Holdin' the weight of the Bay -- Mistah F.A.B.

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian May23, 2007

The rapper all rapers want on their album, and the first pure product of the hyphy movement. Mistah FAB works around Atlantic's delay of his major-label debut, walks out the independent Da Baydestrian...

Still looks like slavery

But it's the black legacy

--Mistah FAB, "100 Bars"

One night last September, I hitch a ride with G-Stack of the Delinquents and Dotrix of Tha Mekanix to Dem Hoodstarz's album release party in San Francisco. As we park outside the club, Mistah FAB rolls up with a modest posse. In contrast to his usual iced-out Technicolor clubwear, the man also known as Fabby Davis Jr. is low-key, dressed all in black, a pair of designer stunna shades supplying the main clue to his identity. He hops in Stack's car to hear a newly laid track for the latter's upcoming Purple Hood, then we set out for the club, a less than half block journey whose distance is lengthened interminably by a series of well-wishers and business consultations. It's like following two CEOs across the floor of the stock exchange: Stack is on two cell phones, trying to shake hands with someone. FAB, meanwhile, handles minor transactions, poses for a photo, and takes a call, all while briefing me on the deal he had just signed with Atlantic Records for Da Yellow Bus Rydah, the much-anticipated follow-up to his 2005 disc, Son of a Pimp (Thizz Ent.).

Near the door, a man takes FAB aside. "FAB, you gotta do something about the violence," he says, meaning specifically the 141 homicides in Oakland in 2006 under former mayor and present attorney general Jerry Brown. FAB nods at what is clearly an unreasonable request, albeit one that reflects the disproportionate political burden borne by black entertainers in America. No one would turn to, say, Justin Timberlake to stop violence. Then again, I imagine no one asks Keak Da Sneak either. FAB's position, in other words, is unique.

Though he made his early reputation as a freestyle battle rhymer and owes his success to hyphy hits like "Super Sic Wit It," FAB's lyrics seldom stray into gangsta or pimp terrain — the title of his last album is simply literal. Yet he can get down on a track with the most thugged-out MCs. Aside from the giants Too Short and E-40 and on par with the perpetually hot Keak, FAB is the rapper all Bay Area rappers want on their albums, because he has the biggest buzz on the radio and in the streets. His popularity gives him influence, but FAB commands respect in the hood because he's from the hood: his compass-based hit "N.E.W. Oakland" was the first major rap recognition of his native North Oakland as a hood. This rapport with the alienated and isolated ghetto youth who constitute hyphy's core audience separates him from the vast majority of MCs to whom the label "conscious" may be applied.

"You go up to someone in the hood and be, like, 'Dick Cheney had a heart attack,' they be, like, 'Who the fuck is Dick Cheney?'" FAB says later. "But you tell him, 'Jay-Z donated a million dollars to improve water in Africa,' they be, like, 'For real?' That's something of their world. Being a Bay Area artist, I'm of their world. So you have the opportunity to teach without them knowing."

"People who have influence," FAB continues, "have an obligation to tell people, 'Preserve life. Save lives. Help lives.' But it's hard to reach people if you're not giving them something they relate to. The hyphy movement is something they relate to. Hyphy gets you in the door, to open their ears to what I'm saying. It's up to them to digest it."

That night at the club, FAB exerts his influence. When things get salty between security and Dem Hoodstarz's East Palo Alto associates, the group calls FAB to the stage to perform their collaboration "Ugh." Things chill out. FAB issues an impromptu plea against violence and murders. These are problems no single person can solve, but FAB is doing his part. Yet by the show's finale — the "Getz Ya Grown Man On" remix, on which he has a verse — Fabby Davis has left the building. Being Mistah FAB, I realize, can be exhausting.


Mistah FAB's deal with Atlantic is a landmark in a scene long neglected by the majors. Along with Clyde Carson's signing with Capitol, FAB's arrangement — including distribution for his Faeva Afta Entertainment — is the first serious acknowledgment of the renaissance Bay Area rap has undergone in the past three years. Unlike E-40, a regional star who'd already achieved platinum sales on Jive before his push last year by Warner Bros., FAB's an unknown quantity outside the Bay. And in contrast to Frontline or the Federation — whose deals came through the respective backing of nationally known producers E-A-Ski and Rick Rock — FAB is the first evidence for a new generation of local rappers that enough talent and dedication can get you signed. It's another weight on the shoulders of the man born Stanley Cox Jr.

"Lots of people are putting their hopes into the album," he acknowledges. "They're, like, 'I hope FAB do it, because it'll kick in the door for all of us.' I realized when I was creating this album it's not just something I want to do. It's something my whole region depends on."

Da Yellow Bus Rydah's journey has been anything but smooth, however. Bottom line: Atlantic has postponed the album's tentatively scheduled spring release, due to controversy surrounding the Ghostbusters-themed advance single, "Ghost Ride It." A tribute to the hood-invented practice of throwing your car in neutral as you walk alongside and steer, "Ghost Ride It" was generating a buzz through its a video on YouTube and the minor-league MTVs when a Dec. 29, 2006, Associated Press story ("Hip-Hop Car Stunt Leaves 2 Dead") linked the song with a pair of unrelated deaths: Davender Gulley, 18, of Stockton, who "died after his head slammed into a parked car while he was hanging out the window of an SUV," and an unnamed "36-year-old man dancing on top of a moving car [who] fell off, hit his head and died in what authorities said was Canada's first ghost riding fatality." While the scant details obscure whether these incidents stemmed from ghost riding or more traditional automotive horseplay, Fox News's Hannity and Colmes found the trend alarming enough to call FAB on the carpet in January.

"You understand that a lot of kids look up to you?" Sean Hannity accused rather than asked FAB. "They sing your songs. They dress like you. They talk like you — they wanna be you!" Aside from displaying an oversimplified sense of the relationship between artist and audience, Hannity's remark reveals a comic lack of familiarity with hip-hop and their guest in particular: what part of "Super Sic Wit It" do you sing? Moreover, while rap fans undoubtedly draw from the same well of slang, the idea that they all talk the same — or even like FAB, for that matter — is a stereotype.

"I don't think they expected me to be so articulate," FAB recalls with a laugh. Yet among MCs, FAB is singular interview subject. While he has a clear sense of his talent and importance, he's more apt to discuss his personal relationship with God or how his lonely childhood as a latchkey kid inspired him to create rather than brag about how real he is. His power to articulate the struggle of urban youth — to explain the rage that motivates, say, ghost riding — is the very reason he's often labeled the spokesperson for a hyphy movement otherwise devoted to "going dumb."

Hannity treated FAB like he's dumb, but FAB turned the tables. Hannity's denunciation of his effect on the "kids" prompted the rapper to question whether his influence rightly extends to a Canadian 11 years his senior, which Hannity countered by accusing FAB of wanting as much "money and controversy" as he can get. When FAB speculated on the influence of turning on the TV and seeing 3,000 soldiers die in Iraq, Alan Colmes was sent in as a balm, ending the segment.

"Both those people were adults," FAB says later of the ghost-riding deaths. "I feel bad for the families, but at the end of the day, an adult has to take responsibility for his actions."


The next pothole for Yellow Bus was a late March cease and desist letter from Columbia Pictures for copyright infringement in the "Ghost Ride It" video — just as it was about to debut on MTV's 106 and Park. "We had permission [to use the Ghostbusters van] from the man who built it and owns it," FAB explains. "But Columbia owns the logo." The video was immediately pulled from all media outlets, impairing Atlantic's ability to market the single nationally. As a result, the Yellow Bus has been parked. The official explanation, from Atlantic VP Mike Carin, is that the label is focusing on FAB's "artistic development." Despite the inevitable rumor that the rapper was dropped, Carin confirms that "the deal is still in place."

Still, such delays have silenced many MCs' buzz: witness how the delay of Raekwon's album on Aftermath has converted excitement into skepticism, or how the Team's World Premiere (Moedoe/Koch, 2006) dropped too long after its singles had peaked, leading to lower-than-expected sales. Fortunately, the structure of FAB's distribution deal allows him an unusual degree of freedom.

"They were willing to sacrifice certain things," he says of his initial decision to sign with Atlantic among competing offers. "They allowed me to do what I want to do — if I want to drop an independent album, I can."


This flexibility has allowed the prolific FAB to immediately walk out another new album, Da Baydestrian, on May 15, through SMC/Fontana. Although, according to SMC cofounder Will Bronson, Atlantic has options to include as many as five of its songs on Yellow Bus, Baydestrian is an otherwise distinct project intended to satisfy the demand for a follow-up to Son of a Pimp. FAB's also preparing a series of summer releases, including a second installment of the all-freestyle Tonite Show with DJ Fresh. (Fresh, incidentally, edited FAB's 2005 DVD, The Freestyle King, now packaged with Baydestrian as a bonus.) With Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin, representing the East and West respectively, FAB's formed the multihood group N.E.W. Oakland, whose mixtape is nearing completion. Prince of Da Bay (In Yo Face/Hooker Boy Filmz), a documentary on FAB by local hip-hop director Dame Hooker, should be out by press time, while FAB's next DVD, Shoobalaboobie TV, is in the works.

