KETR

The Many Sounds Of 1993 Bay Area Rap

Mar 28, 2013
Originally published on March 28, 2013 7:27 pm

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a remarkable year in music. Over the 12 months of 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah and more than a dozen other rap groups released albums that helped change the sound of America. In the late '80s, a music industry focused on New York and Los Angeles was slow to see the San Francisco Bay Area's rap potential. And so the music made there followed two rules: Do it yourself, and be yourself.

In 1993 in Oakland, Calif., Too Short was rhyming about having money in the ghetto, while The Coup rapped about the Communist Manifesto.

"To me, it all represented Oakland," says Sway Calloway, an Oakland native and MTV personality. "Oakland was never a one-dimensional place." In '93 he co-hosted a radio program in the Bay called the Wake Up Show. It aired on KMEL and featured popular rappers and up-and-comers.

Sway says in the early years the industry kind of ignored not just Oakland rap but Bay Area rap: San Francisco, Richmond, Vallejo. "The record labels weren't signing a lot of Bay Area artists in the late '80s," he says — which was a good thing. "Instead of our music being overseen by an A&R guy that worked for a record company that knew nothing about the region, a lot of artists had the freedom to make their own music."

Sway says if you take that freedom and mix it with influences, from Black Panther revolutionaries to beloved pimps and drug hustlers, you get the trendsetters and entrepreneurs of the '93 rap game. Too Short. Del the Funky Homosapien. Mac Dre. The Coup. Spice 1. They all had bangin' tracks in '93 that were all so different. And you can't forget E-40.

The self pro-claimed King of Slanguistics, from Vallejo, introduced new slang to rap's vocabulary: "You feel me," "Fo'shizzle," "It's all good." But he's probably best known for "Tell Me When to Go," a top 40 hit from 2006.

A year before he was signed to a major — Jive records in '94 by the CEO himself — E-40 released his first solo album, Federal, on his own label. I asked him what it meant to be "federal." "Big business," he says. "I had big dreams, big ideals, a large amount of money stacked in my head."

As 40 tells it, he had been a rap hustler for six years, selling tapes and CDs by the tens of thousands. "You gotta treat the rap game like the dope game, you feel me?" Drug hustling was big in the '80s and '90s in poor urban neighborhoods. The lack of good blue-collar work plus the crack epidemic left a void filled by street entrepreneurs. The lack of a music industry in the Bay — that left a void, too, so rappers like E-40 treated the rap game like the dope game.

"It's a beautiful thing," he says. "You're claiming more fame than the dope game, making more money than the dope game, and it's more legal than the dope game. How 'bout that one? Give myself a hand clap, yes. Yes, sir, 40 water."

Tajai Massey describes Bay's do-it-yourself mentality as scrappy. He says it helped inform his group's sound. But even more influential on the Souls of Mischief, he says, was the juxtaposition of the gritty East Oakland streets he grew up on with the serene beauty of the Bay's nearby beaches and forests.

"That's our Oakland. We were talking about the variety of different groups coming out — you said The Coup, Too Short, E-40, Del — as far as our Oakland, we used go hang out in the forest for hecka hours, rapping."

Tajai says the title track of Soul's debut album, '93 Til Infinity, was an anthem for an era. A time and a place where rapping about money in the ghetto and the Communist Manifesto under a redwood canopy — there was room for all of it. When being yourself — and doing it yourself — got you radio play.

"If I turn on the radio now," says Tajai, "it sounds like one long song. And it's a good song. It's a good song; you can bounce for hours. But it sounds like one long song."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a remarkable period in American music. And all year, we'll be looking back at 1993 and how it came to be that the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, and dozens of other rap groups released albums that helped change the sound of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MONTAGE OF RAP SONGS)

GREENE: Today, our series about rap's greatest year takes us to the San Francisco, Bay Area. The music industry was slow to see the Bay Area's rap potential, instead focusing on New York and Los Angeles.

NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji reports that the Bay's contribution to hip-hop in '93 was a do it yourself and be yourself approach.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONEY IN THE GHETTO")

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: 1993 in Oakland, California: Too $hort was rhyming about having money in the ghetto, while The Coup rapped about the communist manifesto.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMMUNIST MANIFESTO")

SWAY CALLOWAY: To me, it all represented Oakland. Oakland was never a one dimensional place.

