The War Emcee

Messy Marv keeps it gutter

When hyphy broke nationally last year, the burgeoning genre was heralded as, to quote Village Voice rap critic Roque Stew, breaking "macho Apollonian pose" in favor of "a Dionysian authenticity of feeling over some make-believe authenticity to street stoicism." (Translation for those not in a Berkeley post-grad program: Hyphy is dance music that has nothing to do with street shit.)

Convolutions aside, maybe Roque has a point. After all, we are the San Francisco Bay Area, where love, tolerance, and diversity are at a premium.

While that may be a nice picture for some, it's not reality for Fillmore rapper Messy Marv. "I live in a war zone," he says in a phone interview. In fact, Messy is so convinced of this battle-weary state of mind that he refuses to meet up in person, lest he get spotted with a stranger and a tape recorder.

This paranoid, survivalist mentality is front and center on a pair of new discs Messy released this year, Muzik fo Tha Talibanand Da Bidness. The latter is a collaborative effort with local legends Keak Da Sneak and P.S.D. Tha Driva, while the former is a compilation of artists from Messy's own Scalen label.

True, Da Bidness features the club banger "Cus, Cus" as well as production from hyphy architects Rick Rock, Droop-E, and Jake 1, but the lyrics paint a grittier portrait of the bay. Tracks "Reloaded" and "Cool Nigga" are dark, revisiting late-'90s Bay Area mob music themes, and they're unrelentingly raw looks at street life.

"I hope that Da Bidness takes it back to the street edge that we came from," Messy says. "When the late great Mac Dre passed, he didn't get a chance to set everyone straight about the whole hyphy movement. The kids and the media are taking it someplace else. It's up to me, PSD, and Keak to set the standard and let the kids know it ain't just about popping pills."

Da Bidness was originally conceived as a simple partnership between Keak and longtime Mac Dre collaborator PSD. But, after recording the disc last summer in a 36-hour fever-pitch, the duo felt that something was missing.

"It was supposed to be just between me and Keak, the hyphy/cool project, but after we got done, we listened and thought it needed something else," PSD says. "We thought we should bring someone from the city in, and so we called Messy."

As for why they picked Messy, PSD explains, "You got hyphy, you got the rah-rah and dread shaking, but we have to talk about the streets; we have to talk about the down side. There's murders going on, there's drug selling, and raping. We all know about this, but Messy speaks on this so well. He's strictly gutter, but he can also stand up to what Keak and I speak on."

If Da Bidnessflirts with the dark side of the Bay, then Muzik fo Tha Talibanis an unrelenting portrait of a hood at war.

"Muzik fo Tha Talibanwas in no way to disrespect the United States of America," Messy clarifies. "I've been getting a lot of bad reviews because of the title, but I was just trying to paint a picture of our own war within our own community. I was trying to give the people a soundtrack for this war. It's the same thing as in Iraq. We got a war going on over there [in Iraq], but they missing the war that's going on right here."

Whether or not this MO stems from the Dionysian or Apollonian traditions is up for debate, but it could be the much needed dose of reality that hyphy needs.

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