"You do what you have to do to keep the buzz going," FAB says. "Also sales — on the independent level, your numbers are what's important [to major labels]." Da Baydestrian thus has Atlantic's blessing, but its commercial success will determine the fate of his deal.

Yet the need to appeal to the marketplace hasn't inhibited FAB's creativity, and Da Baydestrian refuses to play it safe. Rather than exploit the hyphy sound he helped establish, FAB only sprinkles it in, most obviously on the remix of the Traxamillion-produced "Sideshow" and the opening title track, one of six bangers produced by FAB protégé Rob-E. The young Martinez-born producer proves his versatility on tracks like the triumphant "Get This Together" and the melancholy "Life on Track," featuring Faeva Afta vocalist J-Nash, whose Hyphy Love drops in August. Another four productions by Son of a Pimp collaborator Genessee contribute to Baydestrian's in-house feel even as the family breaks new ground: "Can't Wait," say, evokes Andre 3000's explorations of go-go, filtered through FAB's hyphy sensibility, while "Shorty Tryin' 2 Get By" is a contemporary "Keep Ya Head Up" spiced with Bay Area R&B. The album is refreshingly free of skits, and guest stars are kept to a minimum, but Too Short blesses the disc three times, an unambiguous stamp of approval from Bay rap's founder.

What makes Da Baydestrian one of the most extraordinary albums since hyphy's inception, however, is its social consciousness. "Deepest Thoughts," for example, hits out at President George W. Bush, but even more pointedly at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for expanding the prison system instead of aiding the poor. The Sean T–produced "Crack Baby Anthem" addresses teen dope dealers, seeking to uplift without castigating or glorifying their activities — for the nonghetto audience, the song connects the dots between poverty, crime, and the present political climate. FAB describes his approach as "hip-hyphy," presenting an alternative to hip-hop fans who consider hyphy juvenile or incomprehensible. Granted, the disc's school bus and helmet imagery — referring to the hyphy concept of acting "retarded" — is hardly p.c. Nonetheless, FAB's lunchbox-wielding Baydestrian is a welcome change from the exaltation of guns and dope adorning your average rap album.

"In no way am I trying to say I'm like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X," FAB explains. "But I realized I could create nonsense and seem to support ignorance, or I can get people to start looking at the reality of it, and the reality of it is that young blacks are dying, not only in the Bay; they're dying everywhere. We've been raised in a warlike civilization. We've been brainwashed to accept war as the proper thing to do when things don't go right."

"Tupac [Shakur] said it himself," FAB concludes. "He said, 'I'm not going to be the one to change the world. But I guarantee I'll plant a seed in the mind of someone who does.' We're all the Tupac generation. Pac was hyphy."

While I don't think it's my place to declare FAB the next Tupac, I can't fail to be struck by his invocation of the Bay Area icon. On a superficial level, of course, with all his non-thugged-out, cartoonish imagery, FAB is nothing like Pac, just as the hyphy movement differs from the Bay's mid-'90s sound. Yet locally, if not nationally, the two rappers occupy the same position on the map of hip-hop: like Pac, FAB has cred with nearly everyone, he has a positive message within an utterly street aesthetic, and he makes tunes everyone wants to hear.

No rapper has embodied all three attributes since Pac, and that combination makes FAB extraordinary.



"Dream" -- Graffiti artist Mike Dream

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian May 2, 2007

Graffiti writer Michael Francisco, a.k.a. Mike Dream (1969-2000), was already a legend when he was murdered during a robbery. "They wouldn't have shot him if they knew who he was," his younger brother and fellow Those Damn Kids crew member Lil John says. And no doubt, this is true. Like Too Short, the Filipino American spray can artist claimed 1983 as his debut year and Oakland as his turf, and he is likewise cited as a founder, albeit visual, of Bay Area hip-hop.

The group show "Dream" highlights the artist's work alongside tributes by TDK and various other crews. Given the ephemeral, site-specific nature of graffiti, many of Dream's works are present only in photographs or re-creations by his colleagues. Yet this hardly diminishes their power. Tax Dollars Kill (1995) - designed by Dream and executed with the TDK crew - exemplifies the formal sophistication of his work: the top suggests pop art in its reproduction of the US dollar font, at once faithful and distorted, though it surrounds an image of protest quite foreign to Warhol world.

Graf writers often reserve their greatest eloquence for their signatures, and the bottom half - contributors' tags in nearly indecipherable lettering known as wildstyle - evokes abstract expressionism in a manic confusion of figure and ground. There's even a hint of surrealism in the hypnagogic face with dollar-bill eyes, seemingly emerging in the center to unite the upper and lower halves. This is art of rare complexity and outsider imagination.

DREAM Through May 15. Open during events and by appointment. Rx Gallery, 132 Eddy, SF. (415) 756-8825, www.rxgallery.com, www.dreamtdk.com



By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian April 18, 2007

Q's Lounge, the musical venue of Everett and Jones BBQ in Jack London Square, relaunches its normally $10 music series with a free show: three 45-minute sets by Oakland's premier chanteuse, Naté.

Naté is well known in the Bay Area's hip-hop community, having laid hooks for luminaries such as Mac Dre, B-Legit, and Bavgate, among many others. Yet she's a genuine artist in her own right, with a voice that ranges from low-down and grimy to soaring and crystal clear.

A veteran live performer, Naté belts it out at Q's with her three-piece R&B combo. And it's free — but your date will still think you're big ballin'!

Q's Lounge / 126 Broadway, Oakland / (510) 663-2350 / www.eandjbbq.com


Purple Reign

G-Stack and V-White of East Oakland's Delinquents drop some very unhyphy solo projects as they contemplate a final album together

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian February 14, 2007

I first heard the Delinquents in 1999, when "That Man!" was in heavy rotation on KMEL. Its subject matter — caring for the kids while the wifey's out cheating — was unique in gangsta rap. "We came from the left with that," G-Stack says, yet the freshness of the concept, combined with a funky Mike D beat and memorable Harm hook, made it an instant classic. By then their 1999 album, Bosses Will Be Bosses (Dank or Die) was six months old, and they already had a storied past.

Part of the Bay's early '90s independent scene, building a buzz from the ground up, G-Stack and V-White dropped their debut, the cassette-only Insane, circa 1993, on their label, Dank or Die. After a pair of 1995 EPs — The Alleyway and Outta Control (both Dank or Die) — the Delinquents signed to Priority at the same time the imprint inked its distribution deal with Master P's then-Richmond-based No Limit Records. Yet during the promotional campaign for the 1997 full-length Big Moves, the duo learned the difference between being on Priority and being a priority.

"This was when 'I'm 'bout It, 'bout It' blew up for Master P," a relaxed Stack recalls at the East Oakland studio where he's completing G-Stack Presents: Welcome 2 Purple City (4TheStreets), due March 27. "We promoting our album down south, West Coast, Midwest. Down south everything halted. We going into stores, they got huge Master P displays, and they didn't even know we was coming out." The effect of this tepid label support, moreover, was compounded by backlash from their home audience, who equated independence with authenticity.

"At that time," Stack explains, "if you signed to a big label, people thought you weren't real anymore. That affected our underground fan base. Then Priority didn't support us. So we went back independent with Bosses, and our fans started messing with us again."

"Now we got a record buzzin' on the streets. And radio wouldn't support us, so a lot of local rappers started meeting, and everybody went up to KMEL. Nobody had a record at the time, and ours was doing good, so everybody pushed our record." He reviews the memory with satisfaction. "We kinda forced them to play it."

While the success of "That Man!" helped move 65,000 copies of Bosses, radio play was short-lived, because Clear Channel–owned KMEL had stopped playing local music. Yet even during the Bay's leanest hip-hop years from 2000 to '03, the Delinquents maintained a loyal following, selling out shows, moving units, and putting new talent on, as well as throwing the free Lake Berryessa Bash — something like a sideshow on Jet Skis — for thousands of fans every couple years. "They were the crazy glue of the town," says Dotrix 4000, who, as half of Tha Mekanix, produced several hot tracks on Purple City. "They held the scene together when it could've fell apart."

While the Delinquents have never lost their iconic status in the Bay — witness Stack's representation of East Oakland on Mistah FAB's geographical hit "N.E.W. Oakland" — they have strikingly chosen to pursue solo careers right as the region's commercial fortunes are on the rise. Both rappers insist the decision has nothing to do with aesthetics or personal differences, and this is apparent from the warm vibe when V-White arrives for the photo shoot. Promoting his just-released Perfect Timin' (V-White Ent./SMC), V explains the move as a way to stay original in what they see as an increasingly contentless hyphy movement.

