By Rashad Grove
Big Von is one of the most popular media personalities California. He has held the number one Bay Area radio show on 106.1 KMEL for over 15 years. Without question, he is an authority in Bay Area Hip-Hop. I spoke with Big Von about the Bay Area Revelations: Culture of Hip-Hop documentary which he’s featured in along with Too Short and E-40, the uniqueness of the Bay Area sound, and the up and coming MC’s from the Bay that we need to be checking for.
AllHipHop: The Bay Area has always been a great music scene. Sly and Family Stone, Grateful Dead, Santana, my personal favorites Tony, Toni, Tone and so many others. What do you think makes San Francisco such a unique place for music?
Big Von: Because it's such a melting pot. We're all here Asians, Latinos, Blacks, everybody.
On the East Coast, it’s kind of like it's hustle and bustle, busy, busy. In the Bay, we drive around and that’s the way music is consumed. On the East, they ride the subways, they have the headphones, and a lot of music gets consumed that way. With us, we drive everywhere. We drive far. So, we consume a lot of our music in cars. Whether it’s Sly and The Family Stone to the artists now, it’s always up tempo. We are a moving people. We’re relaxed but our music has energy.
AllHipHop: Bay Area rappers have always been entrepreneurs. From Too Short, MC Hammer, E-40, and others. Why do you think that’s the case?
Big Von: Because the major markets were in New York City and L.A. Any place else in the country did not have any type of infrastructure to get their music out. There was no way to really get the music out without having to go to New York, and getting turned down a bunch of times in LA.
So, it was like, “Hey, we’re going go hand in hand ourselves. We're gonna learn how to print up these records, we're going to learn how to take them over to the distributors, we're going to go into all barbecues, all the gas stations, the radio stations, so not only are you getting our music, you're getting it from us.” The same way the hustled drugs, they would hustle their music. And if you know anybody that sells dope, you really gotta be out there, 24/7, giving out your product. This is what they were doing. When they got out of the dope game got into the rap game, they had to get in front of the people and go hand in hand.
They didn’t have anywhere to take their demos. They would not accept the music because it was foreign to them. So, it wasn't like the internet now where you can put a record out and the whole world sees you and just jumps into it. But you had to really jump through hoops to get someone to like your music. But we didn't have that so we was like “F**k it. I know people here like my music and my music is for people here. I'm gonna give it to them.”
And as you know, there's always kids that grow up, go to college, and move out of town. They were helping us move the product out of state. When people come home, they go get more, and we kick it back out to those kids in those colleges. That's how we learned by taken over the Bay Area, and we start moving down into the L.A. area. But we had a lot of help along the way from Ice Cube and Ice- T who saw what we were trying to do.
AllHipHop: You are famous for working crazy hours on the radio and you’re still excited about Hip-Hop. How do you maintain this energy?
Big Von: I’m from the era where you learned how to DJ in your house. You didn't come out until you were good because if you went to a party and was terrible, you got hit with pennies, you got booed out of the party. I’m from the era that if I have a record, I'm going to break the record and you're going to know this record came from me. There was a time where if a dude had a record, you had to be there and the only way you can hear it was to get it from him. I still obsess about finding new sounds. I may be getting older, but I still feel as young as I did the first day I started because I still have a need to really like play records. I've still hit the clubs. I still crack jokes on the radio, do interviews with the people, and I still enjoy breaking a record. I still get goosebumps from the music. You know what I mean? There are always certain times when I’ll here a certain record play and I’m like “Oh my god like this crazy.”
Now when I get on the radio, I'm gonna drop this at seven o'clock and drop it again at nine o'clock, and at eleven o'clock.
AllHipHop: How did you first learn about the Culture of Hip-Hop documentary?
Big Von: My good friend Christine reached out to me and told me she was gonna do this whole show on Bay Area Hip-Hop. That's all it took. When she said she was going to do this for Bay Area Hip-Hop. As long we’ve been doing this, like, waving the flag for us to not only get looks from elsewhere, but getting looks from here for people to know what we've been doing. This reminds me when I was a kid, and the first time Yo! MTV Raps came on. I see people that are recognizing me on the TV. She’s gonna put it on T.V. so my mom can see it and she’ll know I have a real job.
There’s not many shows that come around and dedicate their time and their airwaves, to our part of music. They always come and want to do Hip-Hop or a to a certain aspect of it. But to be from here and do it on the Bay Area channel, that we all grew up watching, I’m in and if I'm in, my friends are in whether they know it or not.
AllHipHop: Some may think that the entire state of California is exactly the same, in terms of style and culture in Hip-Hop. Tell me what is distinct from the Bay Area scene and L.A.?
Big Von: This is a rough one. Okay, the Bay Area style was always built off what they would call mob music. There’s a lot of 808’s, heavy base, made for cars to ride with that heavy bottom sound. The era of NWA was strictly gangsta rap. So, we take the NWA’s, Ice Cube’s, and Ice-T’s. We had Too Short, Digital Underground, and MC Hammer
What they were doing in L.A. in the late 80s and the 90s it was more funk/soul driven. When it came to the Bay, it was more band driven because when Too Short had to make his music, he would put a band together with Ant Banks. Studio Tone was really big with the mob music. Then Shock G came in with the Digital Underground and they added the samples and had a lot of instrumentation. MC Hammer became one of the biggest stars in the world. We were just as gangster as they were, but it was a little bit more fun in our music.
AllHipHop: Digital Underground never gets get enough credit for being the Parliament-Funkadelic of Hip-Hop.
Big Von: I don't think anyone could have come with the idea of having multiple personalities in the band and still be gangster. They had Tupac. To say, “I’m gonna put on this nose and call myself, “Humpty Hump.” 30 years later, many people still don’t know that Humpty and Shock G is the same guy.
AllHipHop: What I enjoyed most about the documentary was that it didn’t just focus on the legends, but it highlighted the current stars of Bay Area Hip-Hop as well.
Big Von: Most definitely. We have some great young talent coming out of the Bay like G-Eazy, Saweetie, Master Pharaohs, Semi-Auto Cec, Kamaiyah, and so many others have taken the torch and are running with it.
We've been struggling and trying to make it happen for so long. Now, a lot of us have some power where we really can help each other. Y'all got it better than us and can go a lot further with than we did.
AllHipHop: This question could be a controversial one. Can you name your top 5 Bay Area rappers of all-time?
Big Von: Shit! That’s hard as hell. Just to be controversial and to make sure nobody will bother me when I walk down to the grocery store, I’ll say this: If anybody has an issue with this, we can gladly argue about it. Buy from the Bay Area, I’ll give you one: Shock G**.**
Shock G was very versatile whether he was trying to be funny or trying to get across a message. But he was a student of the game. whether it was the rap game or the funk or just music. As much as he loves George Clinton, he also loved Prince. When you put that together with his wordplay and his flows were incredible. If you need something to go by, check out “Flowing On the D Line,” off The Son of the P album. That verse alone should be able to sell you on it. Also check out “The Packet Man” and “Freaks of the Industry.”