Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Their product doesn’t contain caffeine, but the marketing smarties at Sprite must have been wired when they created the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour. Last year, with the help of talent firm Creative Artists Agency, the company fused commercialism and culture into a festival of music, video games, extreme sports and lots of soda promotion.

The hip-hop and rock tour returns this year to recruit the next generation of consumers and stops Sunday at Merriweather Post Pavilion. N.E.R.D., the rambunctious side project of in-demand producers and Virginia Beach natives Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, and Brooklyn’s Talib Kweli participated in 2002. They’re back to share the main stage with O.A.R., the Roots and Robert Randolph and the Family Band.

Mr. Kweli acknowledges the Liquid Mix promoter’s commercial interests, but he’s comfortable because they’re actively reaching a multicultural audience. Sponsorship dollars also keep ticket prices below $20, an incredible bargain compared with other summer packages.

“I prefer to keep the prices low. It’s good for the people that are true fans of the bands,” says Mr. Kweli by phone during the tour’s first stop in Denver.

His 2002 solo album, “Quality,” emphasizes family life over materialism, live instruments over studio gimmickry. Mr. Kweli celebrates fatherhood, busts crooked cops and salutes the heroes of September 11 on tracks layered by ‘70s R&B and an authoritarian drum beat that emphasize the gravity of his messages.

On “Get By,” he’s the spokesman of a community that raises its exuberant voice to support his dedication to righteousness. Two songs later, he slips into the role of tough-guy narrator on the bullet-spraying “Gun Music.” The chorus references lyrics from KRS-ONE, a rapper whose blend of street-wise knowledge and braggadocio surfaces throughout the album.

Mr. Kweli applies these multidimensional styles inside and outside of the studio.

“I approach doing an album like a live show,” says Mr. Kweli, who will perform with DJ Chaps and two singers on the Liquid Mix tour. “A live show has to have textures.

“When you are trying to sell something to people, you have to get their attention first,” he says.

No matter whether it’s an album, a show or a can of soda.

Every night in darkened dance clubs, DJs face intense scrutiny as soon as the needle lands on the first vinyl record. It’s up to the DJ to gauge the crowd’s reaction to the music and continuously answer these critical questions: Speed up the tempo or slow it down? Why did those people leave the dance floor? Hurry, what’s my next track?

It’s that type of pressure that caused Dina Passman, founder of the First Ladies DJ Collective, to nearly give up on the craft last year.

“I found that I had gotten a number of gigs over the past few years without being technically proficient,” says Miss Passman during a phone interview. Lacking any formal training, she became frustrated with her ability to match beats seamlessly from track to track at various points in her sets.

“I decided it was very anxiety-causing for me to spin with the expectations I had, and I would get scared when the dance floor would get filled,” she says.

Last August, Miss Passman revitalized her passion by participating in Ladyfest D.C., one of a series of national events that celebrate women’s collaborative efforts in art and music. Soon after her Ladyfest experience, Miss Passman says she decided to “raise the bar” for herself as a DJ and invite other local women to do the same.

The First Ladies DJ Collective has doubled in size since it formed last fall with six members. In November, the group introduced Girl Friday, a music event held the last Friday of every month at the Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW). The 10th edition of Girl Friday takes place tomorrow.

Unlike the past three events, there’s no out-of-town guest DJ, which means anyone in the collective who feels comfortable enough to spin gets a chance behind the decks. Miss Passman, aka ladyplastik, expects at least six members to participate. They’ll energize the club’s Backstage room with house music, Britpop, electro and Miss Passman’s favorite, techno.

Coordinating the Girl Friday events has been a “gargantuan task,” says Miss Passman, who lives in Mount Pleasant and grew up in Columbia, Md. Each of the 12 members plays a role in negotiating with the guest DJ, communicating with the club and promoting the show, which includes designing and printing fliers.

But just as pressure turns to exhilaration when the crowd loves the DJ’s beats, the collective feels a huge sense of accomplishment when the Girl Friday events exceed expectations.

Last month’s appearance by New York’s DJ Rekha attracted more than 300 people — a sellout — to the Black Cat.

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