"Chuck E. Cheese music," V says. "When I came up, the Bay was about game-spitters, cats with swagger. Now it's, like, make up a word — do something stupid. That ain't where I'm coming from. I'm with the reality rap, from them days when you rapped about what you was going through."

Stack is similarly defiant: "Our machine wasn't built on what radio did for us. Now it's hella different. If you independent, people think you're weak. You need the radio to support you. I don't like how it is now — I don't kiss ass."

"I don't have to make music the radio gotta play," V concludes. "I'm making music from my heart." Judging from Timin' — a 27-track opus largely produced by protégé Big Zeke, spiked with hitworthy tracks by E-A-SKI and an intriguingly nonhyphy Traxamillion — V has a big heart, punctuating his tales of street crime with more personal memories, such as his daughter catching her first fish.

Stack meanwhile is using Purple City to introduce his own young crew, the Heem Team, as well as his alter ego, Purple Mane, who's something like a dope-slinging superhero. A warm-up for Purple Hood, Stack's proper solo debut, slated for July, Purple City began as a mixtape but morphed into a formidable album, including all-original beats by the likes of Tone Capone, FAB associate Rob-E, and Stack's in-house team Sir Rich and Q. (For the record, the Delinquents were on the purple aesthetic — stemming from a variety of weed popular in Oakland — by the time of their 2003 mixtape, The Purple Project, a year before Big Boi and Dipset adopted it.)

The solo careers of V and Stack raise the question of what will happen to the Delinquents as a group. Both confirm a new album is on the table — most likely the final Delinquents project.

"We've been rapping since '93," V says. "If I'm doing the same thing I was doing in '93, that means I ain't grew none. We're just getting older."

"I feel very comfortable doing the last Delinquents album," Stack adds. "I can actually feel like I've completed it."


Alias John Brown -- For the Non-Believers (Wildlife/I-Khan Distribution)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian February 28, 2007

After grinding in the Bay for the past three years, Chicago native Alias John Brown has cranked up his buzz due to a recent tour with André Nickatina and this 24-track anthology of new songs, singles, and freestyles.

Combining gravelly vocals with smooth, rapid-fire flows, AJB defies characterization: he's "an educated thug," he suggests on "Certified Mobsters," at ease among gangstas Amp Pachino and the Jacka though perhaps more at home dropping lines such as "We done put in more work than a sharecropper / But we ain't gettin' our fair share of the proper" alongside Planet Asia on "State to State."

AJB charts an independent course, eschewing brand-name filler and dull bling in favor of timeless hip-hop themes, from partying ("Tear the Club Up") to a friend's violent death ("Dante"). Instead of jumping on the yellow bus for local cred, AJB never once cries "hyphy," though the uptempo bounce of "Catch Yo Breath" would fit in nicely alongside recent hits by, say, Mistah FAB.

With much of its production divided between local phenom Aristotle and Chicago legend No I.D., For the Non-Believers is authentically Bay even as its heavy Chi flavor makes it unique in a trend-chasing time.

ALIAS JOHN BROWN With the Jacka, Big Rich, Equipto, and DJ Juice. Sat/3, 8 p.m., $20. Fat City (formerly Studio Z), 314 11th St., SF. (415) 252-7666


DJ Fresh -- So fresh and so clean

By Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian February 14, 2007

Some weeks ago I ran by Melrose Middle School in East Oakland to catch DJ Fresh in action. Voted third-best DJ in the United States at the International Turntablist Federation finals in 1999, the 26-year-old veteran is a nationwide presence in hip-hop and handled the 1s and 2s behind figures such as Nas and Common before going on to produce a series of album-length projects during the past two years with Bay Area luminaries such as Mistah FAB, J-Stalin, and Sac-Town kingpin Smigg Dirtee. But the gig at Melrose was a little different...

... an afternoon class in rap and production for a bunch of mildly rambunctious middle schoolers. (He teaches two groups there, in addition to an adult education course at Eastside Alliance in Oakland.)

"This is my good class," he said with a wry smile, and in a way his performance managing the kids is more impressive to me than his two national tours as Nas's DJ for Stillmatic and God's Son (Sony, 2001 and 2002 respectively). Laid-back, allowing the students to address him as DJ Fresh, he can still rock the don't-mess-with-me teacher mode when necessary, commanding respect and obedience. It's something you need a knack for.

Fresh was born in Baltimore and moved with his mother to San Jose at age nine. He spent his teens going back and forth between the coasts, developing his talents on piano as well as turntables. "I tell people I started DJing when I was nine," he said, "because I was on them things, fucking with it every day." Inspired by older brothers DJ LS1 and DJ Dummy, who remained back East, the teenage Fresh joined 12-Inch Assassins, a clique of battle DJs featuring his siblings and DJ Chaps.

LS1 went on to DJ for DMX and more recently G-Unit, while Dummy worked with Onyx and currently DJs for Common. Through Dummy, Fresh got to perform at his first major rap shows, spinning at a number of Common gigs. By 18, Fresh was back in the Bay Area, only to be recruited by Nas, whose tours really put him on the map.

"The nigga just called me up one morning," Fresh recalled. "I knew it was going to happen, but I'm the kind of person, I'll believe it when I see it. He was, like, 'Have you done any major shows?' I kinda lied. My brother told me, 'Before you tell him what you want, tell him to make you an offer.' So he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. His manager called me back the next day, and it's been on since then."

"After my second tour with him, I went to school," Fresh continued. "I took that money and used it for my schooling over at Expression in Emeryville. The tour shit is cool, but I didn't want my eggs in one basket. I went for sound engineering — I learned a lot of shit there." Though many rap producers eschew such formal training for fear of losing their autodidactic uniqueness, Fresh is a prime example of someone whose education has only enhanced his natural talent. Check, for example, the mix on his 2006 collaboration with J-Stalin, The Real World: West Oakland (FreshInTheFlesh). The sound is spacious — huge — clean and clear as a bell, requiring technical virtuosity behind the boards. Combined with his knowledge of '70s and '80s R&B — "What I See," for example, interpolates "Strawberry Letter 22" — Fresh's beats immediately stand out.

"When I make my beats, I still got the DJ mentality," Fresh said. "Right when you hear it, it's catchy. When you doing a party, you trying to keep it cracking, keep it off the hook. I take a lot of old shit and re-create it and reflip it. Bring it back with 808s and claps and all that good stuff." While such music could hardly be described as hyphy, it was, in fact, Mistah FAB who first put Fresh on the map in the Bay, freestyling on a 2005 full-length in Fresh's main series, The Tonite Show (FreshInTheFlesh).

"It was before FAB had blew up," Fresh pointed out. "We had a song called 'We Go Stupid in the Bay.' It had a buzz, so that was my first establishment. Then he needed his DVD made — The Freestyle King. So we swapped. I edited the whole shit. That put me on blast more too."

Both the DVD and The Tonite Show helped fuel the increasing buzz around FAB's main album, Son of a Pimp (Thizz, 2005), a process Fresh hopes to replicate for FAB's upcoming Sony disc, The Yellow Bus Rider. A second FAB-hosted Tonite Show is projected for a March release.

This year promises to be a big one for Fresh: His gang of impending Tonite Show releases includes a compilation with his frequent collaborators due Feb. 23, as well as The Tonite Show with DJ Fresh, a mixtape-style installment of Fresh DJing his own music, slated for late February on Koch Records. He's also shooting beats at his previous big-name associates — soon to drop are Tonite Shows starring Beeda Weeda and J-Stalin, Nump of "I Got Grapes" fame, the Acorn neighborhood phenom Shady Nate, and even Nas himself — and he intends to start a production team, the Whole Shebang, with Jamon Dru, 10AK, and Tower, an extraordinarily deep-voiced rapper who's a cousin of Richie Rich. To top a furious schedule, Fresh has a radio show, running Mondays through Fridays on the first and third weeks of every month on Rapbay.com, called The World's Freshest Hour.

"He's just a hustlin' dude," FAB remarked. "He's always on his grind, and I respect that. He's very humble, and that's what makes working with him so easy."





J-Stalin -- On Behalf of the Streets (Livewire Records/Zoo Entertainment)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian January 3, 2007

Following two superb, albumlike mixtapes — Early Morning Shift with the Demolition Men and The Real World: West Oakland with DJ FreshOn Behalf of the Streets is J-Stalin's so-called official debut, produced by Tha Mekanix, a.k.a. Dotrix4000 and Kenny Tweed. While the East Oakland producers have dropped album-length bombs in the past, Streets is the first release over which they've had total control, and the result is one of the most individual Bay Area rap albums since the region got hot again. With their ultrasynthetic sonic palette and penchant for minor chord filigree, Tha Mekanix are among the most distinctive producers in the area, making music that works with hyphy (check "The Function") but also is its own thing.

