Bay Area, on Your Feet! 

Mac Dre kicks? Fo' rilla.

The cult of dead rappers meets the subculture of foot-fetish fashionistas with the new, limited-edition "Furls One" shoe. It's a surprisingly comfortable pairing. The sneaker, based on a Nike Air Force One platform, trades the familiar corporate swoosh for some pimp swagger. Printed onto the leather panels is the visage of an Afroed, polo-shirted Mac Dre, his mouth grotesquely twisted into the famous "thizz-face." Whether you're ghost-riding the Volvo through the Orinda hills on your way to brunch or gas-break-dippin' through the cuts of North Richmond, now you can put the pedal to the metal with style.

While the gold-teeth and white-T look may not go over too big at Cal alumni dinners, the Furls One's subtle white, blue, and gold colorways lend a measure of subdued street cred to such affairs. Furthermore, for all you ironic hipsters out there, a Mac Dre sneaker, IMHO, makes a much better fashion statement than a trucker hat or Gnarls Barkley tour shirt. If you're gonna be trendy, why not rep the Yay while you're at it?

With the Furls One, Dre — who announced himself as Furl, "the owner of the building," on 2003's "Feelin' Myself," one of hyphy's earliest and most anthemic songs — gains a further measure of hip-hop immortality, alongside all the airbrushed T-shirts, bobblehead dolls, and posthumous CDs already in existence. It's a brilliant cross-marketing move, the result of a collaboration between Thizz Entertainment (Dre's label), SMC recordings, and Siccness.net, and one that actually illustrates the newfound unity hyphy has supposedly brought to the Bay Area hip-hop scene.

Regardless of hyphy's relevance, Mac Dre is a phenomenon unto himself — in fact, it could be argued that Dre's rabid following of thizz-happy fans made the movement relevant in the first place. As SMC's Will Bronson relates, "It's hard to be on MySpace and not realize how many Mac Dre images there are on there. He'll forever be a cultural icon."

Since Dre's death in 2004, Thizz has picked up the torch and then some. According to Bronson, "They've become a real cultural force. That's just undeniable." He notes Thizz doesn't market its products the way a traditional label does, with billboards, banners, and national magazine ads. "It's a word-of-mouth thing," he says. "We've got the industry buzz, they've got the backstory."

For that reason, joining forces with Thizz was a no-brainer for the SF-based SMC, one of the music industry's rising indie-label stars in a time of declining fortunes overall for rap music. According to The New York Daily News, the genre's sales in 2006 were down 20 percent; SMC reported sales rose 33 percent over that same period.

Bronson remains optimistic that SMC can continue to grow in 2007 and beyond. "I think we can turn this into a Def Jam," he says. "We're on the right course." To a large degree, SMC has managed to avoid the industry slump with out-of-the-box thinking — or, in the case of the Furls One, by putting something different in the box. The shoes were sent out to various music industry big wigs as Christmas gifts. Down the line, Bronson says, there are plans to sell them in retail stores, where they'll go for a pricey $120. But if you just can't wait for them to hit your local mall, you can cop a pair right now online at Siccness.net or FriscoStreetScene.com.

With the Furls One, SMC hopes to capitalize on Thizz's vaunted street buzz while using Dre's scowl to set up their next joint venture: PSD, Messy Marv, and Keak Da Sneak's Da Bidness, which, Bronson jokes, drops on "Valen-Thizz Day," February 13. A quick listen to the advance album reveals a surprisingly effective blend of smoothed-out melodic hooks, scraper-approved knocks, and hardcore lyricism. Da Bidness probably won't do E-40 numbers, but it should do well with hyphy's sub-mainstream core audience.

By uniting three Bay Area kings behind two of Northern Cali 's hottest indie labels, Bronson is hoping to extend the local scene's national momentum. He's committed, he says, not just to Bay Area music, but also to keeping revenue circulating through the region. SMC does much of its marketing and promotions in-house, and local vendors receive first consideration for any outsourcing needs. "We have to build our foundation and be self-sufficient," he emphasizes, pointing to other regional scenes as examples. Before their scene went national, "Houston was on their feet for a long time. So was Atlanta." With the Furls One leading the way, SMC is clearly taking a step in the right direction.

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