Year in Music: Time out?

The good, the Bay, and the hyphy
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This ain't the hyphy movement, bra-bra.

Beeda Weeda, "(I Rep Oakland) I Don't Rep the Bay"

It was a strange year for my long-running obsession, Bay Area rap. After two years of steady building, the scene reached a plateau in 2007, for various reasons. On the one hand, many of the hottest acts — from OGs San Quinn and E-40 to youngsters J-Stalin and Beeda Weeda — dropped discs in '06 and have spent this year prepping follow-ups. E-40, for example, is finishing his second Reprise disc, The Ball Street Journal, while Stalin's drafting his Prenuptial Agreement for local powerhouse SMC. Another factor has been the major labels, which have held up albums by their signees. After interminable delays, Reprise finally released the Federation's It's Whateva, but Atlantic is still sitting on Mistah FAB's Yellow Bus Rydah; Capitol has yet to schedule Clyde Carson's Theatre Music but is still spending money for features — by Snoop Dogg, the Game, etc. — which is a good sign.

"Basically, it's on us," says Mayne Mannish, Carson's former Team mate, now manager. "We have to turn in the best album we can." He suspects the album will be released in April 2008.

The most important development by far, however, has been the backlash against the hyphy movement. Among Bay rappers, who pride themselves on originality and are impatient with major-label foot-dragging, this was inevitable. Musically, though, it doesn't really matter: the innovations of hyphy have transformed the Bay for good, even if the sound has diffused into the overall mix.

But the fundamental cause of the backlash has been the withdrawal of radio support by the Bay's main hip-hop station, Clear Channel–owned KMEL, 106 FM. This lack of airplay began with a feud between KMEL managing director Big Von Johnson and Mistah FAB over FAB's now-defunct Wild 94.9 radio show.

But FAB, for one, has kept the ball rolling. Even without radio support, his independent disc Da Baydestrian (Faeva Afta/SMC) has moved almost 17,000 copies — approaching the 20,000 sales of Son of a Pimp (Thizz Ent., 2005), which got him signed to Atlantic — and, according to SMC's Will Bronson, is still selling strong. The Atlantic disc, FAB says, remains possible, but meanwhile he's keeping it lit, recording an upcoming independent album with producer Alchemist. His freestyle victory in New York City over Royce Da 5'9" and their subsequent feud — now over — also garnered national attention. To top it all off, FAB's released a new single via www.myspace.com/mistahfab, "Party On," with Snoop Dogg, one of the few mainstream rappers to support the Bay. He has given FAB the title "nephew," the ultimate endorsement from a senior rapper. "He's a mentor," FAB says. "He teaches you in the studio and how to persevere."

Another promising sign regarding Bay Area's rap future has been the number of new acts and strong recordings that have been bubbling to the surface. Ike Dola and Shady Nate have raised a buzz via mixtapes, and both plan albums for next year. Pittsburg's Dubb 20 — a Mob Figaz affiliate — dropped his debut to little fanfare, but it's among the best of the year. Turf Talk, meanwhile, catapulted himself to the top of our esteem with his accomplished West Coast Vaccine (Sic Wid It/30-30). There's no lack of great music here.

If hyphy is no longer a so-called movement, however, the unity it represented remains key to the scene's future success. "If we come together, we'll be unstoppable," FAB says.

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