Much credit, of course, goes to the pint-size rapper with the gravelly voice whose self-harmonized hooks lend real poignancy to semiautobiographical tales of life as a young d-boy in West Oakland's Cypress Village: "A long time ago, man, I was told / If you got money, man, crack you sold," Stalin warbles on "I Was Told." Stalin is most surprising with his unabashed flair for R&B, evident on "Party Jumpin' " and the sensuous "Fuck U," on which the young playa engages in Prince-like seduction over the fattest, roundest bass thump in recent memory. With the right mix of local dons (Keak Da Sneak, Mistah FAB) and Stalin's own formidable crew (Shady, Jonah, Maybeck), Streets is state-of-the-art Oakland hip-hop from a rapper who's only just begun.



Hyphy Holidays

Bay Area lays down the top 10 albums of 2006
Plus: What really happened at the BARS Awards?

Hyphy Holidays

by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian December 12, 2006

A few weeks ago while writing a story about Fillmore rap, I called JT the Bigga Figga, only to be greeted by a long outgoing message informing callers he was in Nigeria on his Mandatory Hyphy tour with Snoop Dogg "for the next 48 to 72 hours." Though the message was largely a public self-congratulation delivered in the veteran rapper-producer's bigger-than-thou banter, even JT sounded surprised, as if the content of his boast for once exceeded his formidable powers of expression.

And in truth, it was big: as recently as last year, such a feat would have seemed impossible. But JT's association with Snoop — forged by the pair's recent DVD, Mandatory Business (Get Low) — and the idea of so ambitious a tour under the rubric of hyphy indicate just how far Bay Area rap has come over the course of 2006. Perhaps encouraged by Lil Jon's example, big names have begun to stick their toes in the Bay, though whether Diddy found any rappers during his largely restaurant-based visit is unknown. MTV stirred the waters with video hits by the likes of E-40 ("Tell Me When to Go," "U and Dat"), Big Rich ("That's the Business"), and Bailey ("U-C-It"), while the Bay sent three Best West Coast DJ nominees to the Justo Mixtape Awards: Demolition Men, DJ Juice, and 40's DJ E-Rock. Upcoming major-label releases by Mistah FAB (Atlantic), the Team's Clyde Carson (Capitol), and the Pack (Jive) promise 2007 will continue to build on the momentum of the past couple years.

The best thing about the past 12 months has been the sheer amount of world-class music released. The signal event of the first quarter was, of course, the March release of E-40's My Ghetto Report Card (BME/Reprise), which generated national curiosity about the hyphy movement and set the stage for much that ensued. April through June saw a flood of amazing discs that resumed in late August and hasn't abated since. These periods of activity were symbolically separated by the entrance of Mob Figaz's Husalah, who was given 53 months in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute more than five kilos of cocaine. The loss of this Mac Dre–level talent is a definite blow to local rap. But given six months of freedom after his sentencing to put his affairs in order, Hus recorded several albums' worth of material, two of which — Shower Posse, a duo album with the Jacka, and Explosive Mode III, a quartet with Jacka, San Quinn, and Messy Marv — have just appeared from FriscoStreetShow.com and rank with his finest work.

This year's activity was set to culminate in the second annual Bay Area Rap Scene (BARS) Awards on Dec. 2 at the San Mateo Event Center. Every rapper I spoke to was excited about the event: those who had money bought suits, those who didn't rented, and even those who clung to white T's — or T's with massive airbrushed representations of themselves — approached the affair with respectful seriousness. "The idea was great," said Mistah FAB, who brought his mom to the event. "But the ordeal was a mess."

Despite a stiff cover charge of $50 to $250, the attendance of national press and industry figures, and the promise of performances and presentations by many of the Bay's finest, the show was shut down after short sets by San Quinn and Messy Marv, two impromptu songs by E-40 and Keak Da Sneak, and roughly four awards. Fans were angry, the national press was unimpressed, and Bay Area rap was embarrassed at a delicate moment in its resurgence.

Vibe, for example, posted its online coverage under the headline "BARS Awards Shut Down after Crowd Gets Too Hyphy," a misleading statement immediately contradicted by the story's first paragraph, which blames the event's premature end on "lack of security and poor planning on the part of promoters." The latter assessment is much more accurate. The allegedly "too hyphy" crowd consisted of the accumulated entourages of rappers who refused to leave the stage. Yet with the possible exception of Numskull and the Caliban (who briefly hijacked the show to perform one song), artists' behavior could hardly be called "hyphy" — it was more a sullen milling around brought on by boredom with the show's slack execution.

"If there's a big pause in something that's supposed to be entertaining, of course there's going to be problems, because no one is paying attention," said the Jacka, whose much-deserved Underground Artist of the Year Award was announced to a near-empty hall. "It's like, 'Let's walk around. Fire up some weed. Let's get onstage. They're letting everyone else on.’”

"Last year it was better," he concluded. "They had the kind of security people respected."

It's difficult not to agree with this assessment. Google's cache of a Dec. 1 Craigslist ad page seeking security guards for the next-day event hardly inspires confidence, and the responsibility of securing the stage and choreographing a smooth sequence of events surely lies with the organizers, not the participants. Despite vigorous rebuttals posted by awards staff and promoters on Vibe.com and other sites, the overwhelming impression was that a lack of preparation to deal with what was admittedly stubborn but ultimately nonviolent behavior contributed to the blurry line between performers and spectators so typical of rap events.

"If you're organizing a thousand personalities with a million egos, you've got to give yourself room to deal with things you didn't plan for," said FAB, whose scheduled appearance with Too Short was among the evening's casualties. This was particularly unfortunate as Short has done all he can for hyphy of late, including his single, "Keep Bouncin'," on which Snoop name-checks the movement. Now based in Atlanta, on a major label, and still highly successful, $hort doesn't need the hyphy movement but has taken it under his wing, seemingly out of love for the hip-hop scene of which he is universally acknowledged as the founder.

"Short's a visionary," FAB said. "His sponsorship and persona allow us to get into certain spots. But it's up to us to be accountable for what we're doing."

In any case, it would be a mistake to blame the artists for the collapse of the awards. There were no arrests and no incidents of parking-lot mayhem among cheated fans — just disappointment. The entire scene has worked hard to get to its present level of success and has conducted itself with infinitely less violence since Mac Dre's death.

The rappers deserve a celebration, because whether or not the scene explodes in 2007 on the national level, the impressive collective output of Bay Area rap over the past two years already represents an extraordinary artistic achievement. The following is a strictly chronological list of personal favorites of 2006, culled from a huge stack of worthy contenders.

TOP 10

(1) Demolition Men, The Animal Planet Mixtape (starring Husalah and the Jacka of the Mob Figaz) (Mob Figaz)

(2) E-40, My Ghetto Report Card (Reprise/WEA)

(3) The Team, World Premiere (Rex)

(4) Bullys Wit Fullys, The Infrastructure (SMC)

(5) Husalah, Guns, Dope, and Religion (Sumo)

(6) Beeda Weeda, Turfology (Hieroglyphics)

(7) Traxamillion, The Slapp Addict (Slapp Addict)

(8) Dem Hood Starz, Band-Aide and Scoot (SMC)

(9) Big Rich, Block Tested Hood Approved (Koch)

(10) J-Stalin, On Behalf of the Streets (Livewire)


Shock G corrects the record

[update coming soon]



The 'Moe Show -- San Quinn, Messy Marv, Big Rich, Will Hen leading out from the Fillmore

by Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian November 22, 2006

If you don't know about the Filthy ’Moe

It's time I let real game unfold....

Messy Marv, "True to the Game"

I meet Big Rich on the corner of Laguna and Grove streets, near the heart of the Fillmore District according to its traditional boundaries of Van Ness and Fillmore, although the hood actually extends as far west as Divisadero. "Me personally," the 24-year-old rapper and lifelong ’Moe resident confesses, "I don't be sticking my head out too much. But I make sure I bring every photo session or interview right here."

At the moment he's taping a segment for an upcoming DVD by the Demolition Men, who released his mixtape Block Tested Hood Approved in April. Since then, the former member of the San Quinn–affiliated group Fully Loaded has created a major buzz thanks in part to the snazzy video for "That's the Business," his E-A-Ski- and CMT-produced single. It was the Jam of the Week in August on MTV2 and added to straight-up MTV in time for the Oct. 3 release of the Koch full-length Block Tested Hood Approved. (Originally titled Fillmore Rich, the album was renamed to capitalize on the mixtape-generated hype.)

Presented by E-40 and featuring Rich's dope in-house producer Mal Amazin in addition to heavyweights such as Sean-T, Rick Rock, and Droop-E, BTHA is a deep contribution to the rising tide of Bay Area hip-hop. While Big Rich's gruff baritone delivery and gritty street tales make his music more mobster than hyphy, the album is not unaffected by the latter style's up-tempo bounce, helping the movement hold national attention during this season of anticipation before Mistah FAB's major-label debut on Atlantic. "I don't necessarily make hyphy music," Rich says. "But I definitely condone it. As long as the spotlight is on the Bay, I'm cool with it." Coming near the end of a year that has seen landmark albums from San Quinn, Messy Marv, Will Hen, and fellow Fully Loaded member Bailey — not to mention JT the Bigga Figga's high-profile tour with Snoop Dogg, which has taken hyphy all the way to Africa — Rich's solo debut is one more indication of the historic district's importance to the vitality of local hip-hop and Bay Area culture in general.


