San Francisco Then & Now: Destroy & Rebuild

I had a few thoughts while reading a book called “San Francisco: Then & Now,” which shows past and present pictures of SF landmarks and neighborhoods. Of course you know the Golden Gate Bridge is gonna be in there, plus Fisherman’s Wharf, Transamerica Pyramid, etc. I wanted to look for residential neighborhoods but could only find the Marina, Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, and the Sunset. When reading about the Sunset the book said the alphabetic street names (Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo, etc.) were all named after Spanish colonizers, meaning the people who stole those very same lands and murdered and enslaved the population living on them. I will always think about that whenever I drive through the Avenues from now on.

To me, gentrification is colonization. Not to lessen what the Indigenous went through, but I think SF locals can identify with being forced out of your homeland and watching a conquering race/class take over the land while appropriating your culture and directly benefiting from your hard labor.

Another action colonizers take is wiping out the history of the people being colonized. Looking back at this book that mentions almost no working-class areas, I realized that our neighborhoods have never really been included. Based off the pictures in this book, it would be easy to assume that only white people live/lived in SF. There was a small blurb about Fillmore’s jazz history but what about the proud dockworkers that settled Bayview/Hunter’s Point, or the diverse artists and musicians of the Excelsior? Actually I’m having a hard time thinking of other historical facts about these neighborhoods because, come to think of it, they’ve never been taught to me!

I recall an article in Huffington Posts about black business leaders boycotting San Francisco because black residents are being shut out of the tourism industry. I read the comments and saw things like “Why would anyone want to go to black neighborhoods in SF?” or “They’re too dangerous for tourists to visit.” Yet Chinatown is full of poor folks, and definitely has a history of gangs, crime, and violence, but is still one of the biggest tourist draws in the city. Perhaps being able to benefit from worldwide tourism has allowed Chinatown to gain more economic power and prosperity, while also shaking the same stigmas as other Asian/black/Latino neighborhoods. If our history and our value is unknown or unacknowledged, then I guess it’s on us to document and tell our own histories in our own way. We have to show these yuppies, hipsters, tourists, corporations, and greedy politicians that we have always played a crucial role in this city and that our culture and history is beautiful and deserves to be recognized.

One final thought. When looking at a picture of Golden Gate & Taylor (off Market St) from 1922, I saw well-dressed white folks walking to and from local shops and businesses. Now that same intersection is part of the Tenderloin and swarming with drug addicts, dealers, and struggling businesses. It’s also being heavily gentrified right now as part of Mid-Market redevelopment. Crazy how once neighborhoods become populated with poor people of color, they are neglected, flooded with drugs (crack dealers do not own planes), and given a bad reputation. To me it seems like the people of these neighborhoods are made to die a slow, institutional, systemic and social death. As they are being neglected, the rich make plans bulldoze over their lives and legacies to build new housing and businesses that those poor people would never have been able to afford. It’s very likely that 2022’s picture of Golden Gate & Taylor might also feature well-dressed white folks enjoying successful local businesses without a poor person in sight.

As I get more and more involved in the struggle against gentrification I realize how important it is to document all this information and make it readily-available. This is still a fairly new, developing issue and not everyone has access to the facts. Maybe I will write a book of my own. I don’t want to look at an SF history book in 20 years and see that our struggle to maintain our housing and our culture has also been swept under the rug.

Follow the Leader: Hip-Hop Atheism towards “The New God MC”

Until today, I have never listened to a Big Sean verse in its entirety. Just thought I’d say that.

Anyway, the whole world went crazy today over the Detroit rapper’s latest song, featuring two of the most highly-acclaimed MCs to come out in the last 5 years. A few weeks ago I decided to disengage with Facebook and Twitter (more coming about that in future posts), but today I happened to log in just to check for important messages and make sure my account wasn’t sending out spam for fake Jordans and dick enlargement pills. Immediately I was bombarded with links to “Control” and everyone’s opinions on it.

For the most part, people had raging hard-ons over the song. Well, not over the song itself but over Kendrick’s verse. Let’s talk about that. Keep it real, it was a pretty good fucking verse. Lyrically, rhythmically, and content-wise: dope. It’s so dope that it pretty much ruins the rest of the song. Like it makes no sense that this verse would be featured on a track by weak ass Big Sean, bruh’s thunder really got stolen on this one. And adding Jay Electronica on at the end is like cooking two turkeys for the Thanksgiving Dinner. Despite the dopeness of Kendrick’s verse, this song and the people’s reaction to it has left me disappointed.

