On the way to a 25th year anniversary, shout out to The Beat Within! For the latest volume 26.05/06 the VBehindW Column introduces a segment titled 'The Listening'. For the first, the column focuses on the latest release from DJ/beat maker/eMCee from California Drasar Monumental & the Lifetime of Wreckage EP. A snap of the column as published in The Beat Within is included towards the end of this post. To request a full copy of The Beat Within check the subscription page thebeatwithin.org/subscription/ This publication circulates throughout the juvenile & adult mass incarceration system of America and to institutions globally. To Drasar Monumental, thank you! Links to Drasar's locations online are included as links throughout the column shared in text below. You can purchase a Lifetime of Wreckage at the following link, Vendetta Vinyl, respect! This one's for Hip Hop.
Lifetime of Wreckage ‘The Listening’
VBehindW Column by Mr. Lee
Peace readers, for this column I will explore the beats, rhymes & lives of the listening experience. This VBehindW segment is not a music review. The goal of ‘The Listening’ is not to persuade you to listen to something just because I like it and want to write about it. What I listen to is what I listen to, just like what you listen to tells a story of your connection to music. I feel it’s one of many reasons Hip Hop caught my attention when it arrived in my life during my childhood years. What I heard as a kid felt like music I would grow to call my own. It introduced our generation to stories of other neighborhoods and cities beyond our own throughout the country. As I got older I realized Hip Hop extended beyond the U.S. and all across the globe. Hip Hop resides in the dustiest of details and in the cracks of all age circumstance that brings creators together to offer something that could live on its own and represent something original and something connected to the past and created for the future.
In this column we press play on a segment I call ‘The Listening’ to introduce you to a record by a DJ/beatmaker/eMCee out of California who goes by Drasar Monumental. Drasar considers himself all-state born and bred having grown up throughout Southern California and currently residing and creating in Northern Cali. In 2020, Drasar released a record titled Lifetime of Wreckage EP. An EP is shorter than a full album and can be a part of a consecutive release of EPs connected to a specific theme or larger album project (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, etc.).
On the back of the Lifetime of Wreckage EP it states, “Recorded in Vietnam, California”. The image that accompanies this column is of the actual vinyl record I have with artwork by Cawza One & Sonny Wong. Drasar also worked with Kufu 1. All three are graff artists which Drasar believes to be the highest form of artistry. Reflecting on the artwork Drasar shared, “When people pick up a record the first thing they see is the artwork, which I do not take lightly…The artwork should reflect the music and vice-versa. All of the ideas and images have been thought out tremendously. Luckily, I have artist around me that are dead serious about their craft, just like I am, or certain things would not have worked. Salute to all three of them for their energy, time, effort and talent.”
On the Lifetime of Wreckage EP Drasar created the beats, wrote and expressed the rhymes and handled the scratches. For those that don’t know, scratching is a sound effect created with a turntable by a DJ to produce specific sounds that go with the beat. Drasar’s ear is informed by his travels all around the globe digging for vinyl records and accumulating a library of music which inspires what he creates through a creative process called sampling. I couldn’t begin to guess the source of Drasar’s samples. This has been the case for everything I’ve heard from Drasar dating back to his work on a series he produced called Good Morning Vietnam with legendary eMCee by the name of MF Grimm aka Grand Master Grimm. Grimm is originally from Manhattan, New York. Drasar also collaborated with a beat maker that goes by Ayatollah from Queens, New York for a series released under the group duo name Boxcutter Brothers. The boxcutter is a metaphor for chopping up beats and slicing and rearranging sounds, what Drasar refers to as having a dual meaning in the world of beat production…“Staying sharp on those samplers”. Drasar adds, “In my opinion, what I am doing is composing from a wide range of media sources. It’s a collage sensibility where anything that I hear can be manipulated to get my point across. Sampling connects the old with the new in a way where it actually takes the producer on a journey of education, awareness, and history…Older musicians should be extremely proud that we are keeping their vibrations and sounds alive.” For our younger readers, sampling is regarded by many in Hip Hop as foundational to Hip Hop’s inception and its connection to the past, or what Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs referred to on their O.S.T. album as ((The Dig)). Rest in peace to Double K. Vinyl records once the primary medium in which music was released and heard throughout the world going back more than fifty years continues to be a part of how music is released today. In my opinion, I don’t think any other genre is as tied to vinyl’s existence as Hip Hop, not only for the purpose of creating and releasing new music, but also for what it’s worth as a purchase in the digital age.