The Fillmore is a community under siege, facing external and internal pressures. On the one hand, gentrification — in the form of high-end shops and restaurants serving tourists, Pacific Heights residents, and an increasingly affluent demographic creeping into the area — continues to erode the neighborhood's edges. "If you grew up in the Fillmore, you can see Pacific Heights has crept down the hill, closer to the ghetto," says Hen, who as a member of multiregional group the Product (assembled by Houston legend Scarface) moved more than 60,000 copies of its recent "thug conscious" debut, One Hunid (Koch). "Ten years ago there were more boundaries. But the Fillmore's prime location, and I'm not asleep to this fact. We're five minutes away from everything in the city. That has to play a role in the way the district is represented in a city that makes so much off tourism. You might not want your city portrayed as gangsta, even though it is."

Hen has a point. The notion of San Francisco as gangsta is somewhat at odds with the way the city perceives itself. As an Oakland writer, I can attest to this, for even in San Francisco's progressive artistic and intellectual circles, Oakland is usually understood to be beyond the pale in terms of danger and violence. Yet none of the Oakland rappers I've met talk about their hoods in quite the same way Fillmore rappers do, at least when it comes to their personal safety. As Big Rich films his section of the DVD, for example, he remarks on the continual stream of police cruisers circling the block.

"They slowed it down," he says. "Now they only come every 90 seconds. Right around here is murder central — people be shooting each other every night. By 7 o'clock, we all gotta disperse, unless you want to get caught in the cross fire." He waves his hands in mock terror. "I ain't trying to die tonight!"


Though Rich is clowning, his statement is perfectly serious — indiscriminate gunfire among gang members, often in their early teens, makes nocturnal loitering a risky proposition at best. As of September, according to the San Francisco Police Department's Web site, the Northern Police District, which includes the Fillmore, had the city's second highest number of murders this year, 11, ceding first place only to the much larger Bayview's 22. For overall criminal incidents, the Northern District led the city, at more than 10,000 so far.

Though Fillmore rappers might be given to stressing the danger of their hood, insofar as such themes constitute much of hip-hop's subject matter and they feel the need to refute the city's nongangsta image, no one I spoke to seemed to be boasting. They sounded sad. Hen, for example, reported that he'd been to three funerals in October, saying, "You hardly have time to mourn for one person before you have to mourn for the next person." While the SFPD's Public Affairs Office didn't return phone calls seeking corroboration, both Rich and Hen indicate the neighborhood is suffering from an alarming amount of black-on-black violence.

"Basically, it's genocide. We're going to destroy each other," Hen says. "It used to be crosstown rivalries rather than in your backyard. Now there's more of that going on. If you get into it at age 15, the funk is already there. Whoever your crew is funking with, you're in on it." The ongoing cycle of drug-related violence — the Fillmore's chief internal pressure — has only ramped up under the Bush administration's regressive economic policies. It's a fact not lost on these rappers: as Rich puts it succinctly on BTHA, "Bush don't give a fuck about a nigga from the hood."

"Everybody's broke. That's why everybody's busting each other's heads," explains Rich, who lost his older brother to gun violence several years ago. "If you don't know where your next dollar's coming from ..."

To be sure, the rappers give back to the Fillmore. They support large crews of often otherwise unemployable youth, and Messy Marv, for example, has been known to hand out turkeys for Thanksgiving and bikes for Christmas. But Bay Area rap is only just getting back on its feet, and while the rappers can ameliorate life in the Fillmore's housing projects, they don't have the means to dispel the climate of desperation in a hood surrounded by one of the most expensive cities on earth. Moreover, they are acutely aware of the disconnect between their community and the rest of the city, which trades on its cultural cachet.

"It's like two different worlds," Hen muses. "You have people sitting outside drinking coffee right in the middle of the killing fields. They're totally safe, but if I walk over there, I might get shot at. But the neighborhood is too proud for us to be dying at the hands of each other."


The neighborhood pride Will Hen invokes is palpable among Fillmore rappers. "I get a warm feeling when I'm here," Messy Marv says. "The killing, you can't just say that's Fillmore. That's everywhere. When you talk about Fillmore, you got to go back to the roots. Fillmore was a warm, jazzy African American place where you could come and dance, drink, have fun, and be you."

Mess is right on all counts. Lest anyone think I misrepresent Oaktown: the citywide number of murders in Oakland has already topped 120 this year. But my concern here is with the perceived lack of continuity Mess suggests between the culture of the Fillmore then and now. By the early 1940s, the Fillmore had developed into a multicultural neighborhood including the then-largest Japanese population in the United States. In 1942, when FDR sent West Coast citizens of Japanese origin to internment camps, their vacated homes were largely filled by African Americans from the South, attracted by work in the shipyards. While the district had its first black nightclub by 1933, the wartime boom transformed the Fillmore into a major music center.

"In less than a decade, San Francisco's African American population went from under 5,000 to almost 50,000," according to Elizabeth Pepin, coauthor of the recent history of Fillmore jazz Harlem of the West (Chronicle). "The sheer increase in number of African Americans in the neighborhood made the music scene explode."

Though known as a black neighborhood, Pepin says, the Fillmore "was still pretty diverse" and even now retains vestiges of its multicultural history. Japantown persists, though much diminished, and Big Rich himself is half Chinese, making him the second Chinese American rapper of note. "My mother's parents couldn't speak a lick of English," he says. "But she was real urban, real street. I wasn't brought up in a traditional Chinese family, but I embrace it and I get along with my other side." Nonetheless, Pepin notes, the massive urban renewal project that destroyed the Fillmore's iconic jazz scene by the late ’60s effectively curtailed its diversity, as did the introduction of barrackslike public housing projects.

The postwar jazz scene, of course, is the main source of nostalgia tapped by the Fillmore Merchants Association (FMA). Talk of a musical revival refers solely to the establishment of upscale clubs — Yoshi's, for example, is scheduled to open next year at Fillmore and Eddy — offering music that arguably is no longer organically connected to the neighborhood. In a brief phone interview, Gus Harput, president of the FMA's Jazz Preservation District, insisted the organization would "love" to open a hip-hop venue, although he sidestepped further inquiries. (Known for its hip-hop shows, Justice League at 628 Divisadero closed around 2003 following a 2001 shooting death at a San Quinn performance and was later replaced by the Independent, which occasionally books rap.) The hood's hip-hop activity might be too recent and fall outside the bounds of jazz, yet nowhere in the organization's online Fillmore history (fillmorestreetsf.com) is there an acknowledgement of the MTV-level rap scene down the street.

Yet the raucous 1949 Fillmore that Jack Kerouac depicts in his 1957 book, On the Road — replete with protohyphy blues shouters like Lampshade bellowing such advice as “Don’t die to go to heaven, start in on Doctor Pepper and end up on whisky!” — sounds less like the area's simulated jazz revival and more like the community’s present-day hip-hop descendants.

How could it be otherwise? The aesthetics have changed, but the Fillmore’s musical genius has clearly resided in rap since Rappin’ 4Tay debuted on Too $hort’s Life Is ... Too $hort (Jive, 1989), producer-MC JT the Bigga Figga brought out the Get Low Playaz, and a teenage San Quinn dropped his classic debut, Don’t Cross Me (Get Low, 1993). While there may not be one definitive Fillmore hip-hop style, given that successful rappers tend to work with successful producers across the Bay regardless of hood, Messy Marv asserts the ’Moe was crucial to the development of the hyphy movement: “JT the Bigga Figga was the first dude who came with the high-energy sound. He was ahead of his time. I’m not taking nothing away from Oakland, Vallejo, or Richmond. I’m just letting you know what I know.”

In many ways the don of the ’Moe, San Quinn — reaffirming his status earlier this year with The Rock (SMC), featuring his own Ski- and CMT-produced smash, “Hell Ya” — could be said to typify a specifically Fillmore rap style, in which the flow is disguised as a strident holler reminiscent of blues shouting. While both Messy Marv and Big Rich share affinities with this delivery, Will Hen, for instance, and Quinn’s brother Bailey — whose Champ Bailey (City Boyz, 2006) yielded the MTV and radio success “U C It” — favor a smoother, more rapid-fire patter.

What is most striking here is that, with the exception of fellow traveler Messy Marv (see sidebar), all of these artists, as well as recent signee to the Game’s Black Wall Street label, Ya Boy, came up in the ’90s on San Quinn’s influential Done Deal Entertainment. Until roughly two years ago, they were all one crew. While working on his upcoming eighth solo album, From a Boy to a Man, for his revamped imprint, Done Deal, Quinn paused for a moment to take justifiable pride in his protégés, who now constitute the Fillmore’s hottest acts.

