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Cali Quake - Click to view! "The question is, are you ready?" Tunnel Rat member Raphi is more than ready to silence his critics and rip up the mic on his debut solo album Cali Quake. The long-time member of the Los Angeles underground returns to deliver the full meal to those hungry from the taste they received on the Tunnel Vision album. Raphi has been an emcee for over 10 years performing with countless stars and appearing on many Tunnel Rat projects before steeping out on his own to "shake it up."

And shake it up he does. Raphi teams up with Don Baker (a.k.a. Dert) to get your body moving on the "Intro." The head nodders continue with "Connect," a straight up party jam with an addictive hook. Dert the innovator continues with "Welcome" featuring fellow rats Dax and Macho from New Breed. The TR'z quickly try to prepare the listener for the future of hip-hop, when the Rats will be on top. Salsa meets hip-hop on "Then and Now," another body shaking groove featuring excellent guitar work by Robert Hernandez. Jaws will drop when they get a listen to "It Goes Down" (featuring Wordsworth). This is the type of joint that will turn any hip-hop head and get the hardest cat working his neck. From the three TR projects in the last year, this is the best track Dert has produced. The two emcees work together very smoothly on this song - a must for any hip-hop fan. After a short break, Raphi returns to the hardcore with "Heatwave." Again featuring Macho, this track is an answer to "Pray for the Morning" from Tunnel Vision. Dert does not disappoint with his hardcore beats that should bring this record a lot of respect.

But Raphi is not one sided. He brings lyrical depth to some slow jams and reveals his frustrations on the pace of his music career. "Foolin'" and "Street Chronicles" feature some tranquil vocals as the LA emcee does some storytelling about life on the streets. He also gets real with the listeners on "Stop-Look-Listen," "Rollin' With the Punches," and "The Right Way." These songs share some deep frustrations and aspirations of a man with a gift who is trying to get recognized while ministering to his fans. TR member Zane guests on "Let Go," another storytelling tune of a couple on the brink of splitting up. You can feel the chemistry between the two as they each share their point of view. Some of the lines delivered by each emcee are gems that will benefit any relationship. Fortunately, all ends well for this couple in this genuine story about respect that should be taken to heart.

The balance between the hardcore and the heartfelt is done relatively well on Cali Quake, with the exception of the middle portion of the disc. After the body grooving song "Heatwave," the disc grinds to a halt. The following number, "The Right Way," is a strong but down beat tune. And a confusing story told over two tracks ("Life Surprises" and "Anytime. Anywhere") cripple the album's flow. The story initially follows a man sharing his heartbreak over an unfaithful spouse. Raphi flows eloquently as he personifies the hurting man and the confrontation he has with her lover. The argument turns violent and his mother is shot. On the second track, Raphi raps from the perspective of an innocent who stumbles onto the violent scene. He seems to hold some social commentary about life on the streets but by this time it is too confusing. There is no explanation if this really happened to Raphi or why he chose to tell this story. The next song "Street Chronicles" hints at wrapping up this surprising (and violent) tale but it falls short. The story is left hanging and the groove created by the first 10 tracks is lost.

That being said, there are too many good songs to miss out on Cali Quake. The musicianship is clever and creates a powerful hip-hop sound. Beat master Dert scores big again and Raphi effectively challenges listeners not to put his music in a box. Standout musical tracks are "Interludes 1 and 2," "Then and Now," and "Wiggle." The beats are hot and the flows are very fresh. Raphi is not an emcee to sleep on and Cali Quake is a disc you shouldn't miss.
- Jon Corbin
September 2002
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