Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 30, 2001

Big City Diner patrons Lisa Hoshino, left, and Jane Kwak
spin to hip hop tunes spun at Big City Diner late Tuesdays.

Killa-Wattz makes
hip-hop happen

Local emcee gives Big City
Diner an energy infusion

By Shawn 'Speedy' Lopes
Honolulu Star-Bulletin

THE MONGOOSE is on the loose in Kaimuki. Or more accurately, Killa-Wattz Da Mongoose, the verbiage-spitting, microphone rocking alter-ego of Jamal Mamalias, Hawaiian emcee supreme, is having trouble sitting still. Tonight, as with every Tuesday evening, the twentysomething promoter runs himself ragged earning his keep as one of Honolulu's most active vanguards of homegrown hip hop.

A perpetual blur of kinetic energy, Mamalias bounces across the floor of Big City Diner, fastidiously rearranging stools and tables to make the best possible use of available space before his weekly event gets underway. "I can't just stay in one place," he remarks offhandedly to a party of strangers nearby, nervously rubbing his closely cropped head. "I just gotta keep moving."

It's 10 p.m. and the Waialae Avenue eatery is at a quarter its full capacity -- not bad for a weeknight -- but as one Big City Diner employee explains to a curious customer, "By midnight, the whole place gets packed, wall to wall."

Dub reggae and old school funk pours out over the sound system, beckoning stragglers on the sidewalk outside. A small crew of local b-boys in hoodies, baseball caps and sagging khakis stands stageside, sniffing the air approvingly. Mamalias spots them, trots over and quick hugs are exchanged. "Thanks for coming, brah," he tells them.

It's not long before scene stalwart DJ Delve ambles in, lugging a crate of his baddest beats. Almost immediately, he takes the helm, pinching his mixer's crossfader and trying out a few turntable tricks to spice up the set. After a string of abstract hip hop tracks, Delve throws on a funky, flute-laced Adriana Evans platter and the crowd perks up noticeably.

"You wanna rap now?" Mamalias asks me during a break in the action. He means "to talk," of course, although with his event's popular open mic policy, he could just as well be goading me into a freestyle rhyme session.

We claim the last remaining table and he runs down the evening's itinerary: "I got Delve up there now and later on we got Todd G. and DJ EO performing," he says, referring to three of the scene's most visible players.

I ask him if he plans to kick a little freestyle as well. "Oh yeah," he promises. "Every week I get up on the mic, too. Always."

Killa-Wattz, known for his spastic, off-the-top-of-the-head rhymery is a fine orator in his own right and has recorded and performed with L.A. hip hop trailblazer Aceyalone and opened for countless shows as both an emcee and dancer.

Born into what he describes as "a musical family," Mamalias has spent the past decade discovering his own musical identity and expanding on the legacy of his father Frank, a multi-instrumentalist who has gigged with Stan Getz and once even sat in with the immortal Miles Davis.

As the younger Mamalias tells it, not long after graduating from Castle High, he hopped a plane to the West Coast, met up with a few transplanted homies and began honing his raw skills as a rapper and dancer in the hip hop meccas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. To his astonishment, Mamalias found sizable Hawaiian contingencies contributing to the cities' underground scenes.

"That's when I tripped out," he says, incredulous. "There were guys from Hawaii right there, burning it up with everybody else."

During his stay in L.A., he boogalooed his way into videos by Herb Alpert, Davina and Adina Howard, and came close to landing a role in "Jungle Book," but instead of returning what could have been a life-altering phone call, Mamalias decided it was more important to re-establish his roots in Hawaii. "Jason Scott Lee made it, so at least we got one local boy in there," he quips.

Inspired and revitalized, he returned home with a vision for the Honolulu hip hop scene. "I always said local people should go out and travel because that's when they find a real appreciation for what they already have here," he explains. "I always hear people saying Hawaii's late; that we're always behind the times. You know what the funny thing is? It's always local folks saying that. Whenever people from New York or L.A. come out to our event, we always get props for being real and true because we're all on the same level.

"That's the thing -- most people here never want to look deep enough to find the good stuff." He shrugs. "But hey, some people are followers, other people make things happen."

By midnight, the crowd has grown immeasurably and Mamalias can no longer hide from well wishers and acquaintances who request his presence. He excuses himself, leaving a half-eaten plate of fries and an untouched glass of orange juice on the table to introduce the evening's performers. Burrowing his way towards the DJ table, he is immediately swallowed by a surging sea of late night partiers, never to be seen again for the remainder of the evening.

Roots Juice

Time: 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays
Place: Big City Diner, 3569 Waialae Ave.
Call: 738-8855
Cover: $5

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