“I create monsters, know what I’m saying?” Quinn says. “Done Deal feeds off each other; that’s why I’m so proud of Bailey and Rich. We all come out the same house. There’s a real level of excellence, and the world has yet to see it. Right now it seems like we’re separate, but we’re not. We’re just pulling from different angles for the same common goal.”

“We all one,” Quinn concludes, in a statement that could serve as a motto for neighborhood unity. “Fillmoe business is Fillmoe business.”




Making Messy Marv

One of the most extraordinary products of recent Fillmore history is Messy Marv, a rapper whose life reflects the neighborhood's struggle with a half century of urban renewal and the ’80s-era introduction of crack into America's ghettos. In 1996, when he was still in 10th grade, he released his first album, Messy Situations (Ammo). Though it sold around 15,000 units, Mess admits he didn't take music seriously at first.

"I dropped out of high school due to family issues," he says. "I had to grow up real fast and do the man thing, but I started doin' the street thing."

Nonetheless, Mess's rap reputation grew, and in 1997 he hooked up with San Quinn to record Explosive Mode (Presidential, 1998), which has sold more than 50,000 copies. "There was a lot of hype around the hood about how he was better than me or I was better than him," Mess says. "We decided to come together, and we made a classic."

"At that time, I was really on the street, living outta cars, doing real bad things," he recalls. "So Quinn and his mom took me in."

Despite his success when few in the Bay were moving many units, Mess was unable to leave the dope game, partly due to his own addiction. "I inherited a cocaine habit," the rapper says. "I been clean for a while, but I had a really bad habit. All I can say is 'Say no to drugs.’” Though he won't go into details, Mess confirms his triple life as rapper, dealer, and user came to a head one night at an out-of-state show in 2001, when he was forced to jump out a fourth-floor window. "I broke both of my legs, crushed my left foot, lost a lot of blood," Mess says. "I was in a wheelchair for six months. The doctors said I'd never walk again."

"It gave me a whole new respect for handicapped people. I was doing shows in my wheelchair, and I rocked the whole crowd. It was a hell of a feeling that they still accepted me," he says. "That gave me the strength to get up and walk. I learned how to walk all over again, by myself, in four months. After that I decided it was time to go somewhere else with my life."

As if to atone for time lost, Messy Marv has since pursued his talent with a vengeance, recording a slew of projects for his own label, Scalen LLC, and labels such as Frisco Street Show, which released a reunion with Quinn, Explosive Mode 2: "Back in Business" (2006), and just dropped Explosive Mode 3 with Husalah and Jacka. In 2004, Mess inked a distribution deal for Scalen through Universal/Fontana, helping him move more than 20,000 copies each of Disobayish (2004) and Bandannas, Tattoos and Tongue Rings (2005). While he spent much of 2005 in county jail on a weapons violation, he still managed to score one of the big radio hits of the hyphy movement, "Get on My Hype," produced by Droop-E. Most recently, he's been on MTV and other airwaves with the E-A-Ski- and CMT-produced "So Hood," from The Infrastructure (SMC), his album with Hunters Point rapper Guce, released under the name Bullys Wit Fullys. A self-conscious bid to end hood rivalry between the ’Moe and HP, the Infrastructure project shows Mess's awareness of the power of his position as a role model even as he continues to spit with the most defiant swagger of any rapper in the Bay.

While Mess admits he has major deals on the table and plans to release the first of a two-volume opus titled What You Know about Me? in December, he also intends to retire thereafter in a nonbinding Jay-Z sort of way in order to concentrate on the younger acts on his label. This intention seems characteristic of the true spirit of the Fillmore as well as an acknowledgment that despite his youth, Messy Marv has already written a chapter in the district's history.



Traxamillion wins a Goldie

All eyes on Bay Area producer of "Getz Ya Grown Man On," "Super Hyphy," and more

Goldies Music winner Traxamillion
by Garrett Caples
San Franciso Bay Guardian November 8, 2006

[pics coming soon]

When I met Traxamillion, the young producer-rapper was in the lab with Balance, recording a faithful cover of EPMD's "You're a Customer" for a Mind Motion mixtape. Naturally, I would have preferred seeing Trax record an original, but watching him vibe to a classic was perhaps more revelatory. Where many producers insist on their isolation from outside influences, Trax is an unapologetic lover of music.

"Everybody's a fan," the musician, born in East Orange, NJ, and raised in San Jose, points out. "Somebody inspired somebody to make a beat, to rap. That's how I go about my beats. I listen to shit. I get inspired. I appreciate it and harness and learn from it. I've always tried to mimic what's going on, on the radio."

Despite this unpretentious attitude toward his art, Traxamillion has developed a highly original sound of his own — bright, downright cheerful noises animate his eminently danceable grooves — and he's already earned a place in Bay Area rap history. In June 2005 he topped the local rap charts as producer of Keak Da Sneak's infectious independent single "Super Hyphy" (Rah), proving the Yay could hang in the mix with big-label megastars while opening up the airwaves to a long-suppressed flood of local talent.

"The beat was inspired by the youngstas," Traxamillion says. "My little cousins came through drunk, wildin' out on a birthday, and started dancin'. I was paying attention to their movements, thinking, 'I gotta make some music for these cats,' because the youngstas are really the hyphy movement. When I was making the beat, I was replaying their dancin' in my head, and 'Super Hyphy' came out an hour and a half later."

Knowing he had a hit on his hands, Trax shot the beat at Keak, who reportedly wrote the song in one session during a drive home from Tahoe. Within a few weeks "Super Hyphy" was all over the radio.

"It took two months to get to number one [on KMEL's list of most requested tracks in June 2005]," Trax recalls. "But it was fresh, and Keak's so abstract when he comes with something — people are fiendin' for it. People loved it, and it still slaps to this day. It's a big club anthem in the Bay."

"It was weird because it was my first time on the radio, period, as a producer," Trax says. "I was, like, 'Man, this is crazy — all these people are going crazy to my song. This is my shit I made in my mother's bedroom.' I be at the club, watching everybody at the peak of the song when they would run it back like three or four times, going, 'God-damn!' Nobody knew it was me."

If Traxamillion's name wasn't ringing bells, "Super Hyphy" was, and in short order he was working with the Team, whose "Just Go" earned the producer further spins. But when he returned to the local number one slot on KMEL's most requested tracks in December 2005, producing "Getz Ya Grown Man On" for East Palo Alto's then-unknown Dem Hoodstarz, Trax proved his success with Keak was no fluke. The remix — with guests Mistah FAB, San Quinn, Clyde Carson, and Turf Talk — has even picked up national airplay and features prominently on Dem Hoodstarz's Band-Aide and Scoot (SMC) as well as Trax's own The Slapp Addict (Slapp Addict). "The Slapp Addict is the soundtrack to the hyphy movement," Trax says of the album. Its single-producer, multirapper format has earned it a reputation as a Bay Area Chronic. "It's basically a Who's Who of the Bay, produced by me. After 'Grown Man,' I was superhot. People were, like, 'I want to work with you.' In turn, everybody did songs for me, ’cause game recognize game. Damn near a year's worth of creativity went into that album."

In addition to spawning singles like "The Sideshow" (Too Short and FAB) and "Wakin' ’Em Up" (Turf Talk and Hoodstarz), Slapp Addict has spun off another huge hit collaboration with Keak. "On Citas" demonstrates the producer's special rapport with the Bay's hottest rapper.

"When me and Keak get together, we make hits," Trax says. "When I first met Keak, he told me, 'Man, your beats and my voice — it's a marriage.' Ain't nothin' I'm doin' or nothin' he doin' — it's just his shit plus my shit equals hits."



Method Man at the crossroads

by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian online exclusive October 18, 2006

When a bumped phone interview with hip-hop legend and platinum artist Method Man mushroomed into a proposed backstage post-show encounter, I naturally jumped at the chance.

Being a devotee of the ultimately more funk-based grooves of Bay Area hip-hop, I tend not to pay attention to the doings of NYC, and I can’t claim to have ever followed the Wu-Tang Clan in general or Meth in particular, though I have always admired both from afar. Yet one needn’t follow the Big Apple's scene in great detail to appreciate its impact, and with Meth’s successful film and TV career, most recently as a recurring character in this season of HBO’s cop drama The Wire, one needn’t even listen to hip-hop anymore to appreciate his.

This situation is exactly what’s troubling Method Man. His very success in the cultural mainstream, he feels, has been held against him by the hip hop-industry, a curious situation considering mainstream success is the perceived goal and direct subject matter of most raps these days. Unlike the recent fashion among rappers like Andre3000 to pooh-pooh their interest in music in favor of their “acting career,” Meth wants to be known primarily as an MC. But Hollywood success has proved to be a slippery slope, paved by Ice-T and Ice Cube -- each in his turn the most terrifying, authentic street rapper imaginable -- to the end of your hit-making potential in hip-hop.

