By Eric K. Arnold, East Bay Express
With the hyphy movement in full ghost-ride glory, whither the other major component of Bay Area hip-hop: the political side? Let us not forget, the soil that birthed E-40 and Too $hort also produced raptivists like Paris and the Coup, focal points in an underground movement as crucial to the evolution of our regional sound as pimps and ballers. Both have remained active in the game — Paris' latest compilation, Hard Truth Soldiers, hit the streets early this month, while the Coup's Epitaph Records debut, Pick a Bigger Weapon, drops April 26 — yet they've already imparted their legacy onto 27-year-old T-Kash.
Clearly, the revolutionary torch has been passed into capable hands. The emcee's Turf War Syndrome (produced by Paris, and featuring a guest appearance by the Coup) sounds like the lovechild of the former's Sonic Jihad and the latter's Party Music, and if that doesn't get ears perking, it should. The beats swerve between hardcore hip-hop and West Coast G-funk, but the deal-sealer is T-Kash's authoritative, personable voice, honed to charismatic perfection through years as a radio host on KPFA's FNV, first under the tutelage of Davey-D, and then on his own. (He currently co-hosts the show with Sean Kennedy of IllTrendz — it airs Fridays from 12 to 3 a.m. on 94.1 FM.)
T-Kash's mentors have taught him well. From Boots, he learned about stage presence and live performance, and discovered that "[t]here are people outside the black community who truly want to help people outside of the circle of oppression on a social level." From Paris, he gleaned the ins and outs of working in the studio: "He put me through boot camp and helped me cultivate myself." And from Davey-D, he retained the ability to articulate on a topic endlessly, but articulately.
With Turf War Syndrome, T-Kash explains, "I was trying to reach two elements." On one hand, "I'm calling out to the gangsters and thugs. I'm saying, ÔYou can be revolutionary, you can change.'" On the other hand, he's informing backpack hip-hoppers that real change happens in the streets, not "at college campuses and Starbucks." On the opener, "American Nightmare," Kash wonders Why we goin' dumb in the first place/And how we make a better way up out the worst place. The cleverly titled "How to Get Ass" doesn't proffer advice for midnight booty-call missions, but instead deals with a much hotter topic: a societal climate of constantly eroding civil liberties. "Ass," you see, is short for "assassinated," and as far as agitprop anthems go, the stuttering chorus of This is how-th-this-is-how-you-get-assassinated is right up there with PE's Don't-don't-don't-don't-don't-don't believe the hype.
"How to Get Ass" advocates not murderous treason against our chief executive, but instead details various scenarios of "how the president is trying to kill me," T-Kash explains. Similarly, "Made in America" focuses on what he calls "the real war on terror." To him, a "high-ass PG&E bill" is akin to a letter bomb, in that it might cause a ghetto resident strapped for cash to engage in illegal activity to pay it off. Slipping into the perspective of a low-level street soldier, he raps, I hit the frontline with my ammo and my canteen/Basketball and tennis shoes as a smokescreen/Shooting jumpers as the boys in blue pass me/Casually I pass cream to the crack fiends.
It's evident he knows of which he speaks. At one time, T-Kash was caught up in the gangsta lifestyle, hustling in the turfs of West Oakland. His transformation happened around 2001-2002, when "the murder rate in Oakland grew — so did my dead homie rate." That led to some serious self-reflection. "I was going dumb. I was going stupid. I was being hyphy," he recalls — all symptoms of Turf War Syndrome.
That album title refers to an inner-city variant of Gulf War or Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, an affliction of which the hyphy movement is but an effect. Getting hyphy, T-Kash explains, is a "release" from the pressures of "growing up in a community full of drug use and violence," further adversely affected by "government politics ... city politics ... police brutality ...." The list goes on.