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The Bus Stops Here 

Mistah F.A.B. picks up where hyphy left off

Wednesday, May 30 2007
On a recent weekday afternoon, Yay Area rap sensation Mistah F.A.B. is chilling at his second home, East Oakland community center Youth UpRising. He's a frequent volunteer, often hosting turf dancing competitions here. Today he's made the grave mistake of showing his new CD, Da Baydestrian, to a journalist in plain view of YU's kids, who, it's safe to say, are among his biggest fans. Before the journalist can examine the disc, it's gazed at longingly by two youths — one in a wheelchair, and one sporting the multicolored dreadlocks that have become ubiquitous to the hyphy movement's image.

"You got some slappers on there?" the wheelchair-bound youth asks F.A.B.

"I got nothing but slappers," the emcee replies.

"I bet it don't slap like 'I Want Your Girl,'" the fan says, referring to F.A.B.'s cameo on the legendary Too Short's last album, Blow the Whistle.

"Trust me, it slap," F.A.B. replies.

With much regret, the disc is handed back to the journalist, who tucks it safely away in his bag. But there's no time for casual conversation with the one-time "freestyle king" who's become hyphy's torchbearer; F.A.B.'s off to help his mentor Short, whose car broke down on his way to a photo shoot at YU.

Short and F.A.B.'s interactions are notable on a couple of different levels. Short's old enough to be F.A.B.'s daddy, and their relationship has a supportive, father-and-son dynamic. It's not the beef-instigating, rapper vs. rapper paradigm we've been conditioned by the media to expect from contemporary hip hop. It's cool to witness two generations of local rap hanging out together; the only thing cooler would be to hear their private conversations, which, one imagines, contain more game than a b-ball squad consisting entirely of cloned Baron Davises.

After all, Short is the wise OG, the godfather playa who pioneered Bay Area rap and established a template for D.I.Y. hustle that's influenced artists all over the world. F.A.B. is the relative newcomer, the 24-year-old youngster who represents both the present and the future of West Coast rap, as well as perhaps the best hope for the hyphy movement to transcend its regional appeal.

F.A.B's appeared on some memorable hyphy anthems — among them "Super Sic Wit It," "Sideshow," "N.E.W. Oakland," and the controversial single "Ghostride" — but there's more to him than just a grilled-out, scraper-driving, ripper-pulling dude.

For all his youthful exuberance, F.A.B. has the face of an old man. He's been through a lot already in his life his real dad, eulogized on 2005's Son of a Pimp, died of AIDS; his mother has reportedly struggled with substance-abuse problems; and his brother is currently incarcerated. So while 24 may seem young, when you've grown up on the streets of Oakland, you can double that number in terms of relative life experience.

Traces of F.A.B.'s social awareness were evident on Son of a Pimp, most notably on "If 'If' Was a Fifth," a riff off a classic Too Short line that resonated with political consciousness as effectively as any Boots Riley tune: "What if it was a black president/ and the Secret Service were some of his homies from his black residence?/ What if for Christmas police gave fiends crack presents, man?/ What if the Indians wouldn't have got robbed for they precious land?" Other songs, like "If Papa Was Home" and "Where's My Daddy" tackled the complex yet all-too-common issue of absentee parenthood in the 'hood.

So how can F.A.B. be both conscious and ig'nant? Well, for one, he's not stupid. During a Commonwealth Club panel discussion on hyphy last year, the rapper openly admitted to dumbing down his lyrical approach for the sake of populist appeal and commercial radio play.

That might help explain why, on Da Baydestrian, F.A.B. craftily sandwiches his social statements around busy, scraper-approved Sean T., Young L., and Traxamillion beats. He gets the party started on the album's title track with lines like "Go dummy in my backpack, hyphy in my white-t/ Laughin' at everything, my grill so icy." For the dreadlocks-shaking contingent, there's a remix of the hit "Sideshow" (now featuring Keak Da Sneak), the somewhat self-explanatory "Dem Cars," and "Furley Ghost," a rambunctious tribute to the late Mac Dre (aka "Furley"). Oaktown rap meets ATL snap on "Goin' Crazy (Big Ol' Butt)" — a remake of sorts of the LL Cool J classic, featuring D4L's Fabo and 2Dolla — which exuberantly celebrates large posteriors, as F.A.B. touts the virtues of a woman with a "big rump-shaker like you're from Jamaica."

Yet strip-club superficiality ultimately takes a back seat to reality-based messages. On "Life on Track," guest vocalist J-Nash runs down a list of pressures facing ghetto residents, before F.A.B. strikes a chord of optimism: "Yeah, I seen better days but I can't complain/ Thank God that I'm free while so many are in chains." "Deeper Thoughts" could easily be a Zion-I song with lyrics like "in my breath inside, I speak of the genocide." The album's closer, "100 Bars," finds F.A.B. venturing into Tupac-esque territory. Starting with the middle passage from Africa, he runs down a historical examination of the black American experience, contextualizing the inner-city struggle thusly: "Hustle all day so you don't hurt in the night."

Poignantly philosophical reflection and critical analysis is more than we expect from a Baydestrian, perhaps, but not more than we deserve. F.A.B.'s thoughtful examination of the social, economic, and political conditions that created hyphy hints there's further depth to be mined from the culture. Indeed, Da Baydestrian's "go dumb but act smart" dichotomy sets a precedent other hyphyites would do well to emulate, if the genre is to continue to evolve as a musical format.

About The Author

Eric K. Arnold


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