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)


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Admin said...

Yeah, we gotta get one of those link lists going. Thanks for coming by, and looking forward to visiting your site frequently. Dig the track lists!