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Hip Hop 101: the Underdogs/Alt-Rock 101: the Secret of Their Overseas Success/ DJ Culture 101: the Critical Mash Honors Club 

Wednesday, Oct 18 2006
As should be pretty obvious from the program guide, the full-page ads, and the fact that there's enough music content here to wallpaper a high school auditorium, we're celebrating our annual music awards this week. While the occasion is a fancy excuse for us to throw a big prom-themed bash (at the Warfield on Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 8 p.m., with performances by the Coup, Every Move a Picture, Scissors for Lefty, Birdmonster, and Bootie DJs Adrian & the Mysterious D) — our 17th such party — it's about more than just an honor roll of gifted musicians and DJs. It's also a chance for us to look back on what we've learned by studying our hometown talent pool.

To that end, we've crafted a little show 'n' tell (sorta like our music awards showcase), presenting lessons on the art of the mash-up club, illuminating hyphy's effect on hip hop, and explaining how to earn fanfare overseas before you hit it big back home. This package is just the tip of the textbook, though. For continuing education, we suggest you go to lots of lectures — uh, live local shows. Homework has never been this much fun. — Jennifer Maerz

Hip hop is dead, according to Nas. Here comes the bay to save the day. In case you've been under a rock (or, more likely, listening to indie rock), the perennially underrated region is bursting at the seams with talent, diversity, ambition, drive, and hustle. Since its humble beginnings in the early '80s, the Bay Area hip-hop scene has developed into one of the top regional markets in the country, boasting literally hundreds of independent record labels. Still-active pioneers such as Too Short and E-40 have been instrumental for future lyricists, in the process creating a viable business model — how to go from selling tapes from the trunk to major-label tycoon status — studied by both gangsta and backpack rappers. "I'm from the soil where the rappers be getting all they lingo from — the Bay Area," boasts E-40.

Creativity has always been a strong suit for local hip hop, which over the years has given listeners everything from the P-Funk-influenced humor of Digital Underground to the freestyle-derived flows of Hieroglyphics, the otherwordly turntable manipulations of the Invisibl Skratch Pickls, the experimental alt.hop of Anticon, the innovative slang of Keak Da Sneak, and the conceptual genius of the late Mac Dre. The thumping pulse revolves around Oakland, yet every area code has made significant contributions, from Vallejo to San Jose. The most iconic and legendary hip-hop artist of all time, the late Tupac Shakur, spent his formative years in Marin City.

Diversity isn't just in the bay's sound but in its subject matter as well. You can count the politically minded rappers in New York or the South on one hand, but that's not the case here, where the legacy of the free-speech movement, the Black Panthers, and ongoing civil rights battles have resulted in a wealth of more-than-slightly subversive social commentators, from Paris' openly seditious notions to the street polemics of the Coup to the outrageously outspoken Deepdickcollective. With more active subgenres than nooks and crannies in a Thomas' English muffin, Bay Area hip hop has not only reflected the region's famed multiculti diversity, but has birthed many trends that have gone on to national significance, from "the Humpty Dance" to "ghost-riding the whip."

Yet for all its innovative spirit, Bay Area hip hop has remained an underdog nationally. In many ways, the scene has developed out of necessity; the concentration of indie labels has arisen in part because of the lack of a major-label presence, while the dearth of national media attention has all but ensured that artists from the bay, with very few exceptions, have been automatically consigned to cult status. Numerous artists have lamented the "drought" that befell the region following the murder of Tupac a decade ago, when almost every single major-label act from the bay was unceremoniously dropped.

These days, however, the word is out that the bay is back — ironically, only after the murder of another pioneer, Mac Dre, in November 2004. "We were on hiatus for a minute," says Stressmatic of Fairfield's the Federation. With the advent of hyphy — a hyperactive youth-driven cultural movement originating out of Oakland that has spilled over from sideshows to the clubs and inspired a hip-hop subgenre that's earned national recognition — industry interest in the region is once again high. The Federation and E-40 are both signed to Warner Brothers; other recent notable signees include the A'z (TVT), the Pack (Jive), and F.A.B. (Atlantic). It's not uncommon to hear local acts Keak Da Sneak during morning drive-time or Bullys wit Fullys during the dinner hour. E-40 hosts "E-Feezy Radio" on KMEL, while the most entertaining local radio show might just be Mistah F.A.B.'s "Yellow Bus Ridahs" on KYLD.

"With Thizz [Entertainment, Mac Dre's still-active label] and the yellow bus movement [hyphy-identified folks who have reclaimed the transports once identified with special-ed students as symbols of cultural pride], it's crazy. Our shows are just crazy. I feel very comfortable about it, because I'm a part of it. It's like being part of a winning basketball team. It's an honor," says F.A.B. "It's like we never left," adds Keak, who says he was 15 years old the last time the bay was this hot. "It's really my time to hold the torch."

He's not the only one blazing. Thanks to hyphy, many longtime veterans of the Bay Area scene are finally getting their due. "This hyphy movement, I'm in full support of it," says the Federation's Goldie Gold. "I'm tired of these niggas comin' from out of town, out of country, under they rocks and they shells like hermits, tryna get a piece of this." Fellow group member Doonie Baby notes there's little difference between hyphy and its slower predecessor, mobb music. "It's just more up-tempo. Hyphy is the younger generation. As the years go by, we get wilder and wilder."


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