City of Dope [Excerpt From the Dec./Jan. 2012 Issue]
“What's up y'all. It's ya boy T-Dollaz, here on the shoot for the hyphy video. Yo, it's 'bout to be major!”
These are the words of Odd Future front man Tyler, the Creator, in the intro to a YouTube clip titled simply “Hyphy.” (In fact, it’s the first result you get if you search “hyphy” on YouTube.) To the sounds of an old track by The Pack, the Odd Future crew does stupid dances on and around a car in a quiet-looking suburban neighborhood, which is another way of saying that it looks no different from a number of actual hyphy music videos—except that this one is a parody.
“Must feel so bummy to be from the bay area hahahaha,” reads a recent comment from YouTube user waajahat94.
In just five years’ time, just five hours south of the Bay Area (if you’re speeding and there’s no traffic on the Grapevine), it has become perfectly acceptable, and maybe even cool, to make a complete mockery of what was once poised to be a nationwide craze. “The next crunk,” hyphy was supposed to put the Bay
Area in the spotlight it felt it deserved. Now it’s a punch line—one made that much more offensive when the taunting comes from Los Angeles.
The Bay has lived in L.A.’s shadow for as long as either region has made rap music. And back in the middle of the last decade, it looked like NoCal might finally unseat SoCal as the Golden State’s dominant sound bed. Much to the chagrin of Bay Area rappers—and ecstasy dealers, oversized-sunglasses retailers and used-Buick dealerships all over America—that didn’t come to pass.
By the time the major labels finally descended upon the Bay with contracts, money, big ideas and Lil Jon beats, the charismatic man at the center of the movement, Vallejo’s Mac Dre, had been unceremoniously murdered on a highway in Kansas City, Missouri.
Aside from a movement with no clear center, the majors also encountered a fiercely independent scene that had come to believe the idea that the Bay Area would finally receive its due props. Everyone in the deep-rooted and extremely diverse hip-hop community hopped on the hyphy bandwagon (or, more appropriately, danced alongside it), from teenage backpackers to local legends who’d been rapping for two decades.
This isn’t to say that local artists’ interest wasn’t genuine or that people in the Bay Area weren’t thrilled with the attention. But in the end, the effect was something like a speculative bubble bursting. Rappers flooded the market with hyphy music and silliness like it was going out of style, until finally it did. Everyone had gone dumb, and they ended up looking like a joke.
“It comes off as corny and like a gimmick, when it really wasn’t,” according to Chioke “Stretch Thizz” McCoy, a man who has played the background in Bay Area music for the last decade, from launching Thizz Nation Records with Mac Dre to helping Kreayshawn sign her million-dollar deal. (He’s the wall
of a man keeping the Maybach Music gang from jumping Kreay in the much-watched clip from this summer’s VMAs.) “It was people’s escape from the realities of what they got to deal with
on a daily basis in their neighborhood, but that story was never told,” he explains. “It was never put out there, so it comes off as buffoonery.”
While no one still expects Mac Dre to become a household name these days, though, the Bay Area has regrouped since the hyphy bust—both by turning inward and focusing on maintaining its independent scene and by finding viral, national success via the Internet.
FOR MORE OF THE BAY AREA FEATURE, GO TO PAGE TWO