Couple this perception with Meth’s vocal challenges of the effect of corporate media consolidation, and it’s not difficult to imagine why Def Jam released his fourth solo album, 4:21: The Day After, without a peep at the end of August, as if the label had written him off despite his track record of one gold and two platinum plaques.

Still, no one who’s heard the angry, defiantly shitkicking 4:21 (executive produced by the RZA, Erick Sermon, and Meth himself) or saw the show Meth put on that evening (leaping from the stage to the bar and running across it by way of introduction, later executing a backwards handspring from the stage into the crowd by way of ending) could possibly doubt his vitality as an MC. He put on a long, exhausting show, heavy with new material, that utterly rocked the packed house.

Shortly after the show ended, I was brought backstage by Meth’s road manager, 7, to a tiny corridor of a dressing room crammed with various hangers on. A man in a warm-up suit with a towel over his head was sitting alone on a short flight of steps in the center of the room.

“That’s him,” 7 said, before disappearing to take care of other business.

It was like being sent to introduce yourself to a boxer who’d just finished a successful but punishing brawl. The face that looked up at my inquiry was that of a man who’d retreated somewhere far away into himself, requiring a momentary effort to swim to the surface. Quite suddenly I found myself face to face with Method Man, whose presence immediately turned all heads in the room our way as he invited me to sit down for a brief discussion of his new album and his dissatisfaction with his treatment by the music industry.

SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN: I read the statement on your Web site [www.method-man.com] in which you discuss your problems with the industry. Could you describe the problems you’ve been having?

METHOD MAN: My big problem with the industry is the way they treat hip-hop artists as opposed to artists in other genres. Hip-hop music, they treat it like it's fast food. You get about two weeks of promotion before your album. Then you get the week of your album, then you get the week after, then they just leave you to the dogs.

Whereas back in the day, you had artists in development, a month ahead of time before you even started your campaign, to make sure that you got off on the right foot.

Nowadays it’s like there’s nobody in your corner anymore. Everybody’s trying to go into their own little club, for lack of a better word. Everybody has their own little cliques now. Ain’t no money being generated so the labels are taking on a lot of artists because of this at once that they don’t even have enough staff members to take care of every artist, as an individual. Their attention is elsewhere, or only with certain people.

SFBG: Your new single [“Say,” featuring Lauryn Hill] suggests you’ve had problems with the way critics have received your recent work and even with the radio playing your records. How can someone of your status be having trouble getting spins?

MM: You know what it is, man? A lot of people have come around acting like I’m the worst thing that ever happened to hip-hop, as good as I am.

Hating is hating. I’ve been hated on, but just by the industry, not in the streets. They never liked my crew [the Wu-Tang Clan] anyway. They think we ain’t together anymore and they try to pick at each and every individual. Some motherfuckers they pick up. Other people they just shit on. I guess I’m just the shittee right now, you know what I mean?

SFBG: Do you think it has to do with the age bias in hip-hop? The idea an MC is supposed to be 18 or 20?

MM: You know what I think it is? As our contracts go on, we have stipulations where, if we sell a certain amount of albums, [the labels] have to raise our stock. A lot of times dudes just want to get out their contracts so they can go independent and make more money by themselves. There’s a lot of factors that play into it.

SFBG: Are you not getting enough label support?

MM: A label only does so much anyway. It’s your team inside your team that makes sure that you got a video. Or that you got that single out there, or that your tour dates are put together correctly. The labels, they basically just do product placement. They make sure that all your stuff is in the proper place where it’s supposed to be at. They’re gonna make sure your posters are up. They’re going to make sure that they’re giving out samples of other artists that are coming out also. [But i]t’s really up to us [the artists] to make sure our music is going where it’s supposed to.

Right now there’s so many artists people can pick and choose from, don’t nobody like shit no more.

SFBG: Do you think you’re getting squeezed out of radio play as a result of corporate media conslidation?

MM: Absolutely; this shit ain’t nothing new. It isn’t just happening to me. It’s been going on since dudes have been doing this hip-hop music. They bleed you dry and then they push you the fuck out.

That’s why I always stress to the fans to take your power back. I always hear people talking about things like, “Damn, what happened to these dudes? What happened to these guys? I always liked their shit.”

But the fans, not just the industry, tend to turn their backs on dudes. They get fed so much bullshit, they be like, “Fuck it; I’m not dealing with that shit. I’m going to listen to this.”

SFBG: So what about your acting career? Do you feel like you’ve been overexposed as an actor or that you’ve been spread too thin and are readjusting your focus?

MM: Fuck Hollywood, B.

SFBG: But I heard you say on the radio today you wanted to play a crackhead and get an Oscar....

MM: I do want to play a crackhead in a movie. I’m going to be a crackhead who dies of an overdose at the end of the movie, and people cry, and I’m going to get me an Oscar. But fuck Hollywood; tell ‘em to come see me. Tell ‘em to come to my door.

SFBG: Obviously, from what you said during the show and the lyrics on 4:21: The Day After you haven’t renounced smoking marijuana, so could you discuss the concept behind “4:21”? Is it about the difficulties of living the hard-partying lifestyle of the rap artist?

MM: It was just symbolic of a moment of clarity for me. I made a symbol for myself of a moment of clarity. You know I’ve always been an avid 4:20 person. I like to get out there and smoke with the best of them. But I picked “4:21” as like, the day after. I got tired of people running up on me and being like, “You was funny in that movie,” because I was an MC first and foremost. It used to be like, “Yo, that fuckin’ verse you did on that song, that was hot.” Now it’s like, “My kids love you; they love that movie, How High.”

It gets to the point when even when I’m having a serious moment, or a serious conversation, people laugh at the shit like it’s funny. But they laugh cause they thinking of the movie; they thinking of some sitcom shit.

SFBG: Besides yourself and RZA, Erick Sermon executive produced the album. Can you talk about your connection with him?

MM: I’ve been fuckin’ with E ever since I’ve been fuckin’ with Redman. E knows what I like, you know what I’m saying? The same way he knows what Redman likes. And RZA, that’s a given right there. I’ve been down with RZA’s shit A1 since day one.

SFBG: 4:21 also features a collaboration with Ol’ Dirty Bastard. When did you guys record this track?

MM: “Dirty Meth” -- that’s a posthumous joint with O.D.B. It was after he was gone already. I tell everyone that so they know.

SFBG: But he seems to permeate the new album.

MM: He does. Good word, too. He permeates it.


Too Short -- Blow the Whistle (Short/Jive)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian October 11, 2006

Although largely recorded in Atlanta with production by Jazze Pha and coexecutive producer Lil Jon, Blow the Whistle is Too Short's most Bay-sounding album in years and certainly his best disc since 2000's You Nasty (Jive). Having rapped professionally since 1983, Short might not bring his utmost to every recording, but Whistle sounds as hungry as the most hyphy debut imaginable. His subject matter has not changed significantly — shouts of “beeyatch!” still abound — but he brings a fresh intensity to his raps, as though reenergized by the youthful Bay Area movement.

Songs like the title track and the Droop-E-produced "I Want Your Girl" (featuring E-40 and Mistah FAB) find Short Dogg perfectly at home with the latest Bay sound, while on "Keep Bouncing" he even gets Snoop Dogg "ghostridin’ the whip." While it may be true that Short's wordplay tends toward the misogynistic, it's equally the case that he receives no credit for his gestures in the opposite direction. Witness his support rap on Kelis's girl-power anthem "Bossy" and the following lines from Whistle's "Sophisticated":
Y'all thought Too Short was all about pimpin'
Foul-mouthed mack just talkin’ bad about women
You heard bitch and cut it off
You ain't even listenin’
All I said was, if the shoe fits wear it
And if it don't apply, act like you didn't hear it.
No one has the right to take away from Short the word that made him famous. And nobody is obliged to take it seriously either.


E-40 on cover of Modern Luxury's mag, San Francisco

Big glossy E-40 gazing out from the fanciest magazine racks of the Bay this month. The high fashion mag tapped him to lead for the "70 hottest stars, sounds, scenes..."

[pic coming]


Regaining consciousness --East Oakland rapper Ise Lyfe spreads the word, makes his mark

"I think the only way to do it harder than Jay-Z is to have a real movement... I'd like to be that big but at the same time put a dent in the Earth."

When this article came out, you made Ise Lyfe's album #1 at Rasputin's SF. Your power is recognized!

by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian August 23, 2006

"I want to be a mainstream artist," says East Oakland rapper and spoken word poet Ise Lyfe, discussing his rejection of the label "conscious rap." "I'm not trying to be some backpack cat performing in Davis. I want to be ..."

The 23-year-old trails off thoughtfully. "I think the only way to do it harder than Jay-Z is to have a real movement, something tangible that will effect change in the world through music. I'd like to be that big but at the same time put a dent in the Earth."

