Insurgent Hip-Hop: Kreayshawn, Lil B, and Bay Area Rappers Throw Out the Rules

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Illustration and Animation by Andrew J. Nilsen

Adam Giacomini remembers the very first time he heard Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci." Giacomini, known to listeners of Bay Area radio station KMEL as DJ Amen, was eating lunch one day this spring with a local hip-hop manager at Original Buffalo Wings on Lombard Street in San Francisco. The manager, who goes by Stretch, cued up the song on his iPhone. Even through tiny speakers, the marauding beat and Kreayshawn's impetuous yapping about fashion-obsessed bitches and Barbies who work at Arby's struck a decisive blow.

"I was just like, 'What the hell is this?'" Giacomini remembers. He laughs, recalling the song's most memorable line: "I got the swag and it's pumping out my ovaries."

KMEL soon added Kreayshawn — a virtually unknown white female rapper from Oakland — to its annual Freshman 10 list of promising local artists. (She was the "wild card" 11th.) In May, the equally perplexing video for "Gucci Gucci" — white girls in thrift-store bling passing blunts with black boys — racked up more than two million YouTube views in two weeks. Shortly thereafter, Kreayshawn became the latest Bay Area rapper to join a major-label roster, signing a deal with Columbia Records reportedly worth more than $1 million. With the ensuing orgy of exposure, millions more would soon hear "Gucci Gucci" and face that same confusion Amen did.

"She had something that was so different that people were either going to love it and accept it, and look at it as the next hippest thing to come out of the Bay," Amen says, "or it was just going to be too wild and out there and they wouldn't understand."

Kreayshawn upends much that is expected about hip-hop. She's white. She's female. She raps about bisexual encounters. Her visual style comes off more hipster pixie than ghetto queen.

Her crew, the White Girl Mob, is also bewildering: Group DJ Lil Debbie's narrow body, bobbed hair, and pale countenance so closely resemble Kreayshawn's that the two were confused for each other before they met. Their looks clash with the fact that they talk and behave like rappers raised around the rough parts of Oakland. Third member V-Nasty has even sparked controversy over her unrepentant use of the word "nigga." She and Kreayshawn (who doesn't use the word) explain that in the neighborhoods where they were raised, it was used casually, without regard for the skin color of the person on the receiving end. Many blacks and whites who know her agree. But others, especially outsiders, are enraged at what they see as a white girl tossing around a cutting slur with a painful history.

Kreayshawn's innate shock value — her seeming visual and sociological contradiction, and the freedom it implies — is key to her appeal. Along with Berkeley rap provocateur Lil B, she's at the center of a new hip-hop generation that pairs reckless creativity with online mythmaking and ignores the old rules about who you should be, what you should wear, and what you can become. But as with the last generation of Bay Area rappers to flirt with national fame — the hyphy movement — it's not clear that the outside world is ready.


To understand the hip-hop exemplified by Kreayshawn, Lil B, and the L.A. collective Odd Future, you must understand "swag" — that stuff Kreayshawn says is coming out of her ovaries. Track after track, swag emanates from the mouths of these emcees, most of whom are barely out of their teens. Hashtagged, it punctuates fans' tweets. Chanted, it booms from the throngs at live shows. Swag is a boast, a confirmation, and a commendation; it is usually a noun or verb, although it works as a modifier, too. Technically short for "swagger," the precise meaning of the word seems to elude even those who use it regularly, but what can be said is this: Swag today often refers to an attitude, a poise — one that allows for the joyful havoc wrought by hip-hop-making kids in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

Originally, the term referred to trappings of hip-hop masculinity — status symbols like cars, jewelry, and clothing. So-called swag rappers such as Jay-Z and Lil Wayne bragged about what they got and how they got it. But for a younger generation, swag took on a broader meaning. Raised in the Internet age, these kids feel free to appropriate fashion, language, music, and attitudes stripped of historical and cultural contexts. The materials they used to construct self-images no longer had to be colored gold or chrome or gangsta. Swag evolved into an encouragement of this freedom. Like a Tumblr blog in which each photo, scrap of text, or embedded video is posted without context, contributing a single point to the overall aesthetic, the swag life encourages you to take cultural artifacts that speak to you — be they punk rock or crunk rap, secondhand sweaters or designer shoes — and fit them like novel bricks into the multicolored wall of your own image. Swag is about attitude and originality: Even though "Gucci Gucci" might seem to attack high-fashion labels like Louis Vuitton, Kreayshawn — who owns some Louis herself — says she's just against wearing them like everybody else does.

