Imagine a sideshow.
Visualize a place for everyone to “stunt” or to show off their high performance muscle cars with a snake-like line of about 300 cars coursing in the street.
Hear the music blaring, watch car doors open (also known as ghost-riding), and see people fearlessly leap out of their cars while still in motion. Ogle people dancing maniacally on tops of cars and anywhere else their spirit takes them.
This is Hyphy.
Keak Da Sneak of Oakland and Vallejo comrade Mac Dre carved out history with their regional hit “Hyphy,” and introduced this ever-blossoming subsection of Hip-Hop commercially in the late ‘90s. Ever since, the lifestyle has assumed its own existence and joined Federation, Keak, Fab, E-40, Mac Dre, Droopy, Turf Talk, The Team, Kin Smoke, Messy Marv and the rest of the Bay Area in throwing ‘bows for a space in Hip-Hop. The Hip-Hop community has feverishly dealt with the commercial hijacking of their trends and slang and has established Hyphy - an art form and lifestyle that is truly their own.
The “Ambassador of the Bay” E-40 and Keak Da Sneak are burning up the streets with the latest Hyphy hit “Tell Me When To Go” and, for them, it’s time for the rest of the industry to stand up and recognize the Bay Area’s presence.
“I’m just sticking and moving, ya know,” says E-40 of his role in the movement, “I helped birth the Hyphy movement along with the other Bay Area rappers because that’s where it originated. It started in the streets and I’m just adding to it. I’m just doing my part. Hyphy ain’t all that I do, but I go to bat for it 100 percent. The youngsters brought that in, not the rappers. We’re just the novelists and the voice of it. It’s a dance and it’s a culture. There are different phases of the Hyphy movement. It starts off with the dance and builds around that and these youngsters are building more around it everyday.”
Though it’s definitely about having fun, proponents of Hyphy say the movement is more about freedom--freedom of expression and the freedom to be original. Music has typically personified the state of affairs of social life. More often than not, the emergence of a new trend in music has been met with ridicule and disdain, as was the case with Hip-Hop, disco and even rock-n-roll. There was a time when Elvis Presley was censored for gyrating his hips on live television, but he got his break from a forward thinking host named Ed Sullivan. Well, if Sullivan were around to experience the craze in the Bay Area, he’d probably have his own Hyphy attack.
Although the craze is its own, Hyphy doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“The terminology of ‘getting dumb’ or ‘getting stupid’ has been around for a while,” says Hip-Hop historian Davey D. “Most people, that are old enough, they remember [‘80s rapper and producer team] Just Ice and Mantronix. They had a song called ‘Cold Getting Dumb.’ That really meant to release your energy and just not care. There was another song called ‘Get Retarded.’”
Davey D, an activist that resides in Oakland, stated that the notion of Hyphy has manifested itself through the years through terms like “buckwild,’” “getting stupid,” “get a little stupid,” and “get ill.”
“Later down the road, you had people like Digital Underground that talked about ‘getting stupid’ and, if you look at the ‘Humpty Dance,’ it kind of reminds me of certain parts of Hyphy,” Davey D says. “I don’t know if cats that are [getting hyphy] today are old enough to know that history, but I do think its something to note.”
Still, the Crump-meets-Crunk motion displayed by those “going dumb” is much more of a rebellious statement than just an excuse to wild out. It is the expression of Bay Area youth who have claimed their own self-expression and use it as a badge of resiliency amid harsh physical circumstances in the social and Hip-Hop realms. Hip-Hop culture has its roots in pride, truth, courage and self-determination, and as a result it has grown to influence almost every segment of the planet. The Bay area is finally demanding to be recognized for the role it’s played in that big picture.
T-Kash, an Oakland radio personality and political Hip-Hop artist, explains, “The music is just the accompaniment to the ritual and ceremony that is Hyphy. Hyphy culture is basically about not giving a damn. It’s the Bay Area’s Hip-Hop rebellion to the rest of the industry. We’ve been here before. In the late ‘90s, Bay Area Hip-Hop was here but, because of label politics and social politics, Bay Area Hip-Hop was removed from the scene on a national and worldwide scale, except for a handful of artists. So there are these other artists underneath that were always trying to shop these deals and for whatever reason it didn’t happen for them.”
