40Love's latest album, Bangerang, is a solid, well-crafted effort with hot beats and tight flows that stands as one of the best hip-hop releases of 2009. Streetwise but not thuggish, clever but never nerdy, the four-member group is a welcome addition to S.F.'s gangsta-dominated rap scene. 40Love's secret weapon? Haze, a female MC who simply kills it every time on the mike.
Few rappers in the business can touch the Jacka in terms of street credibility or lyrical delivery. His crime sagas create fans even among law-abiding types.
While the hyphy hype has long since cooled, his newest solo album, Tear Gas (which cracked the Billboard Hot 200 at #93), established him as a viable national artist, not just a regional phenomenon.
More than just a rapper, Alexander Spit is also a producer, sound engineer, and songwriter. He handles all these duties on his debut album, Open 24 Hours, a heady romp through sex, drugs, and late nights as a struggling kid in diverse San Francisco environs. Spit refuses to stay within the overly extravagant confines that currently obsess mainstream rappers.
Indie hip-hop specialists Adam "Doseone" Drucker and Jeffrey "Jel" Logan have plenty of projects connecting them over the years, including Subtle, 13 & God, and the Anticon label they helped found. But for many fans, it's their work as Themselves that shines brightest, and after a six-year break, the duo returned earlier this year with a mixtape, theFREEhoudini. They're about to follow that with their third proper album, CrownsDown, out this month.
Fierce chicks Co-Co Machete (Nicole Feliciano), Loli PoP (Jenifer Lin), and Ambr33zy (Amber Griffin-Royal) dip with producer Jay-Sonic (Jason Stinnett) as the four-year-old Hottub. The group provides an updated ode to the Miami bass and hip-hop electro girl groups of the '80s, only tunes like "Manbitch" and "Fifteen" are hotter, nastier, and more in your face — brimming with a confidence their predecessors never thought to have.
San Francisco once knew Taiwan-born David Wang as that kid who calls himself Mochipet and plays his laptop noise live in a purple Godzilla suit. Now he is recognized globally as a master of glitch, dub, IDM, crunk, and synth-soaked hip-hop. This year, Wang remixed his seventh album, Microphonepet; released his eighth, Master P on Atari; and toured China. That's all in addition to running his groundbreaking Daly City Records label, making him a busy monster indeed.
John Bryars and Evan Atkinson (aka Johnny and Evan Tender) have been supplying wildly propulsive electro sounds for discerning dancefloors from Los Angeles to their San Francisco hometown. Whether remixing familiar hits like Jay-Z's "99 Problems" or crafting their own original beats, as on the relentless "Just One Kiss," the Tenderlions conquer the stage and speakers with ferocity.
Baba Ken & the Afro-Groove Connexion
Vocalist, songwriter, and master bassman Baba Ken Okulolo has been keeping dancers happy with his charismatic showmanship and deep knowledge of African rhythms since he founded Kotoja in 1985. With his new outfit, the Afro-Groove Connexion, Okulolo anchors the free-flowing improvisations of his jazzy sidemen with a solid West African funk groove that tips its hat to the Afrobeat of Fela Anikulapo Kuti (guitarist Soji Odukogbe first toured the U.S. as Kuti's lead axman).
Rupa and the April Fishes
Bandleader, guitarist, and multilingual singer-songwriter Rupa Marya is a doctor without borders. Seriously: She's an M.D. But her true gift for healing comes through her boundary-busting music, a kick-up-yer-heels homebrew of global party sounds, including Gypsy swing, tango, waltz, polka, klezmer, and various fun-loving combos sung in Spanish, French, Hindi, Roma, and English. A rising star on the international scene, Rupa is backed by the respected world-music label Cumbancha.
With his second album, El Hijo de Obatala, Guatemala-born Erick Santero masterfully blended contemporary urban Latino flavor with traditional sounds: cumbia, salsa, and ocha (sacred, Yoruba-influenced) music. Enlisting guests including DJ Mr. E, bilingual rapper Deuce Eclipse, vocalists Femi and Omega, and beatsmiths One Drop Scott and Greg Landau, Santero has captured the ascendant local Latin fusion scene in all its glory. He's also an in-demand DJ who keeps the musica muy caliente at local nightspots.
Sila & the Afrofunk Experience
With the release of his second album, Black President, Kenyan expat Victor Sila upped his band's status from street-festival hipsters to mighty Afro-conscious musicians. Groove-deep and politically active, Sila's music is serious about getting fans up on the dancefloor, but is also a call to arms, challenging listeners to marry the booty bump to their beliefs. In this way, Sila's soul power is connected to the spirits of Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, and James Brown.
Jazz Mafia vocal hitman Joe Bagale's finest moment of 2009 came when he sang the Donny Hathaway arrangement of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" in front of Stevie Wonder at S.F. club Coda. Bagale also stands out on the Jazz Mafia's recent hip-hop symphony, Brass, Bows, and Beats. Besides being a singer who smoothly segues among rock, soul, and jazz, he's also a multi-instrumentalist equally at home on a drum kit or a guitar.
On the California Honeydrops' 2008 debut, Soul Tub!, the band — Nansamba Ssensalo and Ben Malament on homemade tub bass, washboard, and drum kit; pianist Chris Burns; and vocalist-trumpeter-guitarist Lech Wierzynski — plays Chicago blues, New Orleans soul, and gospel-tinged pop. The combo really shines during live sets, when it delivers one of the best dance parties in town.
Kev Choice Ensemble
Nearly a dozen members strong, the Kev Choice Ensemble is the brainchild of its namesake, a singer, rapper, composer, and classically trained pianist who has worked with Lauryn Hill, Lyrics Born, and Michael Franti. Amid the horns, guitars, keyboards, and percussion of his ensemble, the gifted Choice draws from hip-hop, soul, jazz, and funk for a spirited sound that's big on both musicianship and passion.