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20 comments
John
John

To everybody hating on Lil B and Kreayshawn please STOP. Lil B has a plethora of deep songs and videos on Youtube. However, his ignorant parody songs like "Pretty Boy" and "Wonton Soup" get millions of views while his serious well-put together songs and videos get well under 500K views. Who is the real idiot here? This is because the public eats up ignorance. Listen to Lil B's "Age of Information", "The Trap", "Motivation", "Walk the World", "Myspace", "The World is Ending", "Exhibit Based" and "The Growth". That is only a small sample. All of these songs display a deep message and or complex lyricism. If Lil B is trash, then why do J Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Jay Electronica and Cormega co-sign him? Lil B is one of the best rappers to come out the Bay in years. If anybody has a right to say that, it's me. I grew up in Lakeview in SF on Randolph Street looking up to Bay Area rap legends like Cougnut and Cellski.

Ramona Fuller
Ramona Fuller

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Denbaronita2
Denbaronita2

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Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, pluscent.com

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

i cant believe this!! me and my sister just got two i-pads for $42.77 each and a $50 amazon card for $9. the stores want to keep this a secret and they dont tell you.go here, pluscent.com

Emma Pope
Emma Pope

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Hip Hop Jewelry Store
Hip Hop Jewelry Store

Hip hop trend has become most popular trend in today’s world and growing highly over past decades which has led hip hop diamond jewelry as the most popular jewelry in people.

Druciferschild
Druciferschild

Well, they all suck. That's the bottom line. I think enough people have mentioned how much all of these TALENTLESS people are invading the already stupid ass RAP syndicate of the bay area. Let's just clarify that reeeeeal quick. THIS SHIT IS RAP, NOT HIP HOP and it also sucks.

onenine
onenine

These SF weekly articles on Bay Area Hip Hop are just as bad as the gimmick artists (Lil B, Kreayshawn) they are "promoting". Aren't these writers supposed to offer up their own opinions instead of calling any song with 2 million Youtube hits dope. Can we please get some articles on Bay Area artists who actually have real talent?

Walter White
Walter White

What the fuck? Why would you group actual talented rappers like Mistah FAB, Roach Gigz, or Odd Future with goofy novelty acts like Kreayshawn or Lil B?

Thatisoutstanding
Thatisoutstanding

Here's another hip term SF Weekly should get familiar with: "D-Rider"

I have no hate at all for these new artists getting their shine on, the problem is the society that supports them. Is the state of our current youth really this jaded? I can't believe i'm talking like this.

Amousai
Amousai

Why does same/lame individual bash SF Weekly, weekly?

Love the blow-up*cover

Kray
Kray

This article is so biased there's no way to take it seriously...

Alltherage
Alltherage

Bay Area Rappers need to stop with the SWAG SWAG stuff....That will come. Give us complete albums. Something that I will knock in the car AND listen to on my headphones and just stare into space.

ABc
ABc

Sf weekly is desperate to latch on to this trend... Honestly the quality is absolute shit an makes this publication look ridiculous

SELLASSIE
SELLASSIE

For the people reading this article upset by the unbalanced perspective presented regarding Bay Hip Hop, you shouldn't be surprised. When is the last time you heard an anti-drug-in-the-community song on corporate radio backed by print. When is the last time you heard a song dealing with our unjust wars that are still going on? When is the last time you heard any hip hop pioneers on corporate radio in rotation? I'll tell you when.. Never. My point is, there has to be a balance. I believe there is room for everyone in the game, but a balanced perspective when it comes to bay area hip hop is rarely seen, read or heard. I'm in the streets, not industry and real BLACK PEOPLE, not "niggas," have serious issues with our culture, our music and our images being pimped out to the highest bidder. But I was always taught, "they'll always be a new "nigga" next year, and it isn't anything to give a "nigga" some money." But there are some of us in this Bay Area Hip Hop game, til our last dying breath, no matter what the cost, will not give the agenda-setters the satisfaction of ruining the world with Sambo-inspired personalities and music. If you don't know who Sambo is, read Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and study the personality which will reveal the Sambo we walk amongst today and represents so many misguided individuals. I'm Sellassie, the Bay Area's Number 1 Anti-House-Negro Emcee and when it comes to the truth and representing the people, you can count on me. Respectfully, Sellassie of M.Y.G.H.E.T.T.O. (Mad Young Generation Here Eternally To Take Over) and we don't sell out.

Dk
Dk

What doea all this have to do with music?

 

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