At first glance, it's hard to imagine a rapper less like Jay-Z than Ise Lyfe, whose 2004 self-released debut, SpreadtheWord, is devoid of the big pimpin', cheese-spending exploits that have endeared Jiggaman to millions. But like James Baldwin — who once said he didn't want to be the best black novelist in America, he wanted to be Henry James — Ise isn't talking about betraying his identity for success. He's simply saying he wants to be the best, period. If there's anything common to all four of these artists, it's the awareness that in order to be the best you must change the game. With the rerelease of SpreadtheWord, complete with new artwork, a bonus DVD, and a mildly retooled track list, on fledgling independent Hard Knock Records, in addition to his recently concluded nationwide tour with the Coup, Ise Lyfe is hoping to do just that.

Born in 1982, Ise was raised in Brookfield, deep in East Oakland next to the notorious Sobrante Park. "I grew up as a young kid right when the crack epidemic was flourishing and having a real effect on our families," he says. "My father had been affected by drugs. For me, growing up in a single-parent home was the manifestation of that existing in our community. But I also came up amongst a large level of social justice activity and youth organizing. That influences my music. I think Oakland has a history that unconsciously bleeds into everyone from here."

The legacy of this history — which includes a spoken word scene at least as old as Gil Scott Heron's mid-’70s albums for underground label Strata East — endures in Oakland, where Ise first made a name for himself as a teen slam poet. "I would be three years deep into performing spoken word before there was any place I could go and perform hip-hop," he says. "Hip-hop was all 21-and-up venues, where I was the number one slam poet in the country when I was 19." Repping the Bay in 2001 at the Youth Speaks National Poetry Slam, Ise would achieve a modicum of fame through appearances on HBO's Def Poetry Jam.

"When I started recording," he confesses, "folks didn't even know I was making a hip-hop record. They thought it was a spoken word record, but I fused both in there." The success of this fusion of art forms is all the more apparent on the rereleased SpreadtheWord, the continuity of which has been improved by a few judicious edits. Ise's flow is so dexterous that the moments of purely a cappella poetry enhance rather than disrupt the musical experience. In fact, musicality underscores an important difference between SpreadtheWord and most conscious hip-hop recordings, for most of the beats on even otherwise impressive efforts sound like they were made sometime in 1993. The lack of curiosity about the sound of contemporary hip-hop gives such music a perfunctory air, while the tracks on SpreadtheWord are infinitely fresher even after two years. While it's not exactly hyphy, a tune like "Reasons" still sounds like a Bay Area slap that would work on a mixtape with other new tunes.

"My fan base is predominantly young people of color," Ise says, articulating his other major difference from most rappers who fall under the conscious rubric. "I think it's all good. The music is for everybody. But I'm proud of seeing the music connect with who it's really written to, directly from, and for. I don't want to be distant from the community." In the face of the failure of so many conscious rappers to continue to appeal to their original listeners, it's hard not to attribute Ise's own success to his closeness to both his audience and hip-hop.

"It's important for me to have real community work behind what I say," he explains, commenting on a busy schedule that includes everything from teaching classes to street sweeping to performing at the Youth UpRising community center on the bill with Keak Da Sneak on Aug. 25.

Moreover, his refusal to place himself in opposition to the hyphy movement despite his very different approach to hip-hop lends him a credibility unavailable to others.

"I consider myself just the other side of hyphy," he concludes. "I don't think there's anything different in what I'm saying than what they're saying. Those cats is positive — they're talking about uniting the Bay. I just think it's important that we set a standard for what's acceptable. When we calling a 13-year-old girl a ripper, it's just abusive music. But even in its industrial prepackaged form hip-hop comes from the hood, and I think that going dumb or getting hyphy is revolutionary in principle. I'm-a jump on this car, I'm-a shake these dreads, I'm-a be me. I think that it's a positive energy."

Youth UpRising’s "Lyrical Warfare"
with Keak Da Sneak
Fri/25, 4–7 p.m.
8711 MacArthur, Oakl.
(510) 777-9909


Confessions of a Gofessional

Free mixtape by Team member Kaz Kyzah scores 7,000 downloads in first week

Things move fast in rap. ...I've been summoned by Kaz Kyzah to discuss The Gofessional...

by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian August 16, 2006

Things move fast in rap. By the time their second album, World Premiere (Moedoe/Koch), dropped in April, the Team already had a new single, the "Hyphy Juice" remix, which now rivals "It's Getting Hot" as their biggest radio hit. Since then, Moedoe label head K.O.A.B. has inked a deal for Hyphy Juice, the energy drink he co-owns with the group, to be sold at 7-11 stores nationwide, while Team member Clyde Carson just signed as a solo act to Capitol Records. Carson’s ambitious project, Theater Music — consisting of one multisong, album-length track à la Prince's Lovesexy (Warner, 1988) — will appear next year, cobranded by Moedoe as well as the Game's Black Wall Street.

Yet my appearance at the Team's condo concerns none of these matters. Instead, I've been summoned by Kaz Kyzah to discuss The Gofessional, his new mixtape with KMEL managing director DJ Big Von Johnson. Consisting of 19 tracks of mostly original material, The Gofessional is part of a growing trend in the Bay Area mix scene — like Husalah and Jacka's Animal Planet and Beeda Weeda's Homework — of blurring the distinction between the carefully crafted album and the "anything goes" approach of mixtapes. What makes The Gofessional unique, however, is its method of distribution: it's available for free at bigvon.com.

In the first week alone, the mixtape was downloaded 7,000 times on the strength of two singles currently spinning on KMEL: "Cocaine," a soulful love-as-addiction metaphor over a 9th Wonder beat, and the LT-produced original "Love" (featuring Jimmie Reign), an R&B-infused investigation of more serious subjects often neglected by the Bay's current "go dumb" ethos.


Before beginning, however, Kaz clears up the lingering mystery around World Premiere's release, not, as anticipated, through major label Universal but rather through independent powerhouse Koch.

"We were on a label of a Mexican artist, Lil Rob, and it wasn't the place for us," Kaz says, referring to the Universal-distributed Upstairs imprint, which caters primarily to Latino rap. "When we got over there, it wasn't what we wanted. But it worked out where we could use it to get the album done and move on. We didn't have to pay any bread. We actually came out winning."

"At the same time, I was going through legal trouble," he continues, describing continuing fallout from a robbery charge he caught at age 18. "I was worried about going to jail and house arrest. I did end up spending a couple of months in jail, so it was a real hectic time."

While the delays of label jumping and legal woes may have muted World Premiere's impact, the period of house arrest last year proved productive for Kaz, who with West Oakland rapper J-Stalin and East Oakland producers Tha Mekanix formed a side group called the Go Boyz and recorded an album at the condo. These late-night sessions featuring an ankle-braceleted Kaz were the genesis of the current Go Movement, which already constitutes a third front in the Bay's hyphy and thizz campaigns.

"What I want people to understand about the Go Movement," the Hyphy Juice shareholder stresses, "is it's not not about getting hyphy, going dumb. But it encompasses a whole lot more and that's what makes it so powerful. Like when I talk to Dotrix [of Tha Mekanix], we'll use go 1,500 times and have an in-depth conversation.

"It was Dot who said, 'You the Gofessional, man.' And that was one of my favorite movies, The Professional, so I used it for my mixtape. I didn't want to come out with the Go Boyz, and nobody know what Go is all about. I was talking to some people from Marin, they never even heard of the Go Movement. To us it's old, but a lot of people are still catching on."


The free download format of The Gofessional is proving to be an effective means of spreading the word. (Another 5,000 hard copies have already been distributed for the benefit of those not online, and more are on the way.) For Johnson, who apart from Kaz is the author of this largess, the free mixtape is designed to boost record sales as well as keep the Bay's current buzz alive.

"I got 7,000 downloads in a week, when I know artists who put out records that took seven months to reach that in sales," Johnson says later that day at KMEL. "There are a lot of big artists, a lot of songs on the radio, but sales aren't adding up. So I feel like, give some away. Instead of trying to break a song, I'm trying to break an artist in the streets. I definitely think this will stimulate album sales."

It's refreshing to hear such a statement these days, when the "free download" has been blamed for bringing the recording industry to its knees. To me, Johnson's logic is irrefutable; I'm more likely to check out something for free than for $15, and I'm way more likely to buy a $15 album from someone whose previous work I have and like. As The Gofessional is easily better than dozens of albums I've actually purchased, the odds of me buying an eventual Kaz Kyzah solo album are extremely high. Given the current excitement in Bay rap and Carson's deal with Capitol, the interest in Kaz's mixtape hasn't failed to attract the attention of majors as well.

"I got a lot of labels looking at me," Kaz confesses. "I ain't put out an album. They're checking for me off of mixtapes, which is weird, but it's a beautiful thing. People be, like, this is hotter than people's albums. But I'm a perfectionist, so doing a solo album is going to take a minute, really sitting down and figuring out what I want to do with it. And not being too quick to jump on the wrong deal."