The Parker Edison Project / February 24, 2021
PHOTO BY Dita Quiñones
'The Southeast’. In this episode we’ll look at The Underground Improv, a venue crucial in the development of San Diego's illustrious rap history. We then fast-forward 20 years to see what’s happening in that space today. Featuring unreleased music by The Improv Allstars.
• Tres ‘Sojourn’ Hodgens - "illy"
• Bennie Eklipse Herron feat Orko Elohim - "Long Time No See"
• The Improv Allstars - "619 Anthem"
Jahsun Fakolade Edmonds
Khalid Alexander, Pillars of the Community
Show credits: Parker Edison (Host), Kurt Kohnen (Co-creator), Chris Reyes (Head Editor) and Tres ”Sojourn” Hodgens (Music Supervisor)
Welcome to the Parker Edison Project, where we look at tenets of culture and what really makes America great. There was such a legacy of culture and community, from hip hop to jazz blues to R&B to soul music in San Diego, that it's like a chosen few know. And that goes back to a greater issue that I have is that we don't tell our story. SE doesn't write a story in this episode.
We look at neighborhoods and how they shape us. And one block in San Diego, where a movement that began in the early 90s still influences artists and educators.
To this day, I'm straight up on the improv. There's nothing like it was our Harlem Renaissance located on Imperial Ave.
This particular block is surrounded by eatery's churches and nightclubs. We call it the Southeast.
That venue was in the heart of gang territory and we didn't have any gang violence at the venue.
We look at how the neighborhood changed the culture, but also fast-forward 20 years and see how the neighborhood itself has changed.
To serve the community I think is really important. When we do the work in communities that we actually live in, those communities that we're a part of. Southeast has kind of been my adopted community and place where I've, you know, raised both of my sons and I've really put down roots and really love this place because of the culture, because of the love, because of the diversity. It's just an amazing place to be. That's next on the Parker Edison project.
Long time, no see . We had. Stay tuned for more of the PE project. Six One Nine. Theme song... You are now listening to the PE project. I vividly remember sneaking out of my mom's house and dodging trolley cops on the orange line. It was hectic, but the improv was the place to be.
It was small, like an apartment, but it got live like the Apollo in Harlem. To start. I caught up with three thinkers that were there from the beginning. First up, Kevin Green, a musician, teacher and the original bandleader of the Improv.
I start by asking you, what was the approach of the improv was a place for people to be able to express themselves primarily through the medium of hip hop. But you could be a comedian. You could see you go up there and speak your mind. And it was a place where people would come and sit and those people would sign a list and they would come to a stage. And then once you were on stage, you had the option of either doing something else.
If you had like a little cassette tape of the track you play that you have a DJ drop something. And my role as the drummer, I want to rock with Kevin Green. I was there and I would play beats for whatever I wanted to do. But if they wanted to do in regards to you playing at the Improv, you had a band before the Improv.
The musicians I was working with, I came from the high school school for the Performing Arts in which I went to in the 12th grade. There I met a flute player named Lenon Honor and a bass player named Kevin Mingus, grandson of the great Charles Mingus. And we were just playing music together, regardless of which one to call. We were doing a free improvization we were starting to play some charts during a particular time. We wound up playing at the Improv because the emcee, Bennie Herron, he could say, well, from Mastas of the Universe was friends with little sister.
And so that's how that connection was made. OK, wait.
When I was in seventh grade, I had a crush on this girl, so I finally gussied up the gumption to let her know. And right when I was face to face about to tell her, I sneezed interface.
And everyone in the class started laughing because they thought it was funny, but she was mad and had big brothers and cousins in school.
She was none too pleased and her brothers were even less. I was going off campus trying to walk home without getting mobbed by her four brothers. And the fans showed up, not the real Arthur Fonzarelli, but the equivalent Bennie B-Dove Herron was somewhat of a superhero that day. He popped up out of nowhere, walked me the two miles from Bell Junior High to Meadowbrook Apartments. And that's the benefit Kevin Green is talking about right now. These guys were celebrities on my block.
For the record, sir, who are you? I am Bennie Herron, also known as Eclipse Heru. If you even if you're a little older, also known as Black Dub Dove from Masters of the Universe, formerly known as No Soul, formerly known as House Klan.
