Bay Area Mobb Music

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Ever since Oakland rapper Too Short slanged cassette albums like Players out of his car trunk in the early 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Area rap scene has been a source of curiosity and fascination. Centered on the city of San Francisco, East Bay cities like Oakland, Berkeley and Vallejo, and Peninsula cities like East Palo Alto, it is truly unlike any other. While other underground scenes in the South and the East Coast focus on mixtapes, the “Yay Area” (somewhat-fancifully nicknamed for the hustlers who slang coke or “yay yo”) produces hundreds of full-length albums a year from well-known to obscure artists that employ cryptic yet imaginative local slang. Vallejo artist E-40, perhaps the best known Bay Area rapper next to Too Short and 2Pac (who moved to Los Angeles before his 1996 death), even put out a dictionary of “slanguage,” and his coinage of terms like “D-boy” and “Captain Save a Hoe” have been adopted into the hip-hop lexicon.

Bay Area rap dates back to the 1980s, but its most crucial development took place during the 1990s. This was the golden age of West Coast hip-hop when G-funk pioneers like L.A.’s Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Coolio enjoyed a near-monopoly on the rap music charts. In the Bay, producers like Ant Banks, Studio Ton, Mike Mosley, E-A-Ski and Tone Capone developed what became known as mobb music. It was a slight derivation of G-funk’s emphasis on “funky worm” keyboard melodies and Zapp-like trunk-rattling bass, yet the bass seemed deeper, and the funk arrangements were less dependent on P-Funk samples and interpolations. Since most Bay Area artists like JT The Bigga Figga (“Game Recognize Game”) and RBL Posse (“Don’t Give Me No Bammer”) recorded for independent labels like In-A-Minute, Sick Wid’ It and C-Note, they created a hardcore sound rawer than L.A.’s slick, major label-funded gangsta rap.

The mobb music era roughly breaks down into three overlapping periods: the N.W.A.-like sampling of the early 1990s and hits like Too Short’s “Money in the Ghetto,” an Ant Banks production that culled from Kool & the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging”; the sluggishly monolithic trunk bass of Luniz and Tone Capone’s “I Got Five On It”; and the bouncy, wholly original funk of 3 X Krazy’s “Keep It On The Real.” The latter development, which picked up in the late 90s, came from a wave of area artists briefly signing to major labels; and was a response to “jiggy era” hits like Diddy’s No Way Out and its resulting influx of mainstream rap fans. This set the stage for the Bay Area hyphy movement of the 2000s.

Much like the Los Angeles scene that was permanently damaged by the East Coast-West Coast rivalry between Dr. Dre’s Death Row label and Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, Bay Area rap isn’t as popular as it once was. But the players who emerged during the mobb music era continue to thrive as regional stars. In the Bay, independent hustle is a must, and it’ll continue to pump out dope music for the streets whether the pop market pays attention or not.

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Notes On: Andre 3000

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Andre 3000, one of a handful of rappers who can legitimately claim to being one of the best ever, has delighted and flummoxed us for years. We can only speculate on the reasons why.

Every so often, Andre Three Stacks teases us with a handful of guest appearances on other artists’ songs. On the surface, that’s no big deal: When a rapper is hot, like Rick Ross and 2 Chainz, he can generate dozens of cameo appearances in less than a year. But when Andre blesses a track, it’s still a major event because OutKast has been silent since 2006’s uneven Idlewild soundtrack (and the inarguably bad movie it accompanied). They didn’t necessarily go out on top, but their string of classic albums matched only by Kanye West has left us hungry for fresh material, whether it’s a new Big Boi solo project like 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, or an odd verse from ‘Dre.

It doesn’t hurt that Andre 3000’s guest appearances tend to be terrific in that casual, offhand manner that only he and his inimitable ATL drawl can manage. His verse made Devin the Dude’s “What a Job” one of the best Southern rap songs of the past decade. He gets on such a roll when he woos a girl during the bridge of John Legend’s “Green Light,” that he chuckles at his audaciousness, and makes us laugh, too. And he made rap fans actually listen to a Ke$ha song, “Sleazy 2.0 Get Sleazier” (though we really didn’t want to). There is Jay-Z’s “30 Something (Remix),” Beyonce’s “Party,” and Drake’s “The Real Her”… perhaps the only time another rapper out-shined Andre 3000 is on an “Interlude” from Lil Wayne’s The Carter IV, when Tech N9ne speed-rapped a burner verse. Even legends have their off-days.

In July, two more verses from Andre 3000 appeared. For Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter,” he remembers a woman who “had the kind of body that would probably intimidate/ Any of them that were un-Southern/ Not me cousin/ If models are made for modeling/ Thick girls are made for cuddling.” Rick Ross’ “Sixteen” finds him tortured over the concept of a 16-bar verse, and how he can’t fit what he has to say in such a short frame of time. Andre also plays guitar on both tracks, perhaps as a way of promoting his upcoming Jimi Hendrix biopic. On “Sixteen” in particular, he attempts a stilted, Hendrix-like solo with a few strummed notes and a little reverb. Such goofiness is to be expected from Andre Three Stacks – after all, this is the guy whose only solo album to date is a little-promoted children’s record, 2007’s Class of 3000. It’s what we love about him.

(Rhapsody – August 3, 2012)

Onra, ‘Long Distance’

Long DistanceThe key to Onra’s third album, Long Distance, is the heavy boogie rhythm of “My Comet.” Released as a 7-inch on All City Records two years ago, it sounded uncharacteristic of the French-Vietnamese producer’s sound at the time, which consisted of crusty post-Dilla donut loops. Now it anchors Long Distance, a tribute to hot early 80s soul and post-disco that stands as his best work to date.

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