If you don't know about the Filthy ’Moe
It's time I let real game unfold....
Messy Marv, "True to the Game"
I meet Big Rich on the corner of Laguna and Grove streets, near the heart of the Fillmore District according to its traditional boundaries of Van Ness and Fillmore, although the hood actually extends as far west as Divisadero. "Me personally," the 24-year-old rapper and lifelong ’Moe resident confesses, "I don't be sticking my head out too much. But I make sure I bring every photo session or interview right here."
At the moment he's taping a segment for an upcoming DVD by the Demolition Men, who released his mixtape Block Tested Hood Approved in April. Since then, the former member of the San Quinn–affiliated group Fully Loaded has created a major buzz thanks in part to the snazzy video for "That's the Business," his E-A-Ski- and CMT-produced single, which was the Jam of the Week in August on MTV2 and added to straight-up MTV in time for the Oct. 3 release of the Koch full-length Block Tested Hood Approved. (Originally titled Fillmore Rich, the album was renamed to capitalize on the mixtape-generated hype.)
Presented by E-40 and featuring Rich's dope in-house producer Mal Amazin in addition to heavyweights such as Sean-T, Rick Rock, and Droop-E, BTHA is a deep contribution to the rising tide of Bay Area hip-hop. While Big Rich's gruff baritone delivery and gritty street tales make his music more mobster than hyphy, the album is not unaffected by the latter style's up-tempo bounce, helping the movement hold national attention during this season of anticipation before Mistah FAB's major-label debut on Atlantic. "I don't necessarily make hyphy music," Rich says. "But I definitely condone it. As long as the spotlight is on the Bay, I'm cool with it." Coming near the end of a year that has seen landmark albums from San Quinn, Messy Marv, Will Hen, and fellow Fully Loaded member Bailey — not to mention JT the Bigga Figga's high-profile tour with Snoop Dogg, which has taken hyphy all the way to Africa — Rich's solo debut is one more indication of the historic district's importance to the vitality of local hip-hop and Bay Area culture in general.
THE EDGE OF PAC HEIGHTS
The Fillmore is a community under siege, facing external and internal pressures. On the one hand, gentrification — in the form of high-end shops and restaurants serving tourists, Pacific Heights residents, and an increasingly affluent demographic creeping into the area — continues to erode the neighborhood's edges. "If you grew up in the Fillmore, you can see Pacific Heights has crept down the hill, closer to the ghetto," says Hen, who as a member of multiregional group the Product (assembled by Houston legend Scarface) moved more than 60,000 copies of its recent "thug conscious" debut, One Hunid (Koch). "Ten years ago there were more boundaries. But the Fillmore's prime location, and I'm not asleep to this fact. We're five minutes away from everything in the city. That has to play a role in the way the district is represented in a city that makes so much off tourism. You might not want your city portrayed as gangsta, even though it is."
Hen has a point. The notion of San Francisco as gangsta is somewhat at odds with the way the city perceives itself. As an Oakland writer, I can attest to this, for even in San Francisco's progressive artistic and intellectual circles, Oakland is usually understood to be beyond the pale in terms of danger and violence. Yet none of the Oakland rappers I've met talk about their hoods in quite the same way Fillmore rappers do, at least when it comes to their personal safety. As Big Rich films his section of the DVD, for example, he remarks on the continual stream of police cruisers circling the block.
"They slowed it down," he says. "Now they only come every 90 seconds. Right around here is murder central — people be shooting each other every night.