This is the last Close 2 tha Edge. It's been a remarkable, sometimes surreal, run over the last four and a half years. In that time, Bay Area urban street culture has undergone at least one paradigm shift, as has the paper you're reading. Launched back in December 2003, during the days of the chain-owned Express, C2tE documented the trials, tribulations, struggles, and victories of our local hip-hop scene, with occasional big-picture views connecting the music and culture to larger social and political issues.
Looking back, the column was frequently ahead of the curve, behind the scenes, and in acute proximity to the zeitgeist of local pop culture. If there's been one overarching theme, it's poking past stereotypes and preconceptions to reveal a greater, if oft-overlooked, reality. There have been many memorable moments; here are some of my personal favorites:
"The Race Card's Joker" (12/10/03): C2tE's inaugural column took former Source magazine co-owner (and wanna-be gangster rapper) Benzino to task for playing the race card against Eminem — and sullying the legacy of a once-great publication. Unsurprisingly, we didn't get an Xmas card from 'Zino.
"We've Got Rap and Hip-Hop" (6/2/2004): Gently mocking the California Music Awards' booking of lightweight hair-metalists Night Ranger and Yay Area ballatician E-40, C2tE imagined a duet between the two set to the unforgettable, if corny, strains of "Sister Christian." All joking aside, 40 presciently foreshadowed the collective spirit that would later come to fruition via the hyphy movement: "We're starting to see real unity," he said.
"Orishas Watchin' Your Back" (8/11/2004): With Kanye West's "Jesus Walks" leading a spiritual revival on radio and video channels, C2tE talked to Yoruba priestess Luisah Teish and discussed hip-hop artist Carlos Mena's take on religious music, Hip Hop Meditations. A sidebar offered an orisha-inspired hip-hop playlist "to invoke these elemental forces in your own home."
"Beenie Manhunt" (9/15/2004): This column addressed Jamaican homophobia and examined the possibility of economic racism by an international LGBT community outraged over anti-gay sentiments in dancehall music. C2tE's conclusion? "Maybe it's time to bid 'boom bye bye' to homophobic lyrics — and erase racism while we're at it."
"Requiem for a Mac" (11/10/2004): This eulogy for murdered local rap icon Mac Dre stands as one of the most-read C2tE's ever. As we commented at the time, "You'll probably never hear Mac Dre's name on VH-1 specials commemorating hip-hop's history. However, his legacy remains a momentous one in the annals of West Coast rap."
"Keak Da Mayor" (3/2/2005): A tongue-in-cheek interview with the indie rap star, in which he's asked what his agenda would be if he were elected mayor of Oakland. Not surprisingly, Keak came out in favor of legalizing sideshows, in addition to building a new stadium for the A's in Oakland and conducting official town business "like a civil rights movement, feel me?"
"The Colony Raps Back" (6/8/2005): Director Michael Wanguhu's groundbreaking documentary Hip Hop Colony, about Kenya's indigenous rap scene, provided an in-depth look at East African hip-hop, and how it connects and diverges from its American counterpart. C2tE's assessment: "Like the classic early-'80s American films Wild Style and Style Wars, Hip Hop Colony is a historical document, capturing a fast-developing culture at a seminal moment in time."
"Zion's Zenith" (9/28/2005): The debut of the now-annual Paid In Full concert manifested that local unity E-40 referred to a year earlier, as Zion-I assembled backpack rappers like Crown City Rockers with streetwise emcees like Turf Talk for a triumphantly sold-out show at the storied Fillmore Auditorium.
"Hyphy's Heroes" (10/12/2005): The hyphy movement was often criticized for not having a political or social agenda, nor much of a conscience, yet this column about a benefit for Katrina victims featuring Keak Da Sneak, the Frontline, EA-Ski, Mistah F.A.B., Too $hort, and D'Wayne Wiggins offered evidence to the contrary.
"Hyphy vs. Thizzin" (11/2/2005): Another one of the most popular C2tE's to date, this column introduced the terms "hyphy" and "thizzin'" to Express readers months before MTV's "My Block" special on the Bay Area did the same thing for national audiences. Here's what was said at the time: "The emergence of what can rightfully be dubbed the Hyphy Generation ... has resulted in a flowering of regional pride, as local music becomes more welcome on club and radio playlists." Don't say we didn't warn you.
"Go Less Dumb" (4/26/2006): By this time, hyphy's influence on youth was beginning to draw criticism from community activists like David Muhammad, former director of Oakland's Mentoring Center. Muhammad called rap "a culture of death" and claimed hyphy was responsible for spikes in criminal activity. C2tE didn't see the link between turf dancing and high murder rates, and Muhammad didn't provide specifics. So we called him out.
"Gas, Break, Dance, Crime" (9/9/2006): Like Muhammad, Oakland neighborhood activist (and failed City Council candidate) Charles Pine also attempted to link youth culture to crime, specifically attacking East Oakland community center Youth UpRising for allowing an E-40 video to be filmed on its premises, while neglecting to mention YU's voter registration, job training, teen pregnancy, and anti-violence programs. Boo.
"Rap Not So Macho" (2/14/2007) and "'Ho' Bans" (5/2/2007): These two columns tackled the controversial topic of sexism in hip-hop, as well as the seemingly hypocritical stance of media pundits and rap-biz moguls. The first article featured an interview with Byron Hurt, director of the by-us-for-us documentary "Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes." The second, written after the Don Imus debacle and the subsequent responses of Russell Simmons and Al Sharpton, spotlighted a local, independent, all-female emcee compilation, Queendom, questioning why major labels don't put out non-sexist rap music. Taken together, they offer insight into an issue much bigger than hip-hop.
"Chuck D vs. Obama" (4/4/2007): After hearing presidential candidate Barack Obama speak in Oakland, C2tE proclaimed him "the best choice for the hip-hop generation." Little did we know he would become the best hope American voters have for positive change as well.
"A Dream, Continued" (6/6/2007): Another eulogy, this time commemorating an art show in memory of beloved, inspirational graffiti artist Mike "Dream" Francisco, who was tragically murdered in 2000. Dream's legacy was summed up by fellow artist Cuba, who said, "everything I believe myself to be, he embodied."
"Obizzle Fa Shizzle" (5/7/2008): By this time, Obama had emerged as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination, prompting conservative pundit Evan Gahr to criticize him for accepting the support of mainstream rappers like Will.I.Am and Jay-Z. So it seemed only fair to mention pro-Obama songs by locals Kev Choice and D Labrie.
Well, that's a wrap. Thanks for reading. See y'all in traffic ... and I'm out.
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