When you think of Bay Area hip-hop, San Francisco isn’t always top of mind. Too $hort, E-40, and their Oakland and Vallejo progeny tend to dominate the conversation.
San Francisco native Stunnaman02, who released his latest album, I Gotta Feel It, in January, is on a mission to change that. The city’s rap scene is “undervalued and underrated,” he says. “I definitely give kudos to the East Bay and Oakland for holding their own, but I feel like the rap scene in San Francisco — not only has it always been prominent, but right now it’s on fire.”
I Gotta Feel It, a collaboration with the aptly named San Francisco producer, QuakeBeatz, is without question a product of the city (the album cover features the 22 bus). But it also shows glimmers of Stunna’s mainstream appeal. Here’s a young rapper who never mumbles or whines, whose all about bravado but still pokes fun at himself, and cares about social justice. Positivity, confidence, partying, reflection: all things we could use more of in 2021.
While his latest record is a bit over-sexed, thematically speaking, Stunna will have plenty of opportunities to diversify his output. After a long, bleak 2020, the rapper promises to release a major project “every two months” of 2021, including collaborations with local stalwarts Professa Gabel and DrewBanga.
If the scene is on fire, Stunna, a.k.a. Jordan Gomes, is intent on fanning the flames. His album’s lead track, “Heat Up,” is a bouncy hype song that clearly announces his intentions: “I think it’s ’bout time for me to heat up.” And whether anyone can stop him: “I just took a break and boy you still can’t keep up.”
It’s followed by “Buzzin,” the hardest, slickest song on the album. Quake’s cosmic beat adds some gravity to the act of turning up. If they threw this track on Spotify’s Rap Caviar or Apple Music’s Rap Life, it would fit right in.
Some of Stunna’s most memorable rhymes combine unique Bay Area references with his sexcapades. “Gettin head in the Kabuki I can’t even watch the movie / I’m in Seattle making hits call me Ichiro Suzuki,” he raps on “Chimmy Wit It,” a meditation on stinginess with Gunna Goes Global. Or, “All I’m thinking ’bout is introduce her to the semen / She stay by Wingstop in that Westlake region,” providing a rare Daly City shoutout on “Slidin’ Down Central.”
You might get bored of Stunna’s dick swinging, but never his delivery. Stunna dances on top of Quake’s beats, in perfect command of his flow and his sound. You can hear echoes of Pusha T’s exacting enunciation and Denzel Curry’s timing in his bars. There are moments when Stunna’s own exuberance and passion become too much for him to handle, and his verses crescendo into yelling. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
No matter his vocal register, the man’s a cunning linguist, rolling his R’s, ad libbing in funny voices, and just generally enjoying the English language — in addition to women and substances, of course. Not a lot of rappers today would name a track, “Fun,” and yet Stunna goes there.
Energy and presence are a big part of what sets Stunna apart from the crowd. He mines his confidence from his role in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, where he played a fictionalized version of himself. “It was a great experience” Stunna says of being on set with stars like Jonathan Majors and Jimmy Fails. “It just taught me like, damn, I can really do entertainment,” adding, “All the great rappers act.”
And like a good actor, Stunna shows some versatility on I Gotta Feel It. The aforementioned “Slidin’ Down Central” channels Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day,” recounting slices of life in the city over a smooth, laid-back beat that blends gauzy synth swells and plunky piano with a G-funk whistle. The mood is similar to Stunna’s most complete song, “Out That Window” from 2019, although “Central” has more interesting storytelling.
The Central to which the song refers is Central Ave. in San Francisco, “one of the few blocks in the Fillmore that is not projects, so these are all houses and a lot of it was Black-owned,” Stunna says. He knows one Black family that still lives there, but otherwise, “It’s like the majority of the city: culturally gutted from gentrification.”
Stunna and producer QuakeBeatz explore these themes and more in the final track. (“People don’t know, Quake can rap, engineer, shoot music videos, and produce. So it’s a full package,” Stunna says.) “F**k the Other Side” is a deep and painful call for racial justice. Quake’s uncredited feature, which leads off the song, was directly inspired by the murder of George Floyd.
Quake references the Iran-Contra scandal, and other dark historical moments, rapping, “CIA gave us coke, we invested / They came back around, we got arrested / They used to rip a man in half with two horses fast forward 400 years it’s called Corrections.” A sample from a Malcolm X speech follows, separating Quake’s verse from Stunna’s, although the latter maintains the intensity. Quoting snippets from his verse — which discusses cultural appropriation, activism, and rage, among other ideas — wouldn’t do it justice.
Fortunately for listeners, Stunna has a lot more to say. “I got so much music from 2020. And I’m just like, man, there’s no point in holding on to this music,” he says. “Right now, I’m formulating all of these projects that I have, and I’m just gonna put them out until I feel like I made the impact that I want.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the sample in “F**k the Other Side” as a Martin Luther King speech. The sample came from a Malcolm X speech.