Berkeley's the Pack reject the notion that they are a hyphy group. Instead, they claim to have created a new genre called based.
"Based music is really just feel-good music," says the Pack's Brandon "Lil B" McCartney. "You're one with the air, you're not just going there, and you're rapping a rap. You feel like you're one with everything."
Uh, okay. That's pretty vague. Kinda sounds like what you might call hippie-hyphy, a spiritual alternative to "going dumb." Perhaps we can get clarification from Keith "Stunna" Jenkins, one of the other young fellas in the Pack.
"My interpretation of 'based' is that it is so far left you came right," Stunna explained in an interview last year. "'Based' is something so out of whack that it's in proportion to something great. It's something that you can't deny; it's just something that you've never heard before but you don't know how to describe it, but you like it and that's the sound we bring to you." Nope, that didn't clarify things either. Sensing confusion, Stunna sighed, "I mean, y'all gonna catch up."
In the spirit of helpin' y'all catch up, let's try our own definition: Based is a more laid-back, ambient cousin to hyphy — as snap is to crunk in the South — and appears to be more playful and spaced-out with the beats. (Case in point: The potential hit "Milky Way" on the Pack's major-label debut, Based Boys, which hits the streets on the last Tuesday of this month.)
While several songs on the album could be described as hyphylike, high-energy joints for the club (with not-so-inventive titles like "In the Club," "Club Stuntin," and "At the Club"), the Pack seem well suited to the task of moving Bay Area hip-hop past hyphy. Other songs on Based Boys toy with rock, electro, and even slow-jam beats. In fact, the Pack almost fit better with a skate-punk crowd than the local gangsta and hyphy molds.
The quartet of skateboarding pals — McCartney, Jenkins, Lloyd "Young L" Omadhebo, and DaMonte "Uno" Johnson, who range in age from 18 to 20 — is best known for the snappy, bass-rumbling sneaker anthem and instant Yay Area rap radio classic "Vans," an ode to skater shoewear. To say the least, it was a surprise hit that first appeared on the then-unsigned group's MySpace page and then blew up last year.
The buzz about the Pack eventually caught the attention of legendary Oakland rapper and pimp storyteller Too $hort, who signed the band to his Up All Nite production company, an extension of his label of the same name.
"I just believe that they represent the energy that's going on around here," $hort said just weeks before "Vans" got huge in the Bay Area. "I see something good in them if they can stick together and listen to the O.G. as I guide them through the game. They've got some hot music. It's the sound of kids having fun, that's all it is ... buncha little horny dudes at a party," he laughed.
$hort originally expected Based Boys to be released by early 2007 at the latest. After entertaining offers from at least three major labels, he and the group settled on $hort's former home of Jive Records. He says now that the decision to release it at the end of October, instead of hotter on the heels of the ubiquity of the "Vans" single, is Jive's. "They want a perfect setup for each album so they can see as many first-week sales as possible," he explains.
While that doesn't necessarily sound like such a bad strategy, Jive's last-minute rushing of the release of Blackout, the new album from its flagship trainwreck Britney Spears, on the same day could mean that Based Boys gets lost in the paparazzi shuffle.
That would be a travesty, for this is a well-produced album with promise, pushing past now-worn local trends to create new ones. "The Pack," Lil B boasts, "is going to be the ones that break the barriers and do what those other rappers are scared to or can't do."