I figured out if you put words over a beat, it’s called HipHop,” says Karen Less who grew up listening to and admiring artists such as Sade and Lauren Hill.
The family kinship seen through these individual’s connections are amazing. They may have different backgrounds growing up and even musically but they all connect with HipHop. Their ages range from mid-twenties through over 40-years-old.
“We have definitely grown really close. We have become like family. I live with Mike Fish. Karen Less is basically our neighbor. She lives one block up. We bond really deep, all of us. We help each other to navigate through life. All of our backgrounds are very different,” says Gigio who has recruited Mike Fish to attend weekly yoga classes with him.
“Gigio is Buddhist, I’ve gone with him to chant to the Gahonza and it helps a lot,” says Mike Fish.
They seem to have it all and now they are preparing to go on tour.
“We are just looking to recruit ‘Lil Bow Wow,” Gigio kids around.
All jokes aside, there is a boatload of albums between them all. Mike Fish has been rhyming since he was 15-years-old, freestyling until that “snowballed into making beats with DJ Sorskie in Oregon where he grew up. Fish was a part of a 10-man group called Person People who toured and performed with the likes of KRS-One, Guru and Ghostface Killah of Wu Tang Clan, releasing four albums. As a solo artist, he has already released four albums, “Points of View” [’97], “Typical Nightlife” [’10], “Beat Jacks” [’11], “RAP 98.3” [’12] and “School of Fish” [’14] (produced by Matt Fish A.K.A. The Nothing).
Mike Fish moved from Bend, Oregon of where he was raised and grew up to Oakland, CA four years ago. Utilizing his emcee and production skills, he is able to produce their music through Mindscape Productions in “The Aquarium” (the name of the studio) where Fish does a bulk of the production for Smooth Beast and also now for his band mates and close comrades in HipHop.
Mindscape Production’s motto is: “The art of HipHop that cuts straight to your bones with rawness and sends a smooth, tingly rush of comforting waves and thought provoking vibrations; like a tuning fork to a red funk bass guitar through your ocean of emotion and flesh.”
Karen Less, female emcee extraordinaire knows how to bring it hard with a soft feminine flair. Her most recent album, “The Good News” has been produced by Mike Fish.
Karen Less, single “Forgive Easy” off “The Good News.”
About her music, DJ Sorski is quoted on Mindscape Production’s website as saying, “I just listened to that Karen Less album! Wow! That shit is like if Biggie and Lil Kim had a love child and that child was raised by Queen Latifa in Oakland and hung out with her crazy aunts Lady Of Rage and Da Brat all day!”
Pretty impressive. Karen Less’ album, “The Good News” is available for download/purchase at iTunes, Spotify, Amazon mp3, Google Play and more places to come.
“[Smooth Beast] is connected through individual bonding and relationship building,” says Karen Less who mentions that she doesn’t have a particular role [besides emceein’] in the group, which she uses the word “family” instead. “I just am who I am. I’m in intricate part and we all melt in and fit where we are appropriate.”
Being the only woman in Smooth Beast allows Karen Less to bring a feminine role to the table when recording and performing however she says that she doesn’t [personally] see the differences between herself and her band mates since she doesn’t see things in that light.
Gigio released three albums in ’15, one of which includes “Interracial Rap Stylez” a radical trap-music album with Houston, TX producer, Lord Lorenz of whom Gigio was introduced to through fellow local emcee, Taste Nate. Gigio and Smooth Beast does not communicate with Lord Lorenz anymore but it can be listened to online at BandCamp (*the link, “Gigio’s Albums” is below).
“The Bohemian Behemoth,” also available online needed to be released, says Gigio, “I had it for a while, sitting on it.”
“It’s an Everyday Thang” was also released July ’15, produced by Tahaj The 1st. Gigio was recording the previous year “in the midst of my blue collar hustle and bustle shortly before I became a full-time artist.”
More recently, Gigio came back from Japan to tour and perform his music. Since Japan is a Buddhist-based culture Gigio was able to to fulfill an inner purpose as a Buddhist himself, performing in a country with other like-minded individuals. It was a personal and spiritually rewarding time in Gigio’s life and music career.
Full-time artist? Gigio has released 21 albums since ’06, solo and collaboratively. Check out all of Gigio’s albums.
Break-dancing, poppin’ and lockin’, poetry-driven HipHop enthusiast, Monolyth has dedicated the last three years of his life to working in the community with at-risk youth in housing and juvenile facilities schools. The last 13 years he has spent his time working with Youth Speaks as a mentor. Monolyth is also a commissioner for youth who are incarcerated, working through the court system to get these young people on the right path.
“These are some of the most talented, brilliant young men that I have worked with. They have the mentality, ‘each one, teach one.’” says Monolyth who is also raising his son in the same way to one day become a revolutionist.
“I write behavior plans for youth. I write plans using art and poetry. I’ve been involved with music my whole life,” says Monolyth.
One of his mentors is Rafiki Bilial, who has been inspirational with young people in the hip-hop and music community; especially within the venue, “The Upper Room” in S.F. Bilial was one of the first Muslim families he met in S.F., Monolyth says that through those experiences at Pier39 and S.F. theaters and schools while attending and participating in the music and art community, he has learned a lot about different cultures, especially Black culture in America. Monolyth says that in the ’80s, Bilial had many influential and organic artists “come through” to perform.
“Mono was already a full blown professional,” Mike Fish says.
Back in the day, Monolyth would show up to 16th and Mission in The City to partake and watch local poets and street performers. Nowadays, this would be called a “pop up” or “flash mob;” however, this was a continual event.
“Everybody comes through who has been drinking, partying or whatever and you can sing or do whatever you want,” says Monolyth.
It is super important to Smooth Beast that they spent this last year together, getting to know one another while working on their first album together and while preparing to go on a Southern CA tour in February and then out to Oregon mid-March.
“Since we’ve blossomed and become a group, we’re still fresh and in the works of taking those steps to further our reach.” Gigio examines Smooth Beast’s progress, also noting that the group wants to contribute and build with their Bay Area community. The guys want to expand the network they have created by building a regional base and creating more opportunities for success.
Capable is a word Smooth Beast knows well as they create all of their own fliers, art work, networking, marketing, mixing/mastering, connecting with others, recycling and of course, selling their merch.
“We are a crafty and resourceful bunch and can’t give up too much info on what we’re cookin’ up because we like to surprise people,” Gigio says about what to expect in the new year ’16.
Keep up with Smooth Beast