The Eureka rap duo known as Savage Mentality had never been to the Arcata Playhouse before, but since they have a show coming up there Saturday night, they figured it would be good to get a handle on the space and plan ahead for how they might use it.
Terra Stolberg, aka Maniac, was practicing her moves, bouncing around the stage in her over-sized hip top t-shirt imagining jumping off into a full-house crowd. Her partner-in-rhyme Max, younger, quieter and more subdued, was all in black with a rhinestone-encrusted skull on a chain around his neck.
Eureka native Terra is the founder of Maniac Productionz, a record label/concert production crew in the making. At 18, she's been in the game a few years, formerly rapping as Li'l Maniac. A high school dropout, she relocated to Utah briefly, then came back to her hometown. "I wish I would have stayed and graduated," she said. "I'm working on my GED now."
Max, 15, also Eureka born and bred, says he got interested in hip hop through musician friends. "Eventually, the way my life was, I started writing about my feelings -- my family drug addiction, things I've seen, experiences I had growing up, stuff like that. I had a notebook; I just filled every page with everything I was feeling. ... I just kept going and going."
Terra's story is similar. "Me and Max have a lot in common: a big family drug addiction [problem] -- my dad was in and out of prison for using and selling drugs. My mom used drugs. I'd be writing. I had a lot of anger issues. I broke my wrist a couple of times hitting holes through walls. The only way I could escape was sit there and listen to Tupac or Eminem, the stuff that got to me. When I was 12, I got serious about hip hop, wanted to do it for the rest of my life."
She says she was once "in and out of gang stuff" but not any more. After her sojourn to Utah, she returned to find a home away from home with the Ink People's teen program the MARZ Project (short for Media and Arts Resource Zone) and their recording gear. After meeting Max at a party, she took him to MARZ, too. "Ever since his first day in the studio he's just been hooked," she said.
"MARZ Project is a safe environment to go to, first of all," said Max. "You go there and record. It gives you a confident feeling. ... You get more self-esteem. ... Everyone tries to help you whether you're doing music or art or anything."
For Terra/Maniac it was a diversion, literally. She originally came as part of community service when she was in trouble for fighting. "I liked it and kept going. ... I'd rap with random people, made these horrible quality beats, but it felt so great, like he said, it gave me self-esteem. If it wasn't for MARZ Project, I wouldn't have my label or this show coming. I'd probably either be in jail, or prison now that I'm 18."
Right now her focus is on Saturday's show at the Playhouse, her biggest ever and Max's debut on stage. They've been working out the set list, planning on starting with a number called "Crazy Life."
"It's about our crazy lives," said Maniac. With lyrics based initially on Max's notebooks, they now have their parts committed to memory.
Max begins a cappella, rolling the rhymes out like one long run-on sentence: "Yeah, it's been a while since I cried my eyes out, but I guess that's because my mom's the one who cries now. She can't support her son and she's living on a tweeker's couch. I love my gramma, but she ain't in the best of health. My family ain't never been around much of the wealth. She needs to learn how to sell 'em and not take 'em herself. Since I was 10, I knew about oxy-narco-morphine; next I'm dealing with the shit of methamphetamines. Seein' all these dope fiends, got me wishing for better things, but you know I've accepted this town is full of meth heads, mostly sorry-ass motherfuckers tryin' to seek their redemption. ... That's some of it."
It's a harsh reality, all too real for kids from the bad side of Eureka. "I feel like a lot of the rappers who come out of Humboldt, all they ever talk about is weed," said Maniac. "Seriously there's so much more going on here. And it's not all bad things, not all horrible things, but we come from a really, really poor part of Eureka where it is a lot of meth heads and tweekers, a lot of gang members. People don't really see that. They just see there's weed and artists in Humboldt County. There's so much more to deal with. There's the drug epidemic taking over and it's hardcore. People tell me my music's harsher and I've gotten meaner. I say, 'No, I'm just noticing a lot of stuff I didn't notice when I was younger.'"
Humboldt Unsigned Hype, the first official show ever by Savage Mentality, will also include performances by Thic Man, Never Die (aka Hiway) and Kyz J, with Mason Bell and Yung T from MARZ. Maniac Productionz and the MARZ Project present Humboldt Unsigned Hype, a hip hop benefit concert for the Ink People Center for the Arts on Saturday, Feb, 26, at the Arcata Playhouse (1251 9th St.) beginning at 9 p.m. and running until midnight. Admission is $5 at the door. It's an all ages event, but parental discretion is advised due to strong language and harsh reality.