In the midst of hyphy's ups and downs, Warner Bros./Reprise will finally drop the new Federation album, It's Whateva, on Aug. 14. The group's second major-label disc, after The Album (Virgin, 2003), which helped inaugurate the hyphy movement, It's Whateva was originally slated for release last fall, until difficulties arose with its lead single, "Stunna Shades at Night." Based on Corey Hart's '80s hit "Sunglasses at Night," "Stunna Shades" was building a big buzz when the group learned the Canadian rocker refused to clear the sample.
"He felt like he wrote the song when he was young, and it meant a lot to him," producer and nonperforming Federation member Rick Rock says from Sacramento. Nonetheless, "Stunna Shades" "took off and was big promotion. But we never got a chance to really work it. To me that was a number one hit."
The delay caused by the "Stunna Shades" difficulties recalls the experience of Mistah FAB with his "Ghostbusters" remake, "Ghost Ride It." Though FAB had clearance to use the Ray Parker Jr. theme song, Columbia Pictures forced MTV and other outlets to stop playing "Ghost Ride It" 's buzz-building video due to its inclusion of the Ghostbusters logo. The lack of TV support convinced Atlanta to delay FAB's disc.
Still, these two examples raise one major problem in the presentation of hyphy to a national audience. Remakes of goofy songs, "Ghost Ride It" and "Stunna Shades" rely on a novelty factor uncharacteristic of their genre. The best hyphy tunes have been startling originals, like FAB's "Super Sic Wit It" and the Federation's "Hyphy," and the former two tracks' reliance on attention-getting pop culture reference points has only compounded the difficulty of breaking the Bay nationwide.
In any case, Rock worked on the album again, looking for a new single "that could be as big as 'Stunna Shades.' " Yet the group only accidentally stumbled onto one: "College Girl," an extended campus-themed meditation on "to give brain," rap slang for a blow job.
"We had the song, but then another dude had a similar song," Rock recalls. "I didn't want it to come out after him, so I leaked it to radio. Then Warner Bros. started chasing it." The success of the single prompted Warner Bros. to schedule It's Whateva for June, though it's since been pushed back twice.
"It's not a great time in the music industry, so I'm sure Warner is being real careful with the release," an unfazed Rock points out. "We need the right song, the right video to get it to come across."
While Rock will continue to add and drop tracks until the last minute, the rough version of It's Whateva I heard is astounding enough as a hip-hop album. While it begins in a recognizably hyphy vein with tracks like "College Girl" and the 2006 single "18 Dummy," the recording soon veers into uncharted terrain that looks well beyond present trends in the Bay.
Heavy metal rave-up "Black Roses," with live drums courtesy of Blink-182's Travis Barker, is one of the best realizations of a rock-rap fusion to date. The far-out groove on "I Met Yew" proves perfect for a cameo by Snoop Dogg, the only big-name rapper here besides E-40. The majority of the disc leaves hyphy behind in favor of a level of experimentation that recalls the golden age of hip-hop. Even in its present state, It's Whateva displays a level of originality and all-out weirdness that fully justifies Rock's statement that he's "got a lot to show these youngsters about putting an album together."
"People want to know what's next," Rock insists. "If you keep doing hyphy, people will say, 'Oh, they're still doing that hyphy shit.' So I gotta do something different.