MERAJI: Sway Calloway's an Oakland native and MTV personality. In '93, he hosted a radio program in the Bay called the "Wake Up Show." It aired on KMEL and featured popular rappers and up-and-comers.

Sway says, in the early years, the music industry kind of ignored, not just Oakland rap but Bay Area rap - San Francisco, Richmond, Vallejo.

CALLOWAY: The record labels weren't signing a lot of Bay Area artists in the late '80s. Instead of our music being overseen by and A&R guy that worked for a record company that knew nothing about the region, a lot of artists had the freedom to make their own music.

MERAJI: He says, take that freedom, mix it with influences from Black Panther revolutionaries to beloved pimps and drug hustlers, and you get the trendsetters and entrepreneurs of 93's rap game.

Too $hort.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONEY IN THE GHETTO")

MERAJI: Del the Funky Homosapien.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEMORY LOSS")

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA LIVING'")

MERAJI: The Coup

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIG IT")

MERAJI: They all had banging tracks in '93 that were all so different. And you can't forget...

E-FEASIBLE BELAFONTE BELLAGIANO BELLWEATHER: I go by the name of E-feasible Belafonte Bellagiano Bellweather.

MERAJI: Otherwise known as...

BELLWEATHER: E40.

MERAJI: The self pro-claimed King of Slanguistics from Vallejo introduced new slang to rap's vocabulary: You Feel Me, Fo'shizzle, PoPo. But he's probably best known for this top 40 hit from 2006.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELL ME WHEN TO BLOW")

MERAJI: A year before he was signed to a major - Jive Records in '94 by the CEO himself - E-40 released his first solo album, "Federal," on his own label.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEDERAL")

MERAJI: What does that mean to be Federal?

BELLWEATHER: You know, big business. I had big dreams, big ideals. A large amount of money stacked in my head.

MERAJI: As 40 tells it, he had been a rap hustler for six years, selling tapes and CDs to whoever would buy them by the tens of thousands.

BELLWEATHER: You got to treat the rap game like the dope game. You feel me?

MERAJI: Drug hustling was big in the '80s and '90s in poor urban neighborhoods. The lack of good blue-collar work, plus the crack epidemic, left a void filled by street entrepreneurs. The lack of a music industry in the Bay, that left a void, too. So rappers like E40 treated the rap game like the dope game.

BELLWEATHER: It's a beautiful thing. You're claiming more fame than the dope game. You're making more money than the dope game. And it's more legal than the dope game. How bout that one? Give myself a hand clap. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Forty water - mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA LIVING'")

TAJAI MASSEY: It's scrappy, you know?

MERAJI: For Tajai Massey, the Bay's scrappy DIY mentality helped inform his group's sound. But even more influential for the Soul's of Mischief, he says, was the juxtaposition of the gritty East Oakland streets he grew up on with the serene beauty of the Bay's nearby beaches and forests.

MASSEY: So that's our Oakland. Talking about the variety of different groups coming out: The Coup, Too $hort, E40, Del. As far as our Oakland, we used go hang out in the forest, for heck of hours, rapping.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'93 TILL INFINITY")

MERAJI: Tajai says the title track of Soul's debut album, "'93 till Infinity,"- was an anthem for an era. A time and a place where rapping about money in the ghetto and the Communist Manifesto under a redwood canopy, there was room for all of it.

Where do it yourself and be yourself could get you radio play.

MASSEY: You know, like if I turn on the radio now it sounds like one long song. And, it's a good song. It's a good song. Like, you can turn it on and bounce for hours. But it sounds like one long song. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'93 TILL INFINITY")

MERAJI: Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'93 TILL INFINITY")

GREENE: And if you want to hear more from the Bay Area's rappers, you can visit NPRMusic.org. Next up in our series, the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut. It was not just an album. Group member, the RZA, says it was an idea - a five-year plan.

RZA: I use a bus as an analogy. I said I want all of y'all to get on this bus. And I'm the driver and nobody can ask where we're going. I'm taking us to Number One. Give me five years and I promise that I'll get us there.

GREENE: And he did. That story next in our series on Hip-Hop's Greatest Year.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEETEST GIRL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.