"Their lyrics are militant, and these guys are growing." Massey was also quick to point out the multidimensional side of J-Stalin, whose crime-ridden raps are infused with melancholy ambivalence about street life. "Stalin could be big like 2Pac," he opined. "He's not trying to look hard. He's a little dude, but he's got all this heart and emotion."
Stalin himself is more modest, albeit slightly, at least concerning his upcoming SMC disc, The Pre-Nuptial Agreement. "Pre-Nup is going to be one of the greatest Bay Area albums ever," he said. "I ain't saying I'm the best rapper. I'm saying I put together a great album." Judging by the songs he played for me that day including the radio-ready "Get Me Off" with E-40 he's right. SMC's Will Bronson is sufficiently confident in Stalin and Beeda to partner with Thizz Entertainment this summer to bring out the former's Gas Nation as well as the latter's The Thizzness, both pre-albums designed to tide fans over before their full-lengths in the fall.
"Stalin and Beeda are the only two new artists really buzzin'," Bronson said. "I couldn't go a week without hearing about them."
As a result, Stalin and SMC plan to collaborate on future Livewire projects, including a group disc showcasing up-and-comers Shady and J Jonah, longtime members such as ROB, Lil Blood, and Ronald Mack, and newer recruits like Philthy Rich and 17-year-old Lil Ruger, whose wild, almost Keak-esque flow foretells fame.
The connection to SMC and Vallejo's Thizz, moreover, suggests a serious new coalition which, given the waning of hyphy, threatens to become the next major force in Bay Area rap. "We're just trying to keep the unity," Stalin concluded. "Because we're all from different places, we wouldn't be able to do this in the street."
Such unity, always in short supply in the Bay, is one of the most intriguing aspects of the Hiero/PTB/Livewire situation. "We've got a movement, but it's not a movement," said Jamon Dru, who, along with DJ Fresh, Tower, and others, formed the Whole Shabang, an autonomous production squad linked to both PTB and Livewire. "We're trying to make music everyone will feel, not just the Bay. That's put a hurt on us because we do have a 'fuck everyone else' attitude, like, 'I don't care if anyone else likes this shit.' But we got families, friends, people in jail we gotta feed. We can't be half-steppin' like that."
Like Traxamillion, and unlike many local producers, Dru is candid about the influence of the radio on his sound. "It's a little Southern-influenced," he said, "a little East Coast with Fresh chopping up samples, but with the 808s and a West Coast bassline. Every beat we make with samples, we gotta put an 808 knock in it." While it's difficult to generalize, given the work of so many producers, Dru's statement is a good sketch of the PTB/Livewire sound: it looks to the Bay's older mob music through the modern lens of hyphy, even as it sheds the more gimmicky excesses of the latter.
Beginning his career under Beeda Weeda's wing, Dru is already a mogul of his own, currently developing 19-year-old Gully, whose work can sampled on his mixtape Hustla Movement. Like Yung Moses, the saltier-voiced, vowel-stretching Gully is considered one of the most promising rappers in the camp, and the two are already slated for a collaboration.