Still looks like slavery
But it's the black legacy
Mistah FAB, "100 Bars"
One night last September, I hitch a ride with G-Stack of the Delinquents and Dotrix of Tha Mekanix to Dem Hoodstarz's album release party in San Francisco. As we park outside the club, Mistah FAB rolls up with a modest posse. In contrast to his usual iced-out Technicolor clubwear, the man also known as Fabby Davis Jr. is low-key, dressed all in black, a pair of designer stunna shades supplying the main clue to his identity. He hops in Stack's car to hear a newly laid track for the latter's upcoming Purple Hood, then we set out for the club, a less than half block journey whose distance is lengthened interminably by a series of well-wishers and business consultations. It's like following two CEOs across the floor of the stock exchange: Stack is on two cell phones, trying to shake hands with someone. FAB, meanwhile, handles minor transactions, poses for a photo, and takes a call, all while briefing me on the deal he had just signed with Atlantic Records for Da Yellow Bus Rydah, the much-anticipated follow-up to his 2005 disc, Son of a Pimp (Thizz Ent.).
Near the door, a man takes FAB aside. "FAB, you gotta do something about the violence," he says, meaning specifically the 141 homicides in Oakland in 2006 under former mayor and present attorney general Jerry Brown. FAB nods at what is clearly an unreasonable request, albeit one that reflects the disproportionate political burden borne by black entertainers in America. No one would turn to, say, Justin Timberlake to stop violence. Then again, I imagine no one asks Keak Da Sneak either. FAB's position, in other words, is unique.
Though he made his early reputation as a freestyle battle rhymer and owes his success to hyphy hits like "Super Sic Wit It," FAB's lyrics seldom stray into gangsta or pimp terrain the title of his last album is simply literal. Yet he can get down on a track with the most thugged-out MCs. Aside from the giants Too $hort and E-40 and on par with the perpetually hot Keak, FAB is the rapper all Bay Area rappers want on their albums, because he has the biggest buzz on the radio and in the streets. His popularity gives him influence, but FAB commands respect in the hood because he's from the hood: his compass-based hit "N.E.W. Oakland" was the first major rap recognition of his native North Oakland as a hood. This rapport with the alienated and isolated ghetto youth who constitute hyphy's core audience separates him from the vast majority of MCs to whom the label "conscious" may be applied.
"You go up to someone in the hood and be, like, 'Dick Cheney had a heart attack,' they be, like, 'Who the fuck is Dick Cheney?'" FAB says later. "But you tell him, 'Jay-Z donated a million dollars to improve water in Africa,' they be, like, 'For real?' That's something of their world. Being a Bay Area artist, I'm of their world. So you have the opportunity to teach without them knowing."
"People who have influence," FAB continues, "have an obligation to tell people, 'Preserve life. Save lives. Help lives.' But it's hard to reach people if you're not giving them something they relate to. The hyphy movement is something they relate to. Hyphy gets you in the door, to open their ears to what I'm saying. It's up to them to digest it."
That night at the club, FAB exerts his influence. When things get salty between security and Dem Hoodstarz's East Palo Alto associates, the group calls FAB to the stage to perform their collaboration "Ugh." Things chill out. FAB issues an impromptu plea against violence and murders. These are problems no single person can solve, but FAB is doing his part.