Hyphy and its discontents

Rumors of the hip-hop genre's death have been greatly exaggerated

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"Hyphy is here to stay because hyphy was created in the streets and the streets will be here forever."

E-40 in an e-mail, June 28

Send a 911 to the 415 and 510: does hyphy have a pulse? Several articles in recent months have suggested the answer is no. A May 13 San Jose Mercury News article, "What Happened to Hyphy?" by Marian Liu, for example, insists that a year ago, "the Bay Area seemed poised to become the center of the hip-hop universe," when, we are told, the genre "was ubiquitous at clubs, on the streets and on local radio stations." Now hyphy is "listless, with even local popularity beginning to dissipate."

This account of the rise and fall of hyphy is exaggerated to the point of fiction. Bay Area hip-hop has, of course, been cracking for at least two and a half years, following a long post-Tupac period of commercial decline now referred to as "the drought." But while the amount of local spins Bay Area music received increased, hyphy was never anything like ubiquitous on the radio. The small number of major-label signings never threatened to displace any presumed center of hip-hop's stubbornly regional universe nor does such an image convey what's been at stake in the Bay's struggle for recognition.

According to the Arbitron radio ratings system, San Francisco is the fourth-largest market in the country, after New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. This figure includes Oakland but not Sacramento or San Jose, which are classed as separate markets but are considered by everyone from the rappers to the media and the listeners as part of the Bay Area in terms of hip-hop regions. All Bay Area artists want is to be treated like other rappers in similar areas of the country. Rappers from smaller markets like Houston (number six), Atlanta (number nine), Miami (number 12), and even St. Louis (number 20) routinely receive local airplay, major-label deals, and national exposure.

Only the Bay is denied such opportunities. While the publicity of E-40's 2005 signing with BME/Warner Bros. scored hyphy coverage in national media like USA Today and secured the Bay its own episode of MTV's region-oriented rap show, My Block, the music hasn't had a chance to blow up. With the exception of E-40 — whose gold-selling 2006 album My Ghetto Report Card (BME/Warner Bros.) ensured a Warner Bros. release of his upcoming The Ball Street Journal — no Bay Area hip-hop artist has been permitted to drop a big-label full-length in the past two years. Albums by the Pack on Jive, Mistah FAB on Atlantic, Clyde Carson on Capitol, and the Federation on Warner Bros./Reprise have all experienced frustrating delays, fostering the notion that hyphy is foundering. But not everyone agrees with this impression.


"How can hyphy be dead when the key players are still there?" 19-year-old producer extraordinaire and Sick Wid It Records president Droop-E asks. It's a good question, for if the short history of the hyphy movement has proved anything, it's that there's no lack of hot Bay Area acts, from vets like Keak Da Sneak to new artists such as FAB to rappers who came up during the drought and didn't get to shine, like Eddi Projex (formerly of Hittaz on Tha Payroll) and Big Rich (once of Fully Loaded).

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