I’m disappointed that so many people all of a sudden raised their hand and praised this verse like it was the greatest written in hip-hop history. Let me explain that a little bit. Before you even try to play me out, this is not the bitter rambling of an underground aspiring MC whose mad jealous and thirsty for attention- trust me I’m writing this strictly as a fan and a participant in the culture. Nor is this an equally-bitter attempt to dis Kendrick or take away anything from that brother. In fact he is one of my favorite “new” rappers, and has been since I first heard him back in 2009 and 9/10 of you motherfuckers were sleeping on him. That’s because I actually dig for music I haven’t heard and give a fuck about listening to artists than no one else gives a fuck about. Which brings me to my next point.

In my opinion, if you jumped out of your seat and shit your drawers after hearing Kendrick’s verse today, you probably haven’t been paying very close attention to hip-hop. Maybe you’ve been following the watered-down, corporate-influenced imitation that passes for hip-hop on many blogs, radio stations, and TV shows. But if you have kept your ear to the street- and by “street” I actually mean “the street,” you know that place full of poverty and crime where hip-hop was born 40 years ago; I don’t mean the cover of XXL- you’ll probably have heard plenty of verses like the one Kendrick dropped today. As Nas said, “No idea’s original” and I hate to break it to some of y’all but what Kendrick expressed on that verse has been done before. I’ve heard a few people draw comparisons of Kendrick’s delivery to stuff by Freestyle Fellowship and other Project Blowed heads. Again, I AM NOT TRYING TO TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM KENDRICK! I love his music. But he’s not the only cat out there spitting what he spits in the way that he spits it, and if you like what he does you should want to take an interest in discovering those other folks as well.

In the information age, social networks are the main venue for hip-hop, when it used to be the streets. The reason I keep bringing up the streets so much is because if you actually go outside and listen, you’ll learn something. You’ll hear what people are blasting in their speakers. You’ll see how relevant a rapper’s subject matter is to the reality people are facing out there. And most importantly, you’ll be able to tell who is really having an influence on the people. It’s ironic that most of the fans who wear I Heart Hip-Hop” shirts and break bread on tickets for concerts like Rock The Bells would probably never think of setting foot inside the type of housing project where DJ Kool Herc first coined the term “hip-hop.” Same goes for most businessmen, bloggers, and journalists involved in hip-hop these days. Theses projects, these hoods, these streets, these cities are not all about the pimpin’ and thuggin’ that corporate America has been able to convince people of, they are simply a place where life happens. And in these places where historically-oppressed people continue their day-to-day struggle, hip-hop at its best is the soundtrack for that struggle.

However, times are different now and going “viral” is the new going “all-city,” I guess. It’s like people are doing mental and cultural retweets. It’s some serious monkey see, monkey do type shit going down. I feel like the more followers you have the more you can mold public perception. For example, I could probably tell you that a certain artist is good and you should listen. You may agree, you may not- BUT IF THE SOURCE OR 2DOPEBOYZ OR COMPLEX MAG SAYS IT, OH MY GOD LET ME DROP WHAT I’M DOING AND LISTEN! And it is in that way that media and information is regurgitated. That being said, as soon as I hear one person say “HOLY SHIT KENDRICK LAMAR IS THE GREATEST!” I hear five more repeat the same sentiment. I feel the same way when I talk to people about Action Bronson (another one of my new-school favorites) and immediately they tell me “He’s cool, but he sounds like Ghostface.” What! The man does not sound like Ghostface! Maybe there’s a slight tonal resemblance to two rappers (they both have strong NY accents) but creatively and lyrically the two are on totally different levels. But enough people (and enough of the RIGHT people) have made that comparison to the point where almost every time I bring up Bronson, some douchebag brings up Ghostface. “Action Bronson is biting Ghostface.” “Drake is soft and only for the ladies.” “This new Kendrick Lamar verse is the greatest ever.” You see where I’m going with this? It’s like motherfuckers feel included because they share that same, popular opinion as everyone else.

Another reason why I’m disappointed in the response to this song is because much of it seems to be based on shock over the content. It’s a damn shame that something like this happens so rarely that it’s treat as world-shattering news among the hip-hop community. Back in the day you would hear rappers calling each other out constantly. And it wasn’t just some “Ima rap better than you” type of shit. It was “Ima rap better than you and slap the shit out you next time I see you.” Listen to Kurupt’s (one of my favorite OGs) “Calling Out Names” for a good example. But I applaud Kendrick for standing up and being honest with his competitive intentions to be the best out. That type of competitive drive is part of the roots of MCing and hip-hop period. I also like how he attacked the use of Molly and the flamboyant, party-focused lifestyle that most rappers seem to be living nowadays. How did we even get this far to where artists are popular regardless of lyrical skill and it’s cool to do drugs and pop bottles all day? How? 

