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."



Dope, rap, and religion

With two hot collaborations, one new solo joint, and an upcoming reunion with Mob Figaz in the works, Husalah should be on top of the world. Instead, he's spending the next four and a half years behind bars

by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian July 12, 2006

I'm on the set of the video for "Never Blink," a song off Mob Figaz member the Jacka's 2005 solo disc, The Jack Artist (Artist), featuring Dubb 20 and J-Stalin. The "set" in West Oakland where 10th Street meets Mandela is not sanctioned by a film commission but monitored from a distance by a slowly circling caravan of three police cruisers. A Mercedes SL500 creeps through the crowd and parks in the middle of the road, retracting its hard top with the slow-motion elegance of a moon landing before a familiar 6-foot-3-inch frame unfolds from the low roadster and begins the usual round of hand slaps and hugs. Husalah is on the set.

"I represent the Iraqi Space Program," he announces, then immediately reconsiders. "The Nigga Spaceship Association." He has the air of one whose wit is so fertile he must double-stack its results.

Though Hus doesn't perform on "Never Blink," he has turned up on behalf of his fellow Mob Figa for some whoridin' — that art of dancing, lyric miming, and tough posturing behind the rapper — and for the next several takes nearly steals the show. He can't help it. Combined with his athletic build and strikingly handsome face, his height makes him conspicuous in any crowd, while his desire to "take it further," evident in his innovative, melodic flows and ever-evolving gangsta argot, also animates his appearance. Instead of imaginary bills, Husalah pulls out a stack of new hundreds, fans it to show it's all hundreds, shuts the fan, and begins to count, licking the bills instead of his thumb as he goes while bobbing to the mournful yet light-as-air RobLo production. Fielding an imaginary call, Hus shoulders his phone as he continues to count and dance, gazing off abstractedly as though processing information. It's a performance worthy of a Mac Dre or an André, though more thugged out and unmistakably Husalah's own.

Husalah's been recording for eight years, debuting as a teen with the other Mob Figaz — Jacka, Fed-X, AP9, and Rydah J. Klyde — on "Ride til We Die," the opening cut on C-Bo's Til My Casket Drops (Awol, 1998). Now, at 25 he is hitting his creative stride just as Bay Area rap is making itself felt on a national level. Three hot Husalah projects are currently in stores: 3 da Hard Way (FriscoStreetShow, 2005), a trio with Jacka and hard-spitting MC Marvaless; Animal Planet (2006), a Demolition Men mixtape cohosted with Jacka; and Dope, Guns and Religion (Sumo, 2006), a solo debut drawing on new and unreleased material. With a Mob Figaz reunion on the horizon, the timing couldn't be better, except for one small catch.

In February, Husalah was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute "more than five kilos" of cocaine, a charge dating from 2001, when the rapper was 20. At press time, he was set to turn himself in July 10.


"Where I come from," Husalah says several days before the video shoot, at the Mob Figaz's studio, hidden away in an upper-middle-class chunk of Antioch, "it's all about getting money, staying fly, being the coolest dude." Born in 1981 in nearby Pittsburg, the young Tito Alston grew up in el Pueblo Housing Project, notorious for its colorful "hood rich" hustlers, who made small fortunes dealing dope and pimping. It's exactly the sort of "subculture that glorifies swagger over work," according to a March 20 New York Times article and "causes the deepening ruin of black youth." Such preferences likely are also the effect of poor education and few opportunities for low-income inner-city families. Pittsburg may not be your classic inner city, but it's certainly no exurban paradise. An inland port first known as New York Landing, it was rechristened Black Diamond following the 1903 discovery of coal in the hills and received its present name in 1911 to honor the arrival of the steel industry. The low-paying jobs available to unskilled laborers (in chemical and power plants and oil refineries and distribution centers) are ones few would wish to take or even consider safe.

As a teen Husalah rapped in talent shows, but his first love was sports. He played basketball and football and even boxed. His hoop dreams were quashed, however, when he was expelled from Pittsburg High in 10th grade after being caught with crack he intended to sell. Following a brief stint at the alternative Riverside High, where he was again busted with his stash, he was expelled for good and sentenced to a year of house arrest. "I used to sneak out at 10 every night, until 8 in the morning [to sell crack]," he recalls. "That was my shift." By 16, Hus was "heavy into the streets. I didn't care about music no more."

"Then one day I was playing basketball in the gym," he continues. "Jacka, AP9, and RobLo came and got me. They was, like, 'C-Bo at the record store — he want to hear y'all rap.' I was, like, 'I don't care about this shit no more.' I got $4,000 in my pocket. To a young ’un that's big." Fortunately his friends managed to persuade the young Husalah to have his date with destiny.

"We weren't even a group," he says. "We were just the tightest dudes in the area. But C-Bo was fresh off 2Pac's All Eyez on Me [Polygram, 1996], selling 300- or 400,000 units consistently. We went into the studio that day and did 'Ride til We Die.' After that, Bo's, like, 'We fittin' to do an album.' We went on tour, dropped the album [C-Bo's Mob Figaz (Git Paid, 1999)], and sold 140,000."

