Finally, the Federation 

The long-delayed album by the hyphy movement's leaders drops for real.

It's official. The long wait for the Federation's second album is finally over. Their Reprise debut It's Whateva hit store shelves October 2, after more false starts than the Raiders' offensive line. Originally scheduled for summer of 2006, the release was delayed several times — once when '80s singer Corey Hart refused to clear the publishing rights for a remake of "Sunglasses at Night," retitled "Stunna Glasses." For a while, It's Whateva seemed destined for the music industry graveyard of potential classics that never saw the light of day.

The return of the Federation to active duty could help restore some polish to the bay's national shine, which has noticeably faltered since last summer's high point, when E-40's "Tell Me When to Go" took America by storm. Of course, there might not have been any drop-off had the album come out when planned. This time, it's up to the Feds to supply their own momentum, not an easy task given the music-biz recession.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given all the behind-the-scenes drama, the Federation — rappers Doonie Baby, Goldie, and Stressmatic, plus producer Rick Rock — seemed more relieved than anything during a recent listening party held at Loft 11 in San Francisco. "Ah man, we're just chilling, waiting for this album to come out," says Stressmatic, a bit of an understatement considering the circumstances. In the meantime, he says, the group has continually worked on new material, including an upcoming project with ex-Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker called Block Rock. "It's crazy," he promises.

"Everything we're doing, we're gonna take it off this building block, and we're gonna put it on a pedestal now," says Goldie. He boasts that It's Whateva isn't merely a major upgrade from the Federation's eponymous debut, but one of the best hip-hop — it's worth noting he doesn't say West Coast, gangsta rap, or hyphy — albums to come out in the last year. "Sonically, the music is unmatched. From quality to quantity to wordplay to production to cleverness," he says. It's not unusual to hear braggadocio coming from a rapper, but then Rock's rep has been built on a stack of platinum plaques (with records by Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Mariah Carey, Fabolous, 40, and 2Pac), and he's clearly saved his best work for his own group, whose sound has gelled after years of working together.

Inside Loft 11, the Feds maintained a low-key profile as a who's-who of the Bay Area rap scene sipped $10 cocktails, munched on free soul-food, and took advantage of a complimentary barber and masseuse. The mood shifted from bougie to "off the chain, mayne" when the Feds commandeered the DJ booth. Passing a single mic between them house-party style, the three MCs and Rock presented a mini showcase that didn't lack in intensity. Tattooed, battle-tested, and supremely confident, their chemistry was evident as they ripped through tunes from the new album, including "Get Naked You Beezy" and "Got Me Fucked Up," without a full stage to work with.

They displayed rock-star chops with shredding guitar riffs to match on "Black Roses," a kinetic assault (featuring Barker on drums) that blurs the line between hyphy and metal. It takes gumption to pull off rap-rock these days without seeming limper than Fred Durst's biscuit; luckily the Federation have muy grandes cojones. As Goldie states in the song's guttural hook: Don't make me show my teeth/I'm a beast.

Raw, aggressive, and utterly transcendent, "Black Roses" illustrates what makes the Federation crew innovators rather than followers: namely, their willingness to experiment sonically and push the creative envelope of the rap genre beyond regional limitations. One could easily see metalheads and backpackers jumping on the Feds' bandwagon, along with the white-Ts-and-Nikes crowd who made songs like "18 Dummy" and "My Rimz" street anthems.

The Federation created the template for the hyphy movement, jump-starting the scraper contingent's engines with 2004's singles "Hyphy" and "Go Dumb," but on It's Whateva, that they stretch their sound considerably. While Rock is best known for crafting industrial-strength slaps, the album's most poignant songs seethe with soulful emotion. The gospel-chorus-enhanced "Fly Away" connects the Yay Area with its Southern roots, and on "When I Was Yo Man," Doonie eschews macho thugisms to reminisce about a former flame. Adding to the song's boudoir appeal is the fact that Doonie sings on the song — quite possibly the closest Rick Rock will come to producing a Prince track.

Yet for all the Federation's potential to resonate with other parts of the country (surely a factor in its landing a major-label deal), it was "From the Bay," a last-minute addition to the album that brought the Loft 11 crowd to critical mass. One of the best traits of hyphy is its practitioners' stubborn sense of hometown pride (a similar characteristic with crunk), and on a night when up-and-comers like Beeda Weeda and Kafani mingled with seasoned OGs such as Mind Motion and Beni B, "From the Bay" made a perfect soundtrack. Capturing the crowd's mood expertly, it seemed not just anthemic, but epic.

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