In Drasar’s lived experience he has seen whole generations swept off the streets and thrown into incarceration. There are pieces of dialogue chopped throughout Drasar’s music that reflect on the generational impact of mass incarceration. The first example I recall on the track Drasar produced called ((Economics)) with MF Grimm off the Good Morning Vietnam 3: The Phoenix Program album. On Lifetime of Wreckage the track ((Black Calculus Part 3)) Drasar spits, “In 2020 your mind is your strongest weapon…” I think about a publication like The Beat Within and what youth and adults take on when they decide to pick up a pen to think and write. Drasar shared his personal connection to the the importance of reaching out stating, “I’m down to help out in any shape, form, fashion possible. My younger brother got caught up and ultimately it led to his demise (RIP). It left a profound effect on me and I feel it is my duty to try and assist the younger cats in finding a way to sidestep the pitfalls of incarceration…”
Drasar describes his music as, “a wall of sound…bass, treble, and highs. HEAVY! My music is a sonic outlet of anger and frustration.” Instead of taking out what he describes as vitriol on others, he transfers aggressive energy into music. “It’s more productive to me in that fashion, many people don’t have a creative outlet, and I believe that pent up frustration manifest itself in a myriad of shortcomings and dysfunctionality…This [music] is my tool for expressing my deepest thoughts and opinions.” What Drasar explains takes me back to a Beat Within documentary recorded in 98’. In the video a Beat Within facilitator who was also incarcerated as a youth shared how his writings that expressed rage transferred through the pen. In the documentary available on YouTube (search The Beat Within 1998 documentary Pt.2) he states, “it was apropos that when I started to let the rage out, it went to the pen and it came out through my hand, and it was all going through the hand…I used to say when you read my early writings it was just violence, it was spewing, ranting, and railing at the world…in essence I’d turned that knife into a pen, and I was stabbing the page.” The facilitator added…“I believe in writing, and I believe in the therapy of writing, and I always say that what I try to do with these kids, is replicate what I did for myself, is turn the solid to the sound to a liberating writing experience.”
The Lifetime of Wreckage EP vinyl on Side A features songs by Drasar with rhymes and on Side B listeners experience those same songs expressed strictly through beats. Early on in my life I remember it was beat smiths like Havoc of Mobb Deep & RZA of Wu Tang Clan that made me wish there was a way to hear the music we saw on TV or heard on cassette strictly through beats. I was too young to know this was already going down. I didn’t have the know how as a middle schooler to look behind some of my father’s records even during the 80s when I’d sit close by and watch him sift through records to play his favorite songs on this turntable that sat on this tower of buttons, levels, and cassette ports. I’d learn later that sometimes vinyl records included versions of songs without the lyrics. For years I always felt it was Hip Hop that started serving up beats to listeners until I reached back and listened to soundtracks like Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifrin or Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack or certain WAR records and even James Brown. Years ago a military recruiter shared a song by James Brown with me called ((King Heroin)). In the song JB recites a poem through rhyme about the struggles of addiction. On records and 45s, I discovered instrumental versions were described in different ways.
A part of Drasar Monumental’s inspiration to create comes from his father who put him on early to music. He was also inspired by local DJs and radio stations like KCSB and the legendary KDAY which exposed Drasar to “certain spectrum of sounds that shaped/shapes my musical worldview somewhat.” Drasar expresses a lifetime of wreckage on four tracks. With each listen another story is told, inspiring new conversations about Hip Hop music and its purpose. Vendetta Vinyl is the name of Drasar’s independent record label. Based in California with retailers all around the world the mission of Vendetta Vinyl is to “provide thought-provoking Hip Hop with an edge…no crybaby rap, no tinkerbell beats, no bozo bars, no extras…” In the mission Drasar and company add, “if you’re fed up with the current state of affairs – walk with us as we venture into the depths of hardcore Hip Hop chaos with reckless abandon. We don’t wait to get checked in, we check ourselves in.”
If you do your history, this is the foundation of Hip Hop. Drasar explains this in an interview with The Lost Tapes…“What we do, its’ foundation, you know, foundation Hip Hop where you got your breaks and stuff and fly rhymes and all that good stuff, but we build on the foundation into the 21st century; one foot in the past, and one in the future…We’re concerned with leaving a legacy and adding on to the greatness of Hip Hop.”
Til’ the next listening readers…Shout out to everyone in The Beat world and special thanks to Drasar Monumental for his time. Music is for everybody including the generation of youth that are going to continue to create and express themselves regardless of the challenges ahead. As Bruce Lee said it’s about having no limitation as limitation, using no way as way. In Hip Hop, creators often reflect on their success and the notion that it comes from making something out of nothing. I feel some of you will find out that even in spaces of nothingness and invisibility, your story, your voice, who you are and what you have to say can become your greatest asset, most valuable resource. Like a guiding light, what you have to say can become the light for someone else. Keep representin’ through this outlet we love, The Beat Within. Express yourself because you never know who is listening and who needs to hear what you got to say.