Bay Area hip-hop has long been driven by motivational rhymes, sunny party songs and hyperactive dances. Here, HBK Gang members Kool John, Rossi, Jay Ant and Skipper revisit the hometown jams that shaped their sound and put the Bay on the map.
Too $hort, “Gettin’ It” Gettin’ It (Jive 1996)
KOOL JOHN: Too $hort is a Bay Area icon. I remember first hearing “Gettin’ It” when I was a kid, and then as I got older, I loved the jazzy beat and the words behind it. The message is to stay motivated, keep going, progress in life and don’t let nothing stop you. He was basically saying, “When the getting is good, you should be getting it.” It kept me focused when I was starting to take my music and my brand serious. Whenever I was feeling down, I put that song on.
3X Krazy, “Keep It on the Real” Stackin’ Chips (Virgin 1997)
SKIPPER: 3X Krazy was a rap group that consis-ted of Keak da Sneak, Agerman and B.A. Even though Keak was the first person to use the word hyphy on a track, “Keep It on the Real” was the opposite: it was so smooth and clear. It represents the Bay Area vibe: sunshine and summertime, but still hood at the same time. The Bay Area is like the underdog. In the spotlight there’s LA, the premier city of California. That’s not us. We get it from the bottom and work our way up. We have that struggle in the music even though it’s lots of fun party stuff. The Bay just comes with a different outlook.
Goapele, “Closer” Closer (Goapele Music 2001)
ROSSI: It’s hard coming up as a singer in the Bay Area when all you ever hear about is its rappers. So whenever a huge R&B song comes out from the Bay, it means a lot to me, because it shows that it’s possible for someone like me to make it. The song is all about Goapele getting closer to her dreams, which is my overall message when it comes to adversity. When the song came out, my family and I were just starting to recover and get back on our feet. We had been in hotels and shelters for the majority of the ’90s. Around the time that “Closer” peaked, we finally were able to move into our own house. That was the first step toward normalcy for us; we were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “Closer” meant the world to me at that time, in the midst of it.
Mac Dre, “Thizzle Dance” Thizzelle Washington (Thizz Entertainment 2002)
KOOL JOHN: Mac Dre is the most influential rapper to come from the Bay Area. There was this whole generation that grew up on him and was just crazy about him. A lot of young people relate to Dre’s fashion, style of rap and everything that he talked about. With hyphy, he brought a brand new culture to the Bay. Dre was really the leader of it—he coined all the phrases, had all these DVDs so you could see what he was into and his lifestyle. It was just intriguing, and the music was good, so everybody just got into it. You can influence anybody if your music is good.
E-40, “Tell Me When to Go” My Ghetto Report Card (BME 2006)
SKIPPER: “Tell Me When to Go” really gave birth to the next generation of the Bay. It spawned a new energy. I was in the 11th grade when the video dropped—it was on this music video program called CMC [California Music Channel], hosted by Chuy Gomez. The first time I saw it, I was so shocked and amazed, just seeing people from our area on TV. E-40 is a legend; he gave game to the whole world. A lot of him is in a lot of everybody’s stuff nowadays.
Lil B, “Pretty Boy” (Internet 2009)
JAY ANT: “Pretty Boy” was a game-changer. That song made it possible for a lot of rappers and artists, not just in the Bay Area, but just period. Without Lil B there would be no Migos, A$AP Rocky or Future. There would be none of these people over trap beats. That’s what Based God did—just got on a trap beat, expressed whatever and said anything. Everybody hated him for a second, but now they’re all doing it. He went dumb in the world for a lot of people, but he’s not a dummy, you know?