The Future of Hyphy?

The Federation and Turk Talk survive major-label incompetence

Some say that this thing of ours, this hyphy music, is dead. The national hip-hop community never really accepted us, pop audiences never understood us, and politicians lambasted our influence (god forbid suburbanites ghostride their SUVs). Even within the Bay, naysayers run rampant. Mobb Music O.G.'s ridicule the youngsters for getting that gwap without representing the streets, while the local press declares that the dream is over. The main reason cited for hyphy's demise, though, is major-label abandonment.

Of course, none of this really matters. The recording industry is in such a state of disarray that a major-label deal is no longer a golden ticket in any genre. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in the case of the long-delayed, much-ballyhooed sophomore discs from the Federation and Turk Talk.

After the regional success of the 2004 single "Hyphy," and the Bay's subsequent ascendance following the success of E-40's My Ghetto Report Card (which featured three guest appearances by Federation MCs), the Federation was the subject of an intense bidding war. The Fairfield trio ended up in the Warner Bros. camp, and the group's treatment is a textbook case of how not to handle a rap act.

The newly re-energized group struck quickly in the summer of 2006 with "18 Dummy." With a pulverizing, napalm bass and centipede synths, "Dummy" perfectly encapsulated hyphy's pure euphoric drive. Warner's response was a complete lack of promotion. Despite that, the single received a modicum of airplay and garnered a critical buzz. The follow-up, "Stunna Glasses at Night," flipped Cory Hart's deliciously bad '80s synth pop anthem and featured a guest spot by 40 Water. But instead of capitalizing off the buzz, Warner abandoned its original fall 2006 release date and opted to unceremoniously release the album this July. With no real single and little buzz beyond its die-hard base, the upcoming Federation disc feels like a write-off for the label. Still, it's a great album — aside from "Dummy" and "Only Wear My White Teez Once" (refashioned as "Whitee"), the whirling "Git Naked You Beezy" and the smooth bombast of "My Rims" shine — but its release is anti- climactic, and it does not include mixtape hits "Stunna Glasses" and "Transformers."

Another potential classic that has been delayed and deformed is Turf Talk's West Coast Vaccine. Vallejo's Turf Talk had every advantage. He's E-40's little cousin, and it was rumored that Vaccine would be released in 2006 on Lil Jon's BME imprint. When it became apparent that Lil Jon wouldn't be directly involved, Turf decided to opt for 40 Water's Sic Wid It imprint.

But Vaccine was worth the wait. The album, released June 5, is gleefully schizophrenic, kicking off with a dirty soul groove on "The Intro," before pivoting and settling into the spare electro of E-A-Ski's "Super Star." Farting synth bubbles punctuate the austere violins of "I Got Chips," while "Sic Wid It Is the Crew" flips "Fresh Is the Word" from pioneering New York City electro crew Mantronix.

Turf Talk moves through the proceedings tore up from the floor up. Hints of violence and ghetto realism hover at the margins (he identifies himself as "hood al Qaeda" on "Holla at You," and "Stop Snitchin'" is the usual anti-rat rant), but for the most part Turf sees bleary, chemical-induced euphoria as the pinnacle of existence. As he confides over the opiate electro psych of "X," "We're just a bunch of thugs / and we're all on drugs."

But, really, Turf's confessions of lost sobriety are beside the point. As an MC, he privileges style over substance, and his flow is his instrument. He spends the album's 21 tracks whispering, hissing, rapping, and mumbling his lyrics, and his mercurial, combustible delivery finds the sweet spot between E-40's vocal gymnastics and Keak's raspy menace.

The ultimate lesson here is that these two near-classic albums were released despite the disruption of the dying record company hegemony. Of course, everyone wants to see our favorite rappers prosper, but the scene doesn't need corporate dollars to maintain its vitality. As long as the culture is vibrant (which it is) and the music is great, then fuck the world.

 
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