Regular readers of The Static Dive are well acquainted with Cult Muzic. The artists on the San Diego record label have appeared on these pages a dozen times over the past two years. The fiercely independent West Coast collective was born of the incendiary talents and boundless creative energy of the cult leader himself, Van Bates.
Also known by his stage names King Shem and Black Hesher, Van was the heart and soul of Cult Muzic. As artist, producer and founder, Bates was the architect of the label’s multi-genre mix of Hip-hop, Rock and Funk. He paired Metal guitars with 70’s Soul, 808 grooves with breakbeats and 80’s inspired Synth-Pop with hardcore Punk. Lyrically his songs featured smart, hard-hitting social commentary, fearless self-effacing confessionals and comedy with a biting wit.
On April 23, 2021 Van Bates died unexpectedly. He had strong ties on both coasts and the shock was felt across the country. We joined his countless friends and fans in mourning the tragic loss. He left behind his Cult Muzic family which had grown to include dozens of artists in a close-knit community. Now, four months later that crew is loudly declaring that they are keeping Van’s dream alive. With their brand new 26-track compilation they are leaving no doubt that Cult Muzic will survive and thrive.
“We Are The Wave ” is the new epic mixtape from Cult Muzic Media, available via the label’s Bandcamp page. The record features every single artist on the label. There are plenty of names familiar to The Static Dive readers and even more new voices. The album is both a celebration of the man that made it all happen and a bold statement of resolve to create a brand new future.
The spirit of Van Bates permeates every note on the 26-track collection. From the old-school ensemble raps and Boom-bap beats of favorites like J. Andrew, Katie Ladubz and Mastero to the hardcore Punk of Bathwater Babies, we feel his influence throughout. Clearly Shem surrounded himself with like-minded souls when populating the label’s ranks. “We Are The Wave ” is the sound of damaged and disillusioned idealists. From the comedy of Diastro to the dark poetry of Blush, the album simultaneously laments and revels in its own nihilism. The rappers and singers scream, whisper, smash guitars and beatbox a thousand versions of the same question, “why?” Why is it so hard just to be alive?
However, they’re not defeated. They are defiant. There is a lot more “fuck it” than FML. And that too rings true to the Black Hesher aesthetic. Cult Muzic is the sound of artists reacting to a broken world by creating a new reality all their own. They know the odds are against them, and that it’s a struggle just to get out of bed sometimes. And even if it doesn’t matter, they’re going to try anyway. J Andrew sums up that sort of defeatist idealism perfectly on the heartbreaker “If I Don’t Wake Up,” when he sings, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, please remember my smile. I know it’s hard to picture because it’s been a little while.”
Black Hesher himself appears at various points throughout the album on tracks from the San Diablo All-Stars, Katie Ladubz, Diastro and others. The record ends with two powerful tributes to the man. The song ”Black Hesher” is a six minute rap opus featuring nine different Cult Muzic artists, each paying their respects in an old-school Hip-hop freestyle ensemble that he would have loved.
The final track “Van Bates” is DJ Sinista1’s brilliant medley/mash-up of some King Shem rhymes through the years. Just like the man himself, the track will make you laugh when you want to cry and get up and dance when you didn’t think you had it in you. That is music, and Van Bates was a music man. Through his many friends, that music will live on. You can listen to the entire “We Are The Wave” album below. And follow the links below the music to connect with Cult Muzic. Check out their Bandcamp page for their deep catalog of original music.