If the number seems small to platinum-conscious readers, consider that this occurred in the middle of Bay Area rap's long commercial decline, when even an album with a radio hit — such as the Delinquents' Bosses Will Be Bosses (Dank or Die, 1999), featuring "That Man!" — only moved 50,000 units. Or that the stir caused two years ago by Frontline's Who R U? (IMG) was based on sales of 10,000. For an independent debut in the Bay, 140,000 would still be huge. The figure was more than sufficient to establish the Figaz as a force in Bay Area rap.


For a couple of years, Husalah says, "I was, like, 'OK, this is money.' But then Bo went to jail and it got stagnated." The loss of C-Bo's leadership coupled with the Bay's commercial misfortunes slowed the group's momentum. "I fell back into [dope dealing] because it was lucrative," Hus confesses. "I've always been the nigga to wear the flyest kicks, the best fits, the best chick, so I gotta keep that standard going." Work on an attempted follow-up album, Mob Figaz, languished so long that the exasperated Warlock Records would eventually release it unfinished in 2003.

As he returned to the streets, however, Husalah began to develop a spiritual consciousness. E-40's remark on In a Major Way (Jive, 1995) advising the listener to "read Proverbs" in times of stress got Husalah perusing the Bible, and from there he moved to the Koran. It was the Koran that spoke to his struggles and sensibility. "It's all about God first," he says. "It ain't about preaching. It's about knowing what's real." His conversion to Islam led him to wrestle seriously for the first time with the implications of selling crack to his community.

"Allah says you can't be judged for what you weren't aware of," Hus comments. "I thought I was doing right as a youth. That's what all the older people I came up under did to make money. You get dope at hoop or be catching long bombs or sell dope. There's not a lot of opportunity here. But once you become a man, you get aware of what you doing. It's not an excuse now that you're aware of it."

The ambivalence Hus developed toward his primary source of income is documented on Dope, Guns and Religion, which despite its celebration of the hustling lifestyle is threaded with contradictory feelings born of his spiritual awakening: "But at the same time I barely touch packages/ ’Cause I believe pushing poison is for savages/ But then again, this shit got advantages/ How could I live if my pockets is Somalian?" As these lines from "Rainman" illustrate, Husalah has tapped into Bay Area rap's 2Pac-inspired tradition of the "conscious thug," using the dope dealer or pimp persona to articulate the dilemmas faced by black high school dropouts — more of whom, by their late 20s, are incarcerated (34 percent) than employed (30 percent), according to the same New York Times article. But where 2Pac was a conscious rapper who adopted the thug persona, partly from his on-screen success in Juice, partly as a way to get his message across, Husalah is a thug rapper who achieved consciousness, seeking a way out of the dope game even as he remained ensnared by its financial rewards.


Though he scaled back his activities, Husalah was unable to resist what seemed like a quick job for a big payoff in 2001 and arranged to help ferry "a large amount of cocaine" from Chicago to Cali. "That was a decision I made," he explains today. "It wasn't out of ignorance. It was out of a sense of desperation or hopelessness. I felt like I had no other choice."

"Some dude ratted me out; we were being watched the whole time," he continues. "I caught a federal conspiracy charge in Chicago. There was another guy driving the car, but they said I was the one who coordinated, flew him out there to pick something up, to take something around. With the feds, you got to take the charge and do your time. You can't win."

Nonetheless, after posting bail Hus returned to the Bay, hiding out for the next 18 months. "I wasn't really on the run because it was an out-of-state case and they didn't know where I was," he explains. "I'm, like, 'I'm not surrendering until they pick me up.' In the meantime, the grand jury indicted me, and I was snatched up by the task force in Pittsburg.

"I didn't have no criminal record. I'd been to juvenile hall, but this was my first time going to jail and I'm looking at 10 years."

Bailed out again, Hus would spend another three years fighting the case in court before eventually agreeing to plead guilty to possession and intent in exchange for the feds dropping the weightier conspiracy charge. Sentencing him to 53 months in February, the judge granted Husalah a six-month stay to get his musical affairs in order before entering the Federal Correctional Institute in Sheridan, Ore.

"My whole thing now is making music," says Husalah, who, in addition to completing his parts for the upcoming Mob Figaz album, has been hard at work finishing a half dozen projects, including a rock album, The Unusual Suspects; a dancehall disc with Jacka as the Shower Posse; and Harsh Reality, the full-length he was making when his legal woes began. "Plus, I figure I'll still be able to work in there, because in the federal system it's a lot more open. I'm pretty sure I'll have a mini ADAT recorder. There'll be new product." With the group’s business partnership, MobFigaz, LLC, continuing in his absence, Husalah has no fear of losing his musical profits. “I know they’re gonna keep it rockin',” he says. “We gonna make sure our check is in the mail.”

“Husalah is a phenomenal artist,” says Mistah F.A.B., who featured a farewell interview with Hus on the most recent installment of his new WILD 94 show. “He’s very intelligent and his character and charisma leave an impression on people. It’s unfortunate he has to go to jail for his past mistakes, but his stock will rise for doing his time and we’ll be waiting for him when he gets back. It’s going to be a learning experience.”

