The Great and Powerful Big Oz: Irvine's Afghan Rapper Delivers Battle-Tested Rhymes

Categories: Locals Only

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Fahim Farand

It didn't take long for Omar Azizi to establish himself as the biggest presence in a room. He easily outweighed his fellow newborns in a LA hospital nursery, tipping the scales at 12 pounds.

Twenty-eight years later, the Irvine rapper known as "Big Oz" towers onstage, thanks to an imposing 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame. The Afghan-American rapper now stands poised with outsized ambitions to chart a continental reach with his rhymes.

But Azizi's pathway hasn't been without its obstacles. His father, who fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, loves to sing and play accordion but didn't want his son to live a musician's life. He raised Azizi to be cultured while priming him for a future in politics.

"As a kid, I wrote a lot of poetry," 
Azizi says.


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Gianna X Gianna Is Sweetly Eccentric

Categories: Locals Only

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Onstage, Gianna X Gianna is a towering presence in platform shoes, a sparkly leotard and spidery black mascara. Her blond hair is dyed a faded, cotton-candy hue; a mischievous grin peels apart her ruby-red lips as though she's a sultry super-villain. With her spastic intensity and robotic gyrations, the rapping songstress has carved her niche in OC as the most eye-catching element of sibling hip-hop/electro outfit BLOK. But in terms of calculating her sweat and creative output over the years, that's barely the half of it.

She views everything she does--rapping, singing, acting, directing, writing books--as a platform to convey her mission as an artist. "I want to be vulnerable and showcase that, and hopefully, that resonates on some level for people who want to do it themselves as well," the bubbly Gianna says.


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Nicker Jones and His Freaky Blues

Categories: Locals Only

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Photo by Gianna Gianna, produced by Luka Fisher
There's a strange world swirling inside Nicker Jones. For the first few minutes of our recent lunch conversation at Memphis Cafe in Costa Mesa, he gazes down intently at his shrimp po'boy sandwich with a smirk on his face.

"It's hard talking about myself," the 24-year-old says shyly. "This is actually one of my first interviews."

But you can sense the wheels of creativity spinning, even when he's not saying much. Of course, anyone who has seen Jones live knows it's usually his manic, blues-fueled freakouts and ankle-breaking dance moves that do the talking when he's onstage.


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Charles Fullwood Is Mr. Soultronica

Categories: Locals Only

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Haila Fullwood
By: Christine Terrisse
A young man plugs in his guitar amp and gets ready to play. The acoustics are good in the lobby of the Santora Arts building in downtown Santa Ana. A few of his friends slouch against the wall. He has dressed the part of a stereotypical OC dude: plaid shirt, board shorts and a beanie. Sometimes, he ditches the beanie, and a mass of tawny curls frames his symmetric face.

His voice starts slowly as he plucks a few chords. Then comes the jolt in a piercing raw-edged tenor: "I need this much! I need you, oh/I need you here/I need you right now."
That voice belongs to 24-year-old Charles Fullwood, and the lyric is from "This Much," off his five-track EP. In his bedroom studio, he specializes in a sound dubbed soultronica: an aural cocktail combining the neo-soul of Maxwell and the raw energy and synth of a Dirty Mind-era Prince.

A big part of his sound is the Korg Kaoisslator Pro synthesizer, which he dubs "kawesomelater."


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OC's Country Musicians Are Sick of Being Ignored

Categories: Locals Only

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Jen Fedrizzi
Daniel Bonte
Igniting a music movement in Orange County is no easy feat, but according to frontman Daniel Bonte of Daniel Bonte and The Bona Fide, a movement is exactly what local country music needs. The Indiana-bred singer set to work finding a venue that would serve as a hub for Southern California country artists, and found a home in the stomping grounds of Cal State Fullerton. The singer snagged a Friday night slot at Big's Bar & Grill for his "California Country" series in hopes of exposing a country music scene.

When Bonte approached various Orange County club owners with the idea of billing original country music, he was met with opposition. Venues were communicating heavy interest in cover songs, but little attention was given to new material. Bonte says that in some cases, venue operators wanted complete control of set lists. "I don't mind playing other people's music every once in awhile, as long as we do it our way," Bonte says. "But I'm not gonna have anybody tell me what I can and can't play. That's bullshit and I'm not gonna do it."


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Rules of Attraction Aren't Afraid to Get Ugly

Categories: Locals Only

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Courtesy of Alex Vincent
A rattle comes from the glass back door of TK Burger in Costa Mesa. Outside, a few cute teenage girls in short shorts and snug tank tops pull on the handle and stare inside like lost puppy dogs. During the lunch rush, they're the third or fourth group to try to get in through the locked door; on the other side of the restaurant, the front door is wide open. All the unfortunate schlubs who tried the handle before them got cold shoulders and smirks from patrons inside. But not these ladies. Within a few seconds, some tan surfer dude wearing flip-flops and a toothy grin trots over and opens it for them.