So emcee, poet, teacher, trying to do my thing. That's it. Who are some of the people over were there you know, we had dancers come through. There were artists that we show our band, you know, but I would say that the main sort of night event sort of oriented performances were emcees. And it was really just a safe place for in jazz, they use this term sharing. It sort of comes from, you know, the musicians being back in the shed away from everybody where they won't be heard practicing.
So it was a place where people could just come and share and just sharpen their skills and sharpen their craft or even start their craft to paint a fuller picture.
I called up a cocreator of the underground improv that was there from the beginning.
And just so I got it. Who are you, sir? Jahsun, also known as Millenium of the Masters of the Universe. Do you remember how it started?
Well, generally how it started. I remember at that time there was a venue here in Los Angeles called the Good Life Cafe Shout outs to the Good Life Cafe and the Good Life Cafe kind of died down and went. And then the next place in L.A. was the Project Blowed and so or the Afterlife. Many of us were either performed at that space or performed around that space and loved the vibe. And we wanted to have something for ourselves. And so that was kind of what one of the ways that we kind of started the discussion of that.
But before that, I, myself and others, we were going to this venue called the Community Actors Theater. It was literally down the street around the corner from my house.
Quick note, the Community Actors Theater was just that, a small venue where actors and stage hopefuls practice their craft the theater a lot at one night a week for live hip hop at that time.
My primary mode of expression was poetry. And so I would go to the open mic night at the Community Actors Theater and perform my poetry. And it was it wasn't it was an interesting thing because it was like there were some young people there, but it was mainly a lot of elders. And so I got a lot of artistic encouragement and inspiration there. And then many of us who wanted the venue, the discussion kind of came up in terms of places and the Community Actors Theater was one of the places that was essentially on the list we wanted to night where we could do our thing, you know, so that's kind of one of the ways that it was started.
But I remember names like Taj was there or was there Black Santa John was there. Who was black Santa?
What part was he playing? There was kind of well, from the neighborhood.
If you look around, you'll be like, oh, man, this is burned out. You know what I'm saying? Like, because we lived in a blood neighborhood on Piru and even though we weren't in that gang, we were everybody, every one of us that lived in that community, we were affiliated, you know, not like we're out there gangbanging, but all our homies on the block. It was like that. And then the other thing about it is they looked out for us.
I'm certain that the brother was affiliated and he also kind of gave it was he was planning he was a hustler. And he was also provided a. With a level of security, authenticity and credibility within the community, that that venue was in the heart of gang territory and we didn't have any gang violence at the venue, when was the number of years? In the late 90s, mid to the like. I remember ninety five around those years, middle, mid 90s.
It's important that you understand in 90s, rap wasn't looked at the way it is today. Suburban jerks were still saying ignorant stuff like You can't spell crap without rap. Not just soccer moms... Radio DJs, club promoters, schools, really big deal when someone in the city started something in the neighborhood. What brought you there?
Bennie Herron, man, it was it was a family growing thing. And what I mean by family, you know, that at the inception of it really came out of or goal or goals, ideas and ideas around wanting to create a space for creating hard sort of jazz scene for the hip hop culture. You know what I mean? And having a place where we can go and show improved and and sharpen our skills. And not only that, but it will be in the community, you know, because I don't know if you're definitely aware, but the improv was on Imperial Avenue.
if you know anything about San Diego? That is a major thoroughfare through Southeast, you know what I mean? So and that's not to say that it's anything wrong with going outside of the community, but that's often what we had to do to go and perform and to go and be a part of something like the arts and hip hop. We always had to go downtown and it always included leaving our neighborhood. So, you know, I think or going Taj and Black Santa and some of the founding sort of mind behind it, we're really conscious and intentional about making sure that it was it was in Southeast and not something outside of Southeast or an imperial ethnic community activity, which is I never thought about that.
But that's crazy because it did it harnessed this talent and energy that wouldn't go to to these other spaces. Right. Right. Right. That's crazy. What was the scene like?
Kevin Green. It was scene there is an article about it in the night and day section of the Union Tribune. I can't remember which one. It's in their archives. I got it somewhere. But at that particular time, SAX nightclub down the street was happening. I think that's gone out. I think they built some apartments there. So that was happening. They were having community events. I remember that. I can't remember his last name, but Tyatti used to work for San Diego radio.
