Major-Label Misfit: Mistah F.A.B.

Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. would be the first to admit there's a problem when it comes to rap music: If you're identified with the streets, you're not supposed to be lyrical; and if you're lyrical, how “street” can you really be? Nevertheless, he says, “I'm not a gangsta. I'm a stand-up guy. But that allows me to go anywhere.”

Since releasing his first album, Nig-Latin, in 2002, F.A.B. has rocked shows in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Europe. He earned props in New York by battling Detroit's Royce Da 5'9″. He recently performed in Montana — where, he says, wide-eyed youth are just starting to get hip to hyphy culture. And he's become perhaps the most ubiquitous figure in Bay Area hip-hop since E-40 and Too $hort.

If you ask F.A.B. to run down a list of folks with whom he's collaborated, be prepared to pull up a chair. Kevin Bacon, eat your heart out: F.A.B.'s six degrees of separation connect Too $hort, E-40, Lyrics Born, Clyde Carson, Dem Hoodstarz, Equipto, Jennifer Johns, Andre Nickatina, DJ Shadow, Mac Dre, Guce, Messy Marv, Turf Talk, Q-Bert, Esinchill, Casual, Father Dom, Bavgate, Martin Luther, the Pack, the Grouch, Zion-I. … “And the list goes on,” he says.

Baydestrians everywhere are still waiting for F.A.B.'s major-label debut, Da Yellow Bus Rydah. Originally slated for last year, it has yet to get a release date by Atlantic. F.A.B. isn't mad at the label (to which he's still contracted), but wonders aloud why it couldn't have run with a song he recorded with Snoop Dogg.

Yet F.A.B. hasn't stopped recording. “I could put out three albums right now,” he reckons, not including the one he just dropped for Thizz/Faeva Afta: Thizz Nation #18, a team-up with one of his boyhood rap heroes, G-Stack of the Delinquents. “Growing up in Oakland, that's all you heard. If you was in Oakland and you wasn't playing Delinquents, people would question your townism.”

Thizz Nation #18 is indeed town business. F.A.B. describes the album as a “mixtape with original beats”; its slower tempos favor the streets over clubs and radio. Songs like “Thizz or Die” and “Bay Boy” cater to the yellow bus contingent, yet there's plenty of lyrical substance. On “I Will Not Lose,” F.A.B. maintains, “I'm-a stay independent/I don't need no deal,” while on “So So,” he addresses rumors: “I heard that I can't come to the 'hood/ Know where I heard that? I was right in the 'hood.”

Major-label status notwithstanding, F.A.B. says, “It's just about establishing a fan base, going out and getting fans and just going everywhere. It's like a political presidential campaign, where you have to go out and shake hands, from the 'hood to the 'burbs, wherever they may be.”

In any event, it's far too early in the race to count F.A.B. out.

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