By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
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He's not the only one blazing. Thanks to hyphy, many longtime veterans of the Bay Area scene are finally getting their due. "This hyphy movement, I'm in full support of it," says the Federation's Goldie Gold. "I'm tired of these niggas comin' from out of town, out of country, under they rocks and they shells like hermits, tryna get a piece of this." Fellow group member Doonie Baby notes there's little difference between hyphy and its slower predecessor, mobb music. "It's just more up-tempo. Hyphy is the younger generation. As the years go by, we get wilder and wilder."
Or wiser and wiser, like Too Short, who imparts a wider perspective on the regional phenomenon. "Every inner-city community has something special that only they do. Everywhere in the country, there's this thing that's going on in all the inner-city communities. I think the next generation just has that much more energy. In the Bay Area, it's interpreted as hyphy, in Atlanta, it's interpreted as crunk, you know what I mean? It just goes on and on."
The Bay Area has always been "ahead of the curve and outside the box," says Lyrics Born, but with hyphy, it's been a case of "knocks so universal, they can't be denied" by the music industry powers that be. According to DJ Shadow, hyphy has altered the perception "that the bay can't do it nationwide."
Yet some artists and observers have expressed concern that the Bay Area sound could be narrowly pigeonholed or stereotyped as just one thing, and if everyone jumps aboard the hyphy express, the ever-fickle music industry could move on to the next big thing from somewhere else. The hype on hyphy has gotten so flambostulant (as 40 might say), it threatens to overshadow almost everything else coming from the bay.
At a Commonwealth Club panel discussion a few months ago, F.A.B. explained to a crowd of young, mostly white rap fans and their parents that he was initially known not as a hyphy artist, but a freestyle champion with a predilection for social commentary. He admitted to dumbing down his lyrical content somewhat to appease commercial radio's programming standards the result being that while hyphy anthems like "N.E.W. Oakland" and "Super Sic Wid It" garnered mucho airplay, far more poignant F.A.B. tunes like "If 'If' Was a Fifth" (a song about social idealism based on an old Too Short line) didn't get any radio play at all.
Similarly, Zion-I garnered critical acclaim with its third album, 2005's True & Livin,' but was only added to KMEL/KYLD rotation after commissioning a hyphy remix of its song "The Bay" featuring Turf Talk, F.A.B., and the Team. Meanwhile, another recent track titled "The Bay," by Lyrics Born, had all the makings of a major regional anthem, but was omitted from local "hot urban" station playlists. This paralleled the previous year, when LB's "Callin' Out" went to No. 1 on alt-rock's Live 105, yet received no spins on "the home of hip hop and R&B," KMEL. A recent crop of locally produced albums like the Coup's Pick a Bigger Weapon, T-K.A.S.H.'s Turf War Syndrome, Ise Lyfe's Spread the Word,and Native Guns' Barrel Men have all offered provocative social commentary, intelligent viewpoints, and original-sounding music while eschewing the things hyphy has been criticized for promoting misogyny, drugs, and sideshows however, their airplay has been limited to community stations like KPFA and college stations like KALX and KUSF. KMEL Music Director Big Von Johnson has been one of hyphy's biggest supporters his MySpace page features unreleased songs by local artists like Kaz Kyzah and although he didn't respond to interview requests by press time, in the past, he's said he didn't play other local music because it wasn't up to par.
Conscious rappers like T-K.A.S.H. and the Coup's Boots Riley are both on record as saying they support the hyphy movement K.A.S.H. notes he's often given up-and-coming hyphy artists exposure on his KPFA show, "Friday Night Vibe." To Riley, hyphy music "is talking about get-togethers people have and their fights with the police just to get together." Most of the songs, he says, "are related to sideshows, basically fuck-the-police kinda attitudes. Hopefully, what happens from the commercial exposure, it'll entrench it."
For all its commercial viability, hyphy, unlike, say, neo-soul, isn't a marketing term created in an executive suite. It comes from the streets and therefore owes its allegiance not to corporate radio and national media outlets, but to the blocks, the corners, the avenues, and the intersections from whence it sprang. Moreover, while hyphy might appear to have faddish aspects that could cause it to quickly fade from the pop-cultural radar, people were saying the same thing about hip hop 25 years ago; thus far, hyphy has already proven to have longer legs than many expected, and that may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Scratch the surface a bit, says Breakdown FM/KPFA radio personality Davey-D, and you'll see another side to hyphy, which speaks to the depth of its generational relevance. "What we're not acknowledging is many of these people defining themselves as hyphy are offsprings of people coming out of the whole crack-war era," he explains. "They fell through the cracks in the system, in terms of how the system was supposed to treat them. ... Here they have their hyphy thing, the soundtrack to something that already existed. That's really the best way to look at it."