He used to throw like jazz festivals and street fairs over there. So all that kind of stuff was happening. It was a blues place on the other side of the railroad tracks. I can't remember the name of it, but I know that was happening. They put it in the newspaper and the reporter came to the Improv. They came in and I remember one of the reasons because they put my name in that paper and I was really happy about that.
So they put my name in the paper.
What ties this story together is an eclectic West Coast underground icon, a literary legend, Orko Elohim.
Who who is Orko and what contribution did he make that he man, I to my knowledge and, you know, to whomever else, provide some feedback.
But to my knowledge and my understanding when it comes to the improv, I see it as something that starts and ends with the local Orko has always been a very I always looked at Orko and a lot of times with off because to be, you know, to be his age, to be so young at that time and Orko would be like he would if he would he he would always manifest the things that he said he was going to do, literally like we need to venue and then, you know, shortly thereafter we'd be looking for venue.
And but this case living in his mom's house, running a record label that he started out of his mom's house. So she was always he's always been like that. That's one thing I really admired about Orko.
When it comes to creating that that that space and that that energy that people continue to carry to this day in San Diego and without Orko, there would have been. No, I think he named me to that.
Oh, nobody ever did that before. He just lamped in the crowd and did his shii. Yeah, I know that's original, but I want to keep that going.
Is a repeating theme in this episode of Creative Energy continuously reinventing itself? Is it possible that the land retains our energy? I mean, I've heard stories of prisons being stained, violence souls, and maybe the inverse occurs like Positive Energy Activates Constant Elevation.
And, you know, so crazy is my spiritual temple is the place that I do my spiritual work and I'll do sermons and I tape my stuff out of their. At the venue that is Project Blowed. Get the heck out of here. Yeah, yeah, I'll take I do. The only reason I'm not doing it now is because the covid pandemic. But I was I've been doing it out of cast networks for the past three years.
All right, so Jahsun performed at Project Blowed, was one of the core members of the underground improv in San Diego, and now like 20 years later, he teaches at a temple in the place where Project Blowed started. Thats bonkers. Whats the plural of coincidence. Coincidences, coincidences? I'll have to Google it. So give me your answer on Twitter at PRKRedison. Send the best answer a t shirt and don't go anywhere.
In my second segment, we're going to fast forward 10 years, half of the improv to see what's so interesting about that block these days. It's more coincidences. This is. Stay tuned for more of the PE project.
I love you. I think I always will. Even now, I'm reeling from the effect that you have on the rest of my life. As badly as I want to feel the heat between us, I know exactly how this is going to end now streaming it platform collection Dotcom is the new film Short 'Run Ric!' , a who's who of San Diego Talent, brought to you by the good people at platform collection.
You are now listening to the Parker Edison project. Next up, we'll see what's happening on the sixty four hundred block of Imperial these days. Located at sixty four, all three pillars of the community brings together national activists, educators and artists. Today, we talked to Khalid Alexander, a man who's in the middle of it all.
So what's up? Hey, how are you doing, man? Excellent. Excellent. I'll jump right in. You know, some personal questions on the side, which was the full name of pillars?
Pillars of the community.
Where are you located?
So we're on Imperial Avenue in southeast San Diego, not too far from the Encanto Trolley Station.
Could it be anywhere else?
Man. You know, that's a good question. So we've been in a number of different spaces, but all of them have been on Imperial Avenue. And Imperial Avenue actually has kind of a historic significance where there's been it's kind of been a black hub, both of the arts and business and other things. Historically, it's kind of in the center of southeast San Diego and it transitions through a number of different neighborhoods. But Imperial Avenue is very central to kind of everything that we've done. And so although we've been in maybe three or four spaces, all of those spaces have been on Imperial Avenue. And in fact, that's where we looked when we were first starting.
We were very kind of intentional and deliberate in finding a space on Imperial Avenue. So that's where we started and that's where we are and that's where we hope to remain. What is one priority that you have in this new year you guys are looking to tackle? Yeah. So the number one thing is we want to be able to address kind of harassment by the police. So, you know, a lot of attention has been put around kind of police violence, police harassment, racial profiling after the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
And so I think what we see happening is young African-Americans, black people in this country in particular, are tired of being bullied by the police. The fact that in southeast San Diego, you can be pulled over and asked if you're a gang member, asked if you have any tattoos, that's what they think. They might not kill you. They might not beat you up. And if they don't kill you and don't beat you up, that's considered a good interaction. Pulling people over like this in La Jolla, there would be chaos. They would never stand it. Why? Because you're taking away from time that they could be spending with their family. You're hassling them. You're treating them as if they don't have a right to drive someplace. But in southeast San Diego, it's normalized. So you go to any barbershop and you ask to get pulled over by the police that they're going to look at you like you're crazy because it's normalized so that we want to address the normalization of police harassment that happened in our community. So that's the main focus that we were trying to knock out this year.
