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Modesty 

For low-profile hard work, it’s still hard to top Mac Dre.

Honesty is such a lonely word, Billy Joel once sang. But modesty is a different thing altogether. While not without pride, the East Bay is in of itself a modest and humble place; maybe it doesn’t have the romantic cachet (or appeal to tourists) of San Francisco, but then again, it has contributed as much or more to Bay Area culture as its better-known neighbor. Consider, for example, the Bay Bridge, that underappreciated cousin to the world-famous Golden Gate. The hardworking span is as blue-collar, imagewise, as the Oakland Raiders -- it doesn’t lend itself to postcard-perfect sunsets and lacks aesthetic oohs and aahs, but it gets the job done, day in and day out. (Well, okay, maybe it’s not like the Raiders, but there’s always next season.)

Another example of East Bay modesty at its best is Berkeley’s Monterey Market. The store doesn’t stock the high-end gourmet items favored by taste-conscious yuppies -- you won’t find a kalamata olive bar or prosciutto display anywhere. Still, its produce selection is easily comparable to the Berkeley Bowl, yet its prices are often a tad cheaper, and its lines much shorter.

When it comes to the ultimate expression of East Bay modesty, however, you can’t top Mac Dre. The legendary Vallejo rapper has been dead for about two years now, and while he’s no longer able to tell you how much he’s feeling himself, others are more than willing to do it for him in his absence. His praises have been sung by just about every other rap artist in the region, while T-shirts bearing his visage have become a fashion trend among younger folks. His legacy is also somewhat modest -- Dre never attained mainstream exposure or became a household name, but he’s one of the few local artists whose career spans the eras from mobb music to the hyphy movement, and he deserves props for being a pioneer of independent label success. He also deserves credit for his creativity and his highly conceptual sense of humor. You can have your Josh Kornbluths and your Robin Willamses, but it’s seriously hard to top Dre’s character Ronald Dregan, or his reserved, conservatively dressing alter ego Thizzelle Washington. Yet modesty, as usually is the case, ends up being its own reward. Unlike such overexposed, overly commercial groups like the Black Eyed Peas, Mac Dre’s impressive catalogue of underground hits -- 22 albums released during his lifetime, and several more posthumously -- will be listened to long after “My Humps” has been replaced as your personal ringtone. -- Eric K. Arnold

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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