Can new Bay Area rappers step out of hyphy's shadow?

In 2006, when E-40's "Tell Me When to Go" was focusing the nation's attention on the Bay Area's hyphy scene, Roach Gigz was in his final year at Leadership High School in San Francisco. He spent his time there "making little mixtape songs off of other peoples' beats." One of those tracks, "I Get It," created with his friend Lil 4-Tay (the daughter of Rappin' 4-Tay), caught on locally. But as Gigz became more serious about his craft, mainstream interest waned after hyphy artists like Keak Da Sneak and Mistah FAB failed to score national radio hits. Now the 22-year-old M.C. is at the forefront of a new generation of Bay Area talent out to ensure that hyphy's deferred dream becomes their reality.

The group's first step is the 19-track Thizz City compilation. Released earlier this month on Fillmore District veteran Messy Marv's label of the same name, it pools more than 20 youthful Bay Area rappers with the intention of helping boost their profiles. "Thizz City's sole purpose is to discover and develop the next stars of San Francisco," says former RBL Posse affiliate T.C., who executive-produced the project.

Alongside Gigz, who earlier this year was tipped by the radio station KMEL as one of 10 up-and-coming Bay Area rappers to watch out for, the release introduces Pac B, Buchanan, Killa Keise, Cam City, and the Hustle Boys. To the artists on the compilation, Gigz adds fellow KMEL freshmen Jay Ant, DB the General, and Su as members of the Bay's new scene.

As a group of artists, they're ready to learn from hyphy's brief spell in the spotlight. "I think the attention it got was good in the sense that the nation's eyes were all on us," Gigz reasons, "but then the culture got misrepresented to the outside world and hyphy became taken as a joke." Attracted by the subculture's bright trappings and laid-back attitude, mainstream listeners suddenly assumed that all Bay Area rappers were preoccupied with ghost-ridin' cars and speaking slang like "going dumb." It left local artists stuck between jumping on the bandwagon and being ignored.

It's a benefit, then, that the rappers of Gigz' generation are unified not by allegiance to a common subgenre or sound, but by simply being young, Internet-era rappers from the Bay Area. In musical and marketing terms, they have broad potential: Jay Ant is a skateboard kid known to dabble in alt-rock influences; Killa Keise sticks to street-oriented tales over eerie backdrops; Gigz is buoyant and cocky and spits arrogant boasts over beats that slap and wobble. Their disparate styles means they're unlikely to find themselves stereotyped together.

Their major issue is attempting to establish careers in an era where the markers for success are still unclear. In 2006, physical CD sales had begun to decline, but selling units was still the major objective for hyphy's talismanic trio of E-40, Keak Da Sneak, and Mistah F.A.B. "When they came up, there was already a format to follow," Gigz says. "They had the independent hustle down — they would press up and release CDs. But now everyone's still figuring out how to make a career in this Internet age."

Gigz admits he doesn't have the answer to monetizing music on the web — but then no one seems to. He's open to traditional strategies like Thizz City, while embracing online opportunities. He says he's "never seen as much attention" as when he put his videos online, and is enthusiastic about Twitter's connectivity: Anyone who tweets about his Roachy Balboa mixtape will receive a direct message with a link to download it for free. They're humble moves, but having seen the way the mainstream shone a brief light on the hyphy scene only to move on abruptly, Gigz is adamant they're the right ones. "If I continue to make dope music and push hard," he says, "I think everything else will fall into place."

 
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