Major Labels' Hyphy 2.0 

Is the upstart youth movement finally growing up?

When hyphy first scraped across pop culture's intersection in 2004, it was a response to numerous social, cultural, and economic factors. Among them were the lack of local music then being aired on commercial radio, the perception that Bay Area rap had fallen off since its mid-'90s peak, and the emergence of a new generation that demanded uptempo beats, harder "slaps," and lyrics that accurately described their lifestyles.

Hyphy did its thing in 2006, finally garnering the national attention so long denied our local rap scene. But though E-40 succeeded in notching gold sales for his own album and opening industry doors for other local artists, skepticism abounded. Critics and community activists pointed to hyphy's immaturity and seeming social irresponsibility. Music industry nonbelievers remained unconvinced of its commercial appeal. And the extremely disorganized Bay Area Rap Scene Awards resulted in a heap of unfavorable publicity.

DJ Backside had been one of hyphy's biggest cheerleaders, but she says its momentum waned after its summer '06 peak, while the awards fiasco "wasn't a good look." Instead of the hyphy movement, she now says she'd prefer if people called it the "Bay Area movement." However, as 2007 dawns, there is much evidence to indicate that the movement, no matter what it's called, may just be getting started. While there are growing pains associated with any significant social phenomenon or cultural trend, there's plenty of reason to believe that hyphy will yet "get its grown man on," to paraphrase Dem Hoodstarz.

As the hyphy movement enters its fourth year, it's becoming more embedded in the music industry, which has invested heavily in local artists, despite concerns over commercial marketability. As Skyblaze's Namane Mohlabane points out, "Everyone who deserved to be signed got signed." Here's a recap of folks who now have major-label deals: Mistah F.A.B. (Atlantic); Federation (Warner Bros.); Clyde Carson (Capitol); the A'z (TVT); the Pack (Jive).

Naysayers have opined that other than E-40, no acts from the Bay Area have really blown up, yet that might prove a premature judgment. Indeed, a trunkload of Yay Area albums are scheduled for the first and second quarter — including the Federation's twice-delayed It's Whateva — which could continue hyphy's momentum well into '07.

A lot is riding on F.A.B., who "really embodies everything in this movement," Backside says. His success or failure could be the litmus test for Bay Area rappers not named E-40. Word from F.A.B.'s camp is positive; his manager Gary Archer says Atlantic has been solidly behind the artist, and notes a recent video shoot in Los Angeles was highly encouraging.

Still, says Backside, "the second wave is gonna need a huge jump start." Even more than buzzworthy slangphrases, what's required is "some good-ass music the whole nation can relate to," she says, emphasizing that artists like Dem Hoodstarz and Keak da Sneak will have to prove they can be successful outside the Bay Area. "Little by little, it's seeping out there," she says, but at the same time, music industry bigwigs are like, "We don't see the numbers."

Could be they're looking in the wrong places. While majors waited to get their feet wet, local indies moved quickly, responding faster to the needs of the market. They've spread their hustle considerably, cross-merchandising CDs, DVDs, bobblehead dolls, T-shirts, energy drinks, sneakers, and fast-food franchises.

Such branding has paid off. As noted in Billboard's January 6 issue, SMC, the home of San Quinn and Bullys wit Fullys, "sold more than 300,000 units in 2006 and generated more than $3 million in revenue — up from the nearly $2 million it generated in 2005 ... instantly making it one of the largest hip-hop labels signed with the Universal Music Group Distribution's Fontana."

Rumor has it that Thizz Entertainment recently secured a major distribution deal and has diversified with two new imprints, Thizz South and Thizz Latin, which should expand its market reach exponentially. Thizz and SMC are already joining forces on the upcoming PSD/Keak da Sneak/Messy Marv project, and Backside says other meetings have been held between Bay Area bosses, the gist of which is a "united we ball, divided we fall" strategy. So, even if no local artist sells platinum, the Bay Area can still win.

Even more interesting: Local rap artists are becoming more involvedwith the inner-city community — a development unconnected with radio play or album sales. For instance, at Youth Uprising's Christmas party, Thizz Entertainment donated new PlayStation 3s, winter coats, Starbury shoes, and white Ts to underprivileged kids.

How underprivileged? "Some kids don't even have socks," former media coordinator Jacky Johnson said. A host of local artists, including Miami, Mac Mall, Rydah J. Klyde, E-40, F.A.B., Traxamillion, Ray Luv, Jacka, Clyde Carson, B-Legit, Too $hort, BavGate, Casual, DJ Backside, and Zion-I, were in the building, sending a strong message to the youth that this was the place to be. But the upshot was when the legendary Too $hort announced he would be joining the Youth Uprising staff as a career counselor.

Let that sink in for a minute. Too $hort, career counselor.

Maybe there's hope for hyphy yet.


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