Alex Vincent observes the scene from a nearby booth. Watching this cliché act of chivalry between chomps of a juicy cheeseburger, he sighs a little and shakes his head, which is sporting a black-and-white admiral's cap with gold trim.

"You see that?" he asks under his breath, his eyes motioning toward the door. "There's a good example for you: No one ever ignores pretty girls."

It's that kind of double standard regarding society's obsession with beauty that stokes Vincent's ire. Combining hardcore aggression, orchestral layers, dark imagery and creepy surf tone guitar, his band, appropriately named Rules of Attraction, create a platypus of sounds that's unattractive on paper. Some of it sounds borrowed from his previous band, horror punk outfit Something Horrible (also featured in Locals Only).

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Let's Drive to Alaska Take Us on a Long, Strange Post-Rock Trip

Categories: Locals Only

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Courtesty of Let's drive to Alaska
Let's Drive to Alaska compose the type of music you might hear soundtracking an indie documentary. It's well-suited to stimulate the right brain into creative mode, and about as post-rock as it comes. In their most frenetic moments--on songs such as "Past Lives" and "Setjaski," for instance--Alaska share space with the Benevento-Russo Duo. Mellower moments find them on Notwist's turf, with arpeggiated analog synth fluttering against syncopated snare rudiments, as heard on "Lower Moon."

The man behind these sounds is Chris Garcia, a 26-year-old, Whittier-bred artist who composes and records the tunes mostly by himself, save the drumming, which is provided by Fullerton's Patrick Haag (also of Mississippi Man), with whom Garcia has worked for about five years. The band have taken on several manifestations; up until the earlier part of this year, they were a quartet, with Chris Holguin of Mount Messiah playing gadget table and Marisa Kirtland adding violin and cello.

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The Simpkin Project Prove Their Staying Power in the OC Reggae Scene

Categories: Locals Only

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Josue Rivas
By: David Garcia

It's easy to be desensitized to SoCal reggae these days. But there's no substitute for staying power when you see a local band such as the Simpkin Project, whose commitment to the genre is more than a decade long and goes much deeper than a love of Sublime and Sour Diesel.

Long before the recent reggae explosion in Southern California, Phil Simpkin spent his high school days playing in the band Big Cat. At the time, Simpkin had been quietly working on his own music and shared his experimentations with longtime schoolmate, Shawn Taylor. The result was the birth of the Simpkin Project in 2003. The original recordings for what would become the band's first album, Walk On Tall, were mixed and mastered in Taylor's Huntington Beach home studio--with no intention of releasing it to the public.

"It was an experiment, if you will," says organist/keyboardist Taylor, "a recording experiment burned onto blank CDs and given to people in our immediate circles that quickly became a cult favorite among friends."

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Exmortus Specialize in Shock and Awe

Categories: Locals Only

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Karina Diane
Becoming a beastly metal guitar player takes years of dedicated, callus-forming practice. But if you're Jadran "Conan" Gonzalez from Exmortus, it takes just one freak childhood accident.

Drummer Mario Moreno recalls the dangerous prank he played on Gonzalez. When he was 5, Moreno convinced his cousin to stick a bobby pin in an electrical outlet, which shocked his hands. "His fingers went black," Moreno says. "I like to say that's why he shreds--because the electricity still flows through him. Every time he plugs in, he's charged."

Together with guitarist David Rivera and bassist Aldo Bibiano, Gonzalez and Moreno blend thrash riffs, fretboard-searing solos and neo-classical technique. Having played local shows at every available opportunity, Exmortus built a steady following over the past decade. Last year, they were signed to LA label Prosthetic Records, and in February, they released the stellar album Slave to the Sword. Tours through North America followed, supporting such metal heavyweights as Dark Tranquillity and Destruction. Exmortus will take the stage at Malone's Bar and Grill on Friday before embarking on a nationwide run with Virginia band Arsis (they'll perform at OC Music Hall on Sept. 20).

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Local B-boy Rion Competes For Red Bull World Domination

Categories: Locals Only

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Courtest Cashmere Agency
There have been times when professional breakdancer Ryan Nebreja thought he would literally break. Known professionally as Rion, Nebreja has had to balance a lot more than his body weight while trying to pull off a head spin on a piece of cardboard. School, work, sleep and a strict diet are all trappings of being a 25-year-old athlete. But when you add pressure from family to find a "real" career, plus a sprained ankle here and a strained oblique there, things can quickly get a little more complicated.

"I wouldn't consider [the stress] a burden," Nebreja says. He pauses to smirk, then corrects himself: "Yeah, I guess it's a burden."

Recently, the Orange resident won Red Bull's West Coast Regional finals in Seattle, which advanced him to the Red Bull BC One breakdancing championship in Las Vegas this weekend. A win at this North American competition would mean the chance for the Cal State Fullerton graduate to compete in the world finals in Paris this fall.


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