Husalah, it seems, agrees. “If Allah made me go through what I had to go through, there's a reason. I'm a better person. I learned what not to do. The statistics show it's death or jail for a street nigga, so for me it happened to be jail. I feel like it's a blessing that I'm breathing, I'm healthy."

"When you look at the whole situation, I had a lot of fun," he concludes philosophically. "I rocked a lot of models, rode a lot of rims, dropped a lot of tops, popped a lot of bottles, all that bullshit, so I'm trying to see what I'll evolve into now. I might be heavily religious. I might be into different types of music. Whatever it is, I'm gonna stay a real nigga, keeping this mob shit rocking. I'm gonna lay down and do my time. Then get right back and make money like I never left."



Busta Rhymes -- The Big Bang (Aftermath/Interscope)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian June 28, 2006

It's hard not to compare The Big Bang to E-40's recent My Ghetto Report Card (BME/Warner): Both are "relaunches" of rappers who never really fell off, and have many more albums left in them. But where 40's hookup with Lil Jon seemed like a stroke of brilliance, the teaming of Busta with Dr. Dre has a slight air of corporate reshuffling, like Clive Davis handing Jimmy Iovine the keys and saying, "See what you can do." Trouble is, Dre isn't as interested in Busta as Lil Jon is in 40. Dre produces five tracks, tweaks half a dozen more, and mixes all, yet he feels fairly remote. Of his tracks, only the Missy Elliot feature, "How We Do It Over Here," is single-worthy, though it sounds like Dre biting hyphy, an impression reinforced by Missy's "Pop ya colla like this/Bottles up like this" chant.

If Dre isn't putting up his best, you can be sure everyone else is. The Swizz Beatz–produced single, "Touch It," is old but retains its charms, although the same can't be said for Swizz's vocalizations on the otherwise fine DJ Scratch track, "New York Shit." Probably the two best numbers are J-Dilla's fat, soulful Fender Rhodes groove, "You Can't Hold a Torch," and Timbaland's frenetically minimalist, quasi-African "Get Down," which makes you wonder what kind of album he would cook up if he had Busta at his disposal. As a whole, The Big Bang isn't disappointing, but it doesn't quite live up to expectations.


The Team -- World Premiere (Moedoe/Rex/Koch)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian June 21, 2006

After months of delay, the Team's World Premiere has dropped, not on Universal as expected, but rather on large independent Koch. Whether this label jockeying had anything to do with the disc's belated appearance is unclear, yet the finished product is unquestionably one of the best, if most curiously assembled, albums to emerge under the banner of the hyphy movement.

While not a redo of the Bay Area group's 2004 debut, The Negro League (Moedoe), Premiere nonetheless lifts a pair of tracks, including the ShoNuff-produced hit "It's Getting Hot." The album also raids last year's Team mixtape, Go Music (Siccness.net), for the single "Patron," as well as the star-studded remix of "It's Getting Hot," which amusingly resuscitates MC Hammer. Two other singles from last year, "Just Go" and "Hyphy Juice," round out the familiar material, whereas their current single, the "Hyphy Juice" remix, is nowhere to be found.

All this sounds like a recipe for disaster, the same combination of ill timing and hit recycling that blunted the impact of Keak da Sneak's Kunta Kinte (Moedoe, 2006). Yet amazingly enough, Premiere overcomes its checkered origins and bangs from start to finish. The older material sounds fresh and is even heightened in the context of new tunes like "Top of the World" and "Good Girl," which add an almost psychedelic R&B dimension to the hyphy tonal palette. The innovative qualities of the music make any protest against its lyrical limitations — geared almost exclusively toward the club — beside the point, and the group's lack of gangsta posturing is refreshing in itself.


The Product -- One Hunid (Underground Railroad/Koch)

Album Review by Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian June 14, 2006

A multiregional force composed of Houston legend Scarface, Young Malice of Jackson, Miss., and the Fillmore District's own Will Hen, the Product is one of the more intriguing new groups in hip-hop. One Hunid is that ultimate rarity: a conscious album made by hood rappers for hood consumption, rather than for the backpack circuit. ’Face's list of thug credentials is as long as anyone's — stretching back to the Geto Boys — so his commitment to such a project is of genuine worth; he reaches a vast segment of inner-city youth who are deaf to the more substantial critiques of, say, the Coup.

Perhaps inevitably, the consciousness on One Hunid is limited to a sense of consequences: "I wasn't trying to kill that man; he was in my way/And now I'll never see the light of day," intones Hen, suggesting fear of prison more than a realignment of values. Consciousness is also apparently for men, as little distinguishes the Product's talk of "bitches" from your average thug's. I've been told by rappers who know that this approach is a necessary exercise in spoon-feeding, but it's hard to recall 2Pac songs like "Keep Ya Head Up" and not wonder if there isn't another way.

Ultimately a record stands or falls on musical merit, and One Hunid doesn't disappoint. The rappers have heat — Hen arguably outshines Scarface himself. Oakland producer and longtime ’Face collaborator Tone Capone, who had a hand in the group's development, contributes five modern-day mob tracks, which serve as a useful reminder that there's more to Bay Area rap than just hyphy.