Come Gurp With Me

We hit the streets with one of the city's most eccentric rappers to find out if any S.F. natives know what a "Larry Dog" is

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he talks.

When San Francisco rapper Z Man – first name Zamon, last name Christmas Tree (or so he insists) – waxes eloquent about "gurping" and his "rellies," he is speaking in a tongue native to his hometown, a slang distinct to this region and, in particular, this region's hip hop community. So you should probably be able to understand him, right? Or are you some kind of Larry Dog?

Z Man grew up in the Fillmore District, a neighborhood with a long tradition of black music, from jazz to soul to hip hop. This month sees the release of his debut LP, Dope or Dog Food, on Oakland's celebrated Hieroglyphics record label, home to Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Souls of Mischief, among others. On Dope or Dog Food, Z Man spins tales of love, lust, and hemp-fueled hijinks. The upbeat party record is full of singsong choruses and catchy hooks, and it showcases not only Z Man's addictive beats but also his somewhat offbeat lyrical prowess. Unlike some of his SAT-acing peers, this MC prefers side-splitting comedy to flexing his lexicon; where others talk like Dr. Spock, this guy rhymes like Dr. Seuss.

Nevertheless, thanks to his street-wise origins and endless talent, Z Man is embraced by both the esoteric hip hop community as well as its gangsta-rapping antonym – despite the fact that his lyrical style resembles neither. In fact, those not versed in that style may need help deciphering Z Man's code. So we took to the streets – Fillmore Street to be exact – in the hopes of educating our fellow San Franciscans, and to find out if this MC's unique slang has crept into anyone's vernacular.

Mainey adj. wondrous, spectacular, or, conversely, grotesque, disturbing (depending on inflection); "Our slang is mainey, you got to respect it," from "Historical Moments."

Location: Zinc Details, furniture store. Subject: Vasilio, store employee.

Z Man: Do you know what "mainey" means?

Vasilio: Like crazy?

Z Man: Yeah!

Vasilio: Like "mania"? Is that an adjective? You say, like, "He's mainey"?

Z Man: Yeah. Like you've never seen these rings before [points to fancy rings on the counter]. They're mainey – that's not a bad thing.

Vasilio: Is it like, "That's the bomb"?

Z Man: Sure, sure. It just depends on how you say it.

Orreee (ur-ee) interj. a greeting; something to get the attention of someone you know; "Orreee, that's my rellie, rolling in the Chevy with his homegirl Becky," from "Buckle Up."

Location: New Chicago Barber Shop. Subject: Charles, owner.

Z Man: Are you familiar with the term "orreee"?

Charles: "Orreee"?

Z Man: Is that something you hear in the street?

Charles: No.

Z Man: Well, let's say you know this cat right here and he doesn't see you but you yell to him, "Orreee," and he'll turn around because you all know what that means.

Charles: All right.

Z Man: It's a greeting.

Charles: OK.

Z Man: You don't have to say, "Hey," you don't have to say, "Hey you," or "Come here." You say, "Orreee!"

Z Man's dreadlocks hang down his back and a mischievous twinkle appears in his big brown eyes. He apologizes for still being high from the pot brownie he ate last night, then he flashes a warm smile and begins recounting his childhood over a cup of tea.

As a kid, Z Man was influenced by the culture his neighborhood was nurturing in the '70s and '80s. "I grew up into music," he says. "I stayed in Double Rock [a housing project], in the Fillmore, growing up hearing funk, jazz, and soul – a whole lot of soul – occasionally rock 'n' roll."

Inspired by local artists like Too $hort, he started freestyling in junior high and took it to the next level in high school, writing and recording rhymes with his brother King Maz, his cousin Slim Goodworth, and a group of friends. In 1989, his family moved out to Pacifica and he attended Westmore High School in Daly City, where he practiced his raps and also took to hand-painting clothes and selling them, as well as doing murals for local businesses. "When the crack didn't run no more, I had to start painting," he explains, only half joking. "It was rough for a minute. It was real rough till I moved out of the city to Pacifica. It was good for us. Or me and my brother would have ended up ... not even here for this interview."

Sucker Freen. San Francisco; "We're in Sucker Free/ Sippin' on Cisco/ Chillin' in Frisco/ Yeah, Sucker Free," from "Sucker Free."

Location: Mrs. Dewson's Hats. Subject: Mrs. Dewson, owner (and sometimes purveyor of hats to former Mayor Willie Brown).

Z Man: Can we ask you about some slang?

Mrs. Dewson: You know, I'm an old woman. I don't know any slang. I'm from the old school. I can't understand what [the kids are] saying. It's foreign to me.

Z Man: Yeah, but you hear them talking.

Mrs. Dewson: Yeah, I hear it all the time.

SF Weekly: Have you heard "Sucker Free"?

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