A strong advocate of Hyphy, T-Kash still isn’t a complete party to the movement, though he understands the significance behind the movement. His local radio show “Friday Night Vibe” was the platform for Hyphy artists long before the term was even coined. As one of the people responsible for bringing Hyphy music to the airwaves long before stations like KMEL came on board, T-Kash feels it’s about time the culture is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
“The Hyphy culture is basically a living breathing embodiment for the Bay Area point, it’s officially at its boiling point and it’s not taking it anymore. It does not care what the industry thinks and that’s why the sound is so aggressive and very bare and stripped down,” T-Kash reveals. “So now, Hyphy culture is saying we don’t care what you think--we’re coming anyways.”
The insurrection manifests itself in a variety of ways like enhanced slang, a unique fashion sensibility, varied production styles and a whole community with a strategy.
“It ain’t just me. It’s regular citizens of northern Caliscrewya [California] that ain’t too pleased about pimps running with our swagger,” E-40 laments. “Lately I’ve been keeping an invisible muzzle over my mouth, because I gotta watch what I say. I could just say one word and cats would take it and make a million off of it.”
Hip-Hop was created as a vehicle of expression by a community who felt their voices were unheard by the masses. And getting hyphy is the Bay’s way to scream at the world.
One AllHipHop.com reader, B-Stran, expressed his frustration with an e-mail letter after D-Roc of the Ying Yang Twins released a group called Da Musicianz with an underground song called “Go Dumb.”
“There has been a lot of plagiarism by the Ying Yang Twins and they are some bitin’ ass mother f**kers, B-Stran wrote. “Everybody uses Bay slang a bit without paying respect and credit to the Bay. It ain't [that] we think we’re better than anybody else, it’s just when you use somebody else’s style, you show that man respect. That's what a real cat does. At least show them respect by featuring them on the song and then you can run with it. They should do all their West Coast shows in L.A. because the Bay gets truly Hyphy.” Da Musicianz’s version of “Go Dumb” was never released commercially, but the group will emerge with their debut in May on TVT Records.
T-Kash concurs. “The Ying-Yang Twins were examples with that [song] ‘Go Dumb’ by that group [Da Musicianz] that one of them put out, and they had it all backwards giving credit to L.A.”
With a stable of producers, Hyphy specialists intend to make sure the subgenre gets its just due.
Rick Rock, known for his work with Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Mariah and E-40 to name a few, legitimizes the movement by taking an existing stripped down sound and making it official.
“He basically polished it up and packaged it to make it sound official,” says T-Kash. Droopy of the Pharmaceuticals, EA-Ski and Track Million are other noted producers of the music that makes people go dumb.
Even the King of Crunk has joined the movement to help the cousin of Crunk.
“Lil Jon is an overall producer,” explains E-40, “He produces universal music. He produced a song for Too Short called ‘Burn Rubber’ and that’s the kinda song that makes n***as go Hyphy. He had people getting Hyphy off the Ying Yang Twins and the ‘Get Low’ song and a lot of people didn’t know he produced ‘Tell Me When To Go.’ They thought Rick Rock did that.”
Music and respect aside, there is another facet to the Hyphy Movement.
If there were a negative element to the Hyphy Movement, the law would most assuredly site the practice of “thizzing,” a sub-segment of Hyphy that often involves popping pills.
San Quinn, another Bay favorite, explains that there are certain variables to the thizzing craze--not just illegal drug use. "Thizzin' is like a way of life. Cats just wanna get Hyphy, but you don't have to be [high] off [ecstasy]. You could be off ten Red Bulls,” Quinn yells. “You don't have to be off thizz to be Hyphy. It is the truth, though: mother f**kas is poppin' that thizz. Hopefully, America can get into cleaning up the E pills getting into the community because it sure ain't young Black kids bringin' the thizz into the neighborhoods.”
Quinn feels the new influx of E in the ‘hood is merely another self-destruction tactic like the crack cocaine epidemic that ripped through Black and Latino communities in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. “This whole thing ain't nothing but crack all over again, though,” he says. “We fixin' to come outta that. 'Cause the kids know crack is so dirty. They mamas and daddies was on crack. So I feel like the pills are some governmental s**t."
In accord, Keak Da Sneak says, “These high school kid’s aren’t getting high. It’s an energy, Hyphy is all about a fun energy. I can’t speak for the college kids but they’re just releasing, they’re just letting their true selves take control. Getting Hyphy is about letting go of all your inhibitions and being who you really are-no matter what anybody thinks.”
AllHipHop staff writers Jigsaw and Adisa Banjoko contributed to this story.