Hyphy and its discontents - Page 2

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

Carson, the Jacka, Beeda Weeda, J-Stalin, the Federation, Turf Talk, Kaz Kyzah, San Quinn, Messy Marv: the list of major-label-level talent only begins here, and the extent to which any of the above identify as hyphy hardly matters, inasmuch as for the rest of the country, hyphy stands for Bay Area hip-hop.

Many of these rappers predate hyphy, and while the word definitely has musical signification — it's a fast, club-oriented sound inspired by crunk but transformed by electronica and techno flourishes — its most important function has been as a marketing tool to direct national attention back to the Bay. To write off hyphy as a passé trend is, in this sense, to write off the region, leaving the Bay back where it started.

Further complicating any so-called postmortem analysis of hyphy is the fact that the term also refers to the Bay Area culture of disaffected hood youths known for white Ts, dreadlocks, and ghost riding. "Hyphy is part of the street," Droop-E affirms, noting that the culture emerged before the name was attached or the music drew attention to it. The merging of this culture and a particular hip-hop sound in a single term is what makes hyphy so potent a concept, functioning in a manner akin to the word psychedelic in the late '60s. This union between a lifestyle and an aesthetic is the chief justification for considering hyphy a movement, however vaguely articulated.

"The hyphy movement reflects what's going on in the streets," Federation producer and national hitmaker Rick Rock says. "That will never die, as far as that goes. The kids are going to be hyphy. But the music — you don't have to say 'hyphy' to do a hyphy song. If people are saying 'go dumb' on 10 different songs on the radio, then you're shooting yourself in the foot."

Traxamillion — another architect of the hyphy sound and producer of Keak's local number one hit "Super Hyphy" — agrees the music could be "losing its edge due to oversaturation of the same topics: scrapers, purp, pillz, shake ya dreads, and stunna shades," underscoring the tension between hyphy and a region whose rappers pride themselves on originality. Yet if hyphy's lyrics often suffer from an overreliance on now-established slang, the limitations of its subject matter hardly seem greater than that of mainstream rap; the high-fashion emphasis of East Coast rap is infinitely more tedious.

In any case, Rock's response has been to reinvigorate hyphy through the innovative impulse that led to its current form. "That hyphy sound I blueprinted, I don't have to stay with it," Rock says. "Hopefully people will gravitate toward the new music, and that'll be the new hyphy."


Rock is leading the way with the Federation's thrice-delayed It's Whateva — finally to be released by Warner Bros. on Aug. 14 (see sidebar) — and his production on "I Got Chips," the guitar-driven first single off Turf Talk's West Coast Vaccine (Sick Wid It), released in June. One of the year's most anticipated Bay full-lengths, Vaccine more than fulfills its buzz. Besides the excellence of its composition as an album, it displays Turf Talk's tremendous artistic growth in the number of flows he adds to his characteristic bark, from a whisper to a lazy drawl to a hyperactive bellow.

While Droop-E confirms that several major labels expressed interest in Vaccine, ultimately none pulled the trigger. Yet deals of various sorts keep trickling in, most recently for Keak, whose camp confirms his recent signing to national independent Koch. Tha Mekanix production squad is negotiating a rerelease of J-Stalin's On Behalf of the Streets (Zoo Ent., 2006) through one of the biggest independent distributors in the States, Select-O-Hits.

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