Out of the shadows

Shady Nate, the number two rapper of West Oakland's Livewire crew, emerges as a boss
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So if you see me, I be where they don't battle rhyme

28 and zipper or Eighth Street and Adeline

— Shady Nate, "Banga Dance (Remix)" (Zoo Ent.)

I meet up with Shady Nate at Eighth Street and Adeline, in the Acorn neighborhood of West Oakland, where he spent his youth. As we scout locations for photos, a man walks by peeling a tangerine. "I survive in West Oakland," he mutters, more to himself than to us. The statement fits the hard surroundings, though Shady's presence lifts the general mood.

"Shady Nate?" an older drunk wearing gold chains and riding a kid's bike enthuses. "You doin' it big!"

A woman approaches, claiming she knows Shady. He punches her number into his phone. "I don't know her," he says afterward, laughing. Another dude tells me he loves Livewire, the crew whose members include Shady and pint-size phenom J-Stalin from the adjacent Cypress Village hood. "They make music for us," the dude says with pride.

This appreciation is worth underscoring. The usual criticisms of ghetto rap's violent, dope-slinging content always overlook the fact that it's a product of its environment. Glorification or not, the grimy depictions of street life by rappers like Shady mean the world to people who would otherwise have no voice articuutf8g their struggles. As Mistah FAB put North Oakland on the rap map, so Shady has done for the Acorn, appearing alongside heavyweights Keak Da Sneak and San Quinn on J-Stalin's hit "Banga Dance" remix.

Now Shady has his whole hood behind him, giving him the necessary buzz to launch his solo career. Recently signed to Hieroglyphics member Tajai's Clear Label Records, which plans to drop his debut, Son of the Hood, in March 2008, Shady is currently warming up the streets with two projects: the Demolition Men mixtape Early Morning Shift 2, cohosted by Stalin, and a DJ Fresh album, Based on a True Story (FreshInTheFlesh). Combined with the recent successful Livewire West Coast tour, the discs confirm Shady's taking his game to the next level.

BASED ON A TRUE STORY

"I got away with hella bad shit as a teen," the tall, wiry 26-year-old born Nate Findley confesses. "I always went to school, but after I'd be in the street with my partnas. I never got caught until I was 18, an adult. That's how the corner is."

"My first case was a 211, a robbery," he says ruefully. "That fucked me up. Every time I get jacked [stopped by cops "on suspicion"], they punch my name in, first thing they see: 'Oh, yeah, 211.' I ain't on probation. I don't do nothing no more. But something you did as a kid haunts you even when you got a new life. So I'm motivating my people to do something else."

Yet even in his young d-boy days, Shady was already honing his MC skills. "The block would get hot, so we'd go to the studio," he explains. "But we wasn't no real rappers. I started taking it seriously around '03, when I hooked up with Stalin, seeing all the people he was meeting. I ain't never really met nobody that really rapped before.

"Stalin helped me record my first solo mixtape, Shady Acres [2004]," Shady continues. "Then I got on his album On Behalf of the Streets [Livewire, 2006]."

GARAGE DAYS RE-REVISITED

That was around the time I met Shady at the Garage, the now-legendary East Oakland studio where On Behalf was produced by the Mekanix. At the time, Shady was hanging back, soaking up game, and the game was thick: everyone from the Mob Figaz to Kaz Kyzah, Keak, and FAB routinely came through.

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