"We relate to hyphy here in terms of it being the Bay Area version of crunk," says DJ Nabs of Atlanta's Hot 107.9 FM. "It doesn't really mean that we know what's going on there, though."
Even people in Northern California scratch their heads in amusement and confusion when it comes to hyphy, the term for the youth-driven hip-hop scene of the day. As undefinable as crunk, but just as simple to demonstrate, hyphy is a spirit. When someone is beyond hyper, dancing with the energy of a thousand Holy Ghosts and the wild abandon of a mosher at a Limp Bizkit concert, they're hyphy.
Some of the slang phrases connected to hyphy -- including "go dumb," "get stupid," and the ever-popular "ride the yellow bus" -- allude to retardation. But with no genuine offense intended to those with mental challenges, the analogy is meant to encapsulate that crazy feeling of letting loose.
The dancing and music of hyphy is a modern outgrowth of the longtime streetcar culture of Oakland, CA, particularly "sideshows" where rubber burns under the heat of continual doughnuts and gas/brake dips. But it ain't some Southernplayalisticadillac cruising. In Cali, it's about ghost-riding the whip -- hanging out of, on top of or dancing alongside cars that are "magically" driving themselves. The emphasis is on technical MacGyverism -- how many tricks can we make our old-ass hooptie do?
"I've never ridden in a car with hydraulics in my life; that's not what we do here, but we do have 'scrapers on dubs,'" says Clyde Carson, member of Oakland rappers the Team. Carson also recently launched Hyphy Juice, a "grapple"-flavored (grape and apple) rival to energy drinks like Nelly's Pimpjuice and Lil Jon's CRUNK!!! He studies the business ventures of the biggest Southern and East Coast rap stars and applies it to marketing his Bay Area lifestyle. The hope is Hyphy Juice will help stoke a growing national interest in the music itself.
"Hip-hop is always evolving and it's always mutating -- it just mutated into hyphy," explains Too Short, the multiplatinum Oakland-bred rapper that has made Atlanta his home for more than a decade. "It just took on another leg, another arm. It's not really saying that this [alone] represents the Bay. It's just a dance, it's just an attitude; it's a movement. The dance is what brought the whole movement about, but an actual musical sound came up out of it. That's where I step in and go, 'Whoa, you're on to something.'"
"Musically, we put paint where it ain't," says Rick Rock, the producer credited with the club-driven sound of the movement (as well as hits by Jay-Z, Fabolous and Busta Rhymes). Rock has worked on many of the most loved tunes from the Bay Area's biggest rap star, E-40, and shared production duties with Lil Jon on 40's recent album My Ghetto Report Card, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts.
Rock's proteges, Federation, the trio behind the 2003 Bay Area hit "Hyphy," recently signed with Warner Bros. after a bidding war that also included J Records and Universal, among others. "Hyphy" set the sound of hyphy in place: high energy, like crunk kicked in the groin and ready to wild out. Like Lil Jon, versatile studio wizard Rock knows the key to longevity is to continually reinvent his sound while maintaining a certain vibe, especially as others are frantically biting the hyphy records he made more than three years ago.
DJ Nabs says that, beyond E-40 and Lil Jon hooking up for Report Card, the hyphy sound is still nonexistent in the local ATL clubs and on the airwaves. "I don't think that's a slight to the Bay Area," he says. "It's just that people's regional sounds take precedence over other people's regional sounds."
It might not be an easy road to national acclaim, but there is still tremendous business potential for enterprising Bay Area artists in the hyphy movement -- just look at Clyde Carson and Hyphy Juice. Years after Dirty South artists followed the blueprints of the independent rap hustle of Too Short and his Bay Area brethren, it's now kids in Oakland looking to Atlanta for strategies of success.
"I'm trying to be a guiding light to these youngsters," says Too Short. "I'm like, 'Man, don't make the wrong decisions. Don't sign stupid contracts, don't let nobody else get your money and jack it off.' ... Don't turn the hyphy into a dance that comes and goes. Turn this into a business that supports families and kids and generations. It's somebody's kids going to go to college because of crunk music. Somebody's kids are gonna get a trust fund because of crunk, you know what I'm saying? Let's do that with the hyphy."