For listeners who are outside of San Diego, what's the major difference between Southeast and La Jolla?
Well, first, let me say that it's not even people outside of San Diego, because most people in La Jolla and other parts of San Diego don't even know what southeast San Diego is because they don't come and visit here. Right. And so you have to San Diego, you have the San Diego with the beach and SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo. And then you have the other San Diego that tourists don't know about. So people from outside of San Diego don't know about, but also people who live in San Diego don't know about and don't care to know about. La Jolla is a more affluent. It's just kind of the extreme difference between southeast. San Diego is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in San Diego and southeast San Diego, for the most part, is one of the poorer areas of San Diego. And in San Diego, as throughout the rest of the country is, there's a direct correlation between poverty, class and race. La Jolla tends to be whiter and richer, and southeast San Diego tends to be blacker and poorer. So in La Jolla, people look at police as if there's a problem. Those are the people you call to help out in southeast San Diego. The police are there, whether you call them or not. That is the biggest difference between kind of La Jolla and southeast San Diego, in particular when dealing with police presence and community interactions.
Was there an incident that acted as a catalyst that caused you to do Pillar's?
Two things happened. One is I ended up moving to southeast San Diego off of Oceanview Boulevard. And in a period of two weeks, I was pulled over three times by the police. The other thing is, as I was teaching at San Diego City College, I had a student of mine who was getting all A's really brilliant, formerly incarcerated, getting all A's, writing brilliant essays, doing really well in his other classes two weeks before graduation, two weeks before his finals, ended up being arrested for a parole violation. Because he was a documented gang member and his parole officer came to do a visit, he found a blue shirt on the ground inside of his closet. And because he had a blue shirt on the ground inside of the closet, he was violent. That was a violation of his parole. As a result, he was taken out of school. He was taken away from his job. He was taken away from his family and incarcerated for the color of shirt that was sitting on the ground of his closet. So those two examples made me realize that we really had an issue with how people are treated in and the communities that we live in based off of their identity. That's what I'm talking about. When we talk about community, it's knowing different people who grew up in different areas, who have different areas of focus and whatnot. But because you have a shared culture, because you have a shared set of values, because you care about the same areas, you create a community. And so that's that's what we're all about.
Where you livin today.
So I'm in Encanto. I live two blocks away from our office, I think is really important when we do the work in communities that we actually live in, those communities that we're a part of. Although I grew up in Linda Vista, Southeast has kind of been my adopted community and a place where I've raised both of my sons and where I'm currently raising my third son. And I've really put down roots and really love this place because of the culture, because of the love, because of the, you know, the diversity. It's just an amazing place to be.
That was Khalid Alexander, president, founder of Pillars of the Community, always doing amazing things over there. The music we're listening to is 'the Six One Nine Anthem', unreleased heat from 1997. Shout out to Kevin Green for digging deep in the archives for this one.
The Parker Edison Project is produced and hosted by yours truly, Parker, Edison and the Good People at Platform Collection. Be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode on Apple, Spotify, wherever you get your podcasts, if you have any comments or questions.Visit the Parker Edison Project Dotcom or on IG at the project. This program has been made possible in part by the KPBS Explore Local Content. Kurt Kohnen is audio production manager, Kinsee Morlen is podcast coordinator, the amazing Lisa Jane Morrisette is operations manager and John Decker is director of programing. This programing is made possible in part by the KPBS's explore content fun. I love seeing that because it reminds me of Sesame Street. You all stay safe out there. See you next episode.
The Parker Edison Project
What comes to mind when you think of American culture? The Parker Edison Project works to expand the cliché answer to that question. It's a podcast that zooms way in on what really makes a culture — food, music, style, sex, fashion and more. Join host and co-creator Parker Edison for insightful conversations about creativity and community, all through the lens of Black America. This is the Parker Edison Project, a sonic exploration of what's considered American, where each episode starts with a thought-provoking talk and ends with a musical bang.