It’s a Saturday night on a Long Beach strip and the patrons are weirdly diverse. Not in a “let’s-party-in-solidarity” way, but in an “everyone-looks-the-same-with-beer-goggles” way. A group of stacked Polynesian women in Deréon clink drinks in bon voyage celebration and a forty-something interracial couple grinds offbeat in attempt to use hip hop as a reason to grope each other in public. Ironed-up, button-down Black men mingle with the sagged-out, ragtag others waiting for the right song, more discerning about their musical tastes than the rest of the inebriated crowd. A lone man resembling an overweight Steve-Urkel-on-antipsychotic-meds stalks unsuspecting women and awkwardly attempts to attach himself to their rhythmic backside. When they eye his socks-with-sandals get-up and push him aside, he freaks out and begs why. The night is definitely bizarre.
Then the set changes, as DJ Phatrick spins back-to-back hyphy hits in homage to the people, including myself, who are visiting from the Bay. He starts with E-40 “Candy”, then speeds along to Mistah F.A.B. “Super Sic Wit It”, and cuts in Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle”. Despite the incongruity of the crowd, everyone seems to enjoy the music in an attempt to “go dumb”. The dance floor gets packed with writhing bodies that, to a Bay local, looks like “When Hyphy Goes Wrong”: the collar-popping is erratic, pseudo dread-shaking is remarkably unenthused, and the thizz faces, too pretty to get the late Mac Dre’s respect. But hey, at least they tried.
2006 spawned the Year of the Hyphy, where the Bay Area rap scene thrust itself back into the vision of mainstream after a long musical drought. Hyphy, a term popularized by artist Keak Da Sneak, literally means to act exuberantly in a fashion of controlled-chaos. It is a lifestyle, many locals insist, that became a response to the neglect of pop culture towards this region. A freak-show of urban life, the characteristics of this budding culture include vehicular acrobatics (sideshows), the blatant promotion of party drugs (thizz), and a sublime irreverence to personal space when enjoying the corresponding music (going dumb).
This hyphy-ness requires absolute participation – one that has regional implications of acceptance. Southern California is with us, hungry for a West Coast comeback worthy of the times when Death Row Records reigned supreme. The Pacific Northwest is with us; the topography and demographic of places such as Seattle is very similar to San Francisco. And for the most part, the Dirty South is with us, weaned off of Too $hort’s “dope fiend” beats and E-40’s warbled flow from an early age. The rest of nation, however, is still in the dark about this outrageous phenomenon. Most brush it off as a passing phase. And many artists in the Bay are still hesitant to align themselves with this label.
After E-40 dropped the hyphy hit “Tell Me When To Go”, people predicted that it would be the messiah of anthems to bring back the Bay Area. Then silence. Local artists such as The Team, FAB, and Keak kept 106.1 KMEL lit, but not much else. Because most of the artists on the hyphy train were independent, spins were limited and distribution minimal. A couple of crudely made videos here and there and a co-sign from Lil’ Jon weren’t nearly enough for people to understand.
The previously-mentioned regions kept the hit in heavy rotation, underdog supporting the underdog. New York, however, wouldn’t touch the records with a ten-foot pole. Anytime an E-40 cameo was up for spins in the Big Apple, the verse would be cut before Mr. Flamboyant could even utter a word. E-40 embodied hyphy, and if you didn’t like 40, then hyphy wasn’t for you, or so most East Coasters concluded. But considering the fact that New York is suffering from their own musical drought, it’s naïve to think that they would be so welcoming to this foreign concept of hyphy. Their priorities, and media pull, were reserved for their own artists such as Dipset, Papoose, Remy Ma, and Busta Rhymes.
Enter 2007, the aftermath of hyphy. Although it got the attention the Bay needed to spark the flame – artists such as The Pack, Mistah F.A.B., the A’s, and Team’s Clyde Carson owe their new record deals to this movement – others are still trying to provide an alternative. Mob Figaz, the Bay Area’s biggest selling independent group, is sticking to their formula of dope rap and hustler lifestyle. The pioneers of San Francisco mob music, (early 90s rap) such San Quinn, Messy Marv, and the generation following (Bailey, Big Rich, Ya Boy, and J. DaVinci) are pushing into 2007 with their traditional rap style, eager to dispel the limitations of hyphy and the display of their universal gangsta appeal. Although the 2006 phenomenon was an open invitation to join the new cultural renaissance of the Bay, the bottom line was: if you never even made it to see high-school East Bay youth shake their dreads in frenzied unison, car enthusiasts opening their doors at the stoplight and careening in circles, tricked out yellow school busses, or a rainbow of thizz faces with gold grills, you probably would never understand. With a slew of upcoming releases from a smarter and more observant bunch of artists with universal appeal in mind, 2007 is looking to be a less in-your-face, and more acquired-taste approach when it comes the continuation of Bay Area music.