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Bay Area Hip-Hop Scene Basking In The Spotlight

By Davey D, San Jose Mercury News

Last week, the Bay Area hip-hop scene gained national visibility when E-40's new album, "My Ghetto Report Card," made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B and hip-hop charts.

His new single, "Tell Me When to Go," is lighting up radio playlists and nightclubs from here to New York and across the South. It's even getting attention overseas.

There can be no doubt that the Bay Area hip-hop scene has heated up. Right now, major record labels are engaged in bidding wars for Mistah F.A.B., Rick Rock and the Federation and other acts. "Turf War Syndrome," the new, politically charged CD by T-Kash (who is signed to Paris' Guerrilla Funk label), is one of the hottest discs on college radio.

If that's not enough, the Paris-produced Public Enemy album "Rebirth of a Nation" weighed in at No. 9 on the Billboard top-albums chart last week, which is great for a small indie label. And "18 Dummy" from super-producer Rick Rock and the Federation is getting major radio play in New York.

The big question: Will the Bay Area's own "hyphy" music -- often described as the Northern California version of crunk, except more up-tempo -- become a nationwide phenomenon with staying power?

According to producer Rock (a.k.a. the King of Slaps), who put out his first hyphy record with the Federation five years ago, the local scene will remain in the national spotlight only if local artists make a firm commitment to producing good music.

Rock emphasizes that, though hyphy is "in" right now, it will take more than a bunch of songs invoking the word "hyphy" to keep up the momentum. He argues that, though the music industry is paying attention, local artists will have to stretch and challenge themselves to realize their potential.

"You have to come up with something different," Rock says. "It does no good to drive down the street and hear the same hyphy record with all different artists. It's what I call the Das EFX Syndrome."

Rock is referring to the rap group Das EFX, which came out with a triple-time rhyme style that was so widely mimicked that it hurt the group's career.

Rock notes that he and the Federation are attempting to stay ahead of the curve. For example, he says the beats he creates are influenced by rockers like Metallica, which he considers one of the best groups of all time. Recently Rock collaborated with Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker. Rock says that, after hearing some hyphy songs, Barker remarked that this Bay Area style was a first cousin, in terms of energy and drive, to hard-core rock. He was eager to get down with the Federation.

I predict that, when the Federation releases its next album with lead rappers Goldie Gold, Stress and Doonie Baby spitting fiery lyrics over Barker's drums and Rock's amped-up hyphy music, it will change the game.

It's music like this that can elevate the Bay Area's hip-hop profile. It might also help reduce regional infighting over who's getting recognition, the kind of thing that has crippled the Bay Area hip-hop community occasionally in the past. Federation members Doonie Baby and Goldie Gold argue that there's enough room for everybody in the hip-hop spotlight.

Rock says it's time for local artists to meet together in a closed-door session to discuss what to expect from the music industry's heightened attention and to figure out how to operate in a hater-free environment here. If local artists can accomplish these things, the Bay Area hip-hop community may continue to bask in the spotlight for years to come.

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