The Trunk Boiz are ridin' for Oakland
"This is what happens when Bay Area gas goes to 4 bucks!! We cant even afford to rap about cars..lol [sic]."
So reads one YouTube viewer comment for "Scraper Bike," a music video by local rap group the Trunk Boiz. Rather uncharacteristically for hip-hop, the clip includes a crew of hoodie-wearing, dreadlock-shaking young guys pedaling through the Oakland streets on their tricked-out bicycles. With zero support from radio, "Scraper Bike" became an underground hit last year, making alternative transporation cool for Escalade-obsessed East Bay youth.
"My scraper bike go hard, I don't need no car," intones Trunk Boi B-Janky in the chorus of a song that's so catchy it's viral. Through Web word-of-mouth alone, "Scraper Bike" became one of the 20 most-watched YouTube videos of 2007. In March of 2008, the video was nominated for a YouTube Award, putting the Trunk Boiz in such illustrious company as Obama Girl.
With 2.5 million views and counting, "Scraper Bike" spurred a local trend now gone global, with folks from as far away as Turkey and Bavaria petitioning the Trunk Boiz to come pimp their rides. Yet scraper bikes are pure East Oakland, an homage to their four-wheel counterparts: long a fixture of East Bay car culture, "scrapers" are hoopty rides usually '80s-era Buicks or Oldsmobiles made ghetto-fabulous with candy paint, huge rims, tinted windows, and booming speakers in the trunk.
Trunk Boi Baby Champ, inventor of the scraper bike, recalls his initital inspiration. "At that time I was real young and didn't have no license or nothing," he says. "So I just wanted to take the pieces of the car and put it on a bike and mold it and shape it like that. I just took it and ran with it." In transutf8g the scraper aesthetic, not only does Champ outfit the bikes with neon colors and decorative spokes, he even wires up stereos to the handlebars and loads speakers on the rear. "That's one of our promotional schemes," B-Janky informs me during a group interview at their West Oakland studio. "We ride around on scraper bikes eight deep, with speakers slappin' our music."
Hustlers and entrepreneurs, the Trunk Boiz bring a whole new meaning to the Bay-slang term "out the trunk." The phrase refers to the marketing strategy immortalized by Too $hort, who early in his career famously sold music out of his car. Yet when the Trunk Boiz slang CDs "out the trunk," that trunk is less likely part of a Cutlass Supreme than a double-axle three-wheel cruiser essentially, a tricycle on the back of which is a wooden cart painted in Oakland A's colors with the words "That Go!"
A rather endearing sense of juvenalia surrounds the Trunk Boiz mystique. After all, their average age is about 19. As one might expect of a group of more-or-less teenage boys, songs tend to focus on adolescent preoccupations such as partying, looking fly, and getting girls. But unlike blunt rappers like Lil' Weezy who endlessly employs stale metaphors to describe their male members the Trunk Boiz make sex romps sound clever. In the track "Cupcake No Fillin'," MCs Filthy Fam and NB drop double entendres, extending the concept of "cupcaking" Oakland slang for flirting into a confectionary ode to casual, no-strings-attached hookups (i.e., with "no feeling").
It may not be a message mothers want their daughters to hear, but the kids love it. The video for "Cupcake No Fillin'" has nearly 100,000 YouTube views, and helped expand the group's female fanbase by casting the rappers in a loverboy light.
Given the group's penchant for high-energy antics, the Trunk Boiz were happy to ride the hyphy train while it lasted. They even got scraper bikes into videos for the Federation's "18 Dummy" and Kafani's "Fast (Like NASCAR)." None other than Too $hort called Champ the day of the Kafani shoot, urging the scraper bike crew to roll through and bring some local flavor. They continue to glean game from the legendary rapper through their involvement with East Oakland nonprofit Youth UpRising, where Too $hort volunteers.
Inspired by such mentors, the Trunk Boiz have become more civic minded than one might expect of a group that raps about going "SSI" ("Socially Stupid Insane") a track off their sophomore album, due out this summer. Not only are they involved with Youth UpRising and Silence the Violence but also with the "Ban the Box" reentry-reform efforts in Oakland as well as Bikes for Life, an antiviolence campaign launching July 13 with a ride around Lake Merritt. In August, they'll attend the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Las Vegas, where they'll roll down the Strip on their scraper bikes.
Fortunately, when it comes to homegrown innovation, what happens in Oakland doesn't always stay in Oakland. *
For more on Bikes for Life, call (510) 238-8080, ext. 310.