OG icon B-Legit reflects on pre-hyphy rap

Few artists can say they've recorded with Mac Dre and Daryl Hall. In fact, B-Legit might be the only person who can make that claim. "Daryl Hall, he's really a soulful dude," says the Vallejo rap legend, who teamed with the Hall & Oates singer for "Ghetto Smile," a single and video from his classic 1996 album The Hemp Museum. Five years later, he collaborated with the late Bay Area icon Mac Dre for "G.A.M.E.," a song just now seeing the light of day on B-La's new album, Throwblock Musik.

As its title suggests, the album is largely a return to the pre-hyphy sound of the bay (once called mobb music). Legit doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel; he just keeps riding, as befits a rapper who has attained OG status. The album's mostly midtempo beats highlight B-La's plain-spoken, yet surprisingly nimble delivery; deadpan descriptions of what happens to snitches are balanced with references to "sticky icky gooey."

"My last album [2004's Block Movement] had dropped before the hyphy movement began," B-La explains over the phone from Dallas, where he's just done a show with SwishaHouse's Michael "5000" Watts and Texas rap star Lil Keke. While hyphy took the bay by storm, he says, "I don't know if the industry embraced it" as much.

The man known as "The Savage" notes he's always had a sizeable Southern fan base, dating back to the late '80s, when his family-oriented group the Click (consisting of B-La and his cousins E-40, Suga-T, and D-Shot) sold hundreds of thousands of units independently.

To Legit, Southern rap "is nothing but bay music with a little bit more hi-hat." He should know; in 1997, he and E-40 put out Southwest Riders on their Sick Wid It label. The compilation, which featured Bay Area artists such as Celly Cel and Richie Rich, along with Dirty South artists Mystikal, UGK, and 8Ball and MJG, preceded the rise of crunk by a good two or three years.

As a veteran artist, B-La has seen rappers come and go. "A lot of people don't have that longevity," he says. Historically, "Bay Area artists were never known for one style," he says, pointing to Hieroglyphics, the Luniz, and Too $hort as examples of regional diversity. His rap style — thoroughly gangsta, yet quite soulful — is a direct reflection of his environment: "When you got ghettos, you got game. It's all based upon your survival tactic."

B-La remembers black communities in Vallejo transitioning from single-family-owned homes to Section 8 housing — which coincided with the influx of crack cocaine and the closure of the Mare Island naval base — and affecting the city's economy. "The cocaine trade hit California in the mid-'80s, which turned into street hustling," he says; after the naval base closed, Vallejo "wasn't the same."

To B-La, rap has always been message music. Back in the day, he says, "You would get more out of a song than just how to do a dance." Rather than make an overly commercial album, he put together Throwblock Musik to pacify those who were clamoring for something along the lines of The Hemp Museum. "They ask me, 'Man, can I get some classics?'" he adds.

To lock in that old-school flavor, B-La says he incorporated "lyrics I had done back in the gap and just added new production." The results are just as gratifying to his longtime fans as they are to the artist himself. Anyone can make an album aimed at the clubs and the radio; Throwblock Musik is something to lie back and vibe to.

 
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