BECAUSE YOU SUPPORTED THAT SHIT!

YOU made the conscious decision to spend your energy, time and money on wack ass motherfuckers who ain’t sayin shit and ain’t about shit. What’s funny to me is that the average fan who spazzed out over the “Control” verse will probably go right back to bumping some Trinidad James or some other bullshit. Meanwhile there are many artists who actually stand for something and have skills to back it up and yet they’re confined to obscurity. Kendrick Lamar could have easily become one of those artists back in ‘09 when TDE was a fledgling brand and the only spotlight K.Dot was getting was a couple blog posts. There are probably several other Kendrick Lamar-quality artists out there whose talents are wasting away as we type. If that’s cool with you, then keep tweeting and blogging. If not, then do something.

As participants of this culture, whether you’re a platinum artist or a graff writer or a b-girl or just a fan, we all have to push artists to bring the best lyrical content they have to offer. We can no longer accept watered-down bullshit from these artists or the magazines, blogs, and DJs that support them. And we must be open and supportive towards new cats coming up. As a kid, I was taught to dig through the crates and study the album covers and the names in the credits. I discovered most of my favorite artists and I never gave a shit how popular they were with anyone else. In fact I liked finding out about rappers that no one else knew about. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t just sit in front of the computer and let these websites and social networks do all the discovering for you. 

Support hip-hop culture. Otherwise Kendrick Lamar really WILL be the only voice speaking out and that brother’s gonna get tired of that shit eventually.

PS for the record there is only one GOD MC and that’s motherfuckin’ Rakim. :)

For those that missed it, here is the recorded stream of my Hip-Hop & Activism Workshop, presented to the youth of Seattle Young People’s Project last Thursday August 23rd.The workshop is about hip-hop’s relation to the social movements of the 60s and 70s, how the government destroyed those movements and how they’re using those same tactics on hip-hop.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

The Legacy of Bay Area Hip-Hop History & Culture, by Dregs One - presented at Rock The School Bells 5, Skyline College, San Bruno 3/24/12

What up y’all. I had a blast presenting this workshop to youth at Rock The School Bells last Saturday and had the idea to share the outline. Being born and raised in San Francisco and a student, fan, and participant in the Bay’s hip-hop scene it was really important for me to do this workshop because I feel like we are slowly losing touch with our culture and I want to see it preserved! It’s a long read and lacks my commentary and the visuals, but I hope you still get something out of it. Peace.

  • Introduction of presenter
    • History as an artist/youth worker
    • Wanted to teach workshop to preserve Bay Area hip-hop culture
    • Qualified to teach the workshop from being a fan, growing up listening to Bay music, writing graffiti & inspired by the legends, learned most of the material from years of listening, barely any research was required

  • Workshop overview, topics to be covered
    • The overall history of the Bay Area hip-hop culture: graffiti, dance, DJing, MCing
    • What makes the Bay unique
    • Bay Area pioneers
    • Worldwide influence of Bay Area culture

  • The Bay Area before hip-hop
    • Always been an important area because of the Bay, access to Pacific Ocean, beautiful land, weather
    • Diverse population, melting pot of cultures
      • Native Americans were colonized by Spain, which eventually became Mexico. California was taken by the US but still maintains heavy Spanish influence
      • 1849 Gold Rush brought many people to San Francisco Bay Area
      • Heavy immigration from China & Japan in the 19th century, they faced extreme discrimination & performed hard labor
      • Black population came from the South in mid-20th century, better living conditions and more work opportunities (such as Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard, Oakland Port, etc.)
      • Bay Area has the 2nd biggest Filipino population outside of the Philippines
      • Consistent Latino immigration, close proximity to Mexico, Central & South America
    • Musical movements
      • Huge jazz boom, SF’s Fillmore district is known as the “Harlem of the West”
      • Summer of Love in the 1960s births hippie counterculture and huge Bay Area rock movement. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin hang out on Haight Street. Carlos Santana is from SF’s Mission, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead from the Excelsior.
      • Big funk scene, Sly and the Family Stone from Vallejo
    • Political protest and liberal politics
      • Black Panther Party started in Oakland, CA. Infiltrated and attacked by the FBI, regarded biggest enemy to political establishment
      • UC Berkeley is the site of civil rights, anti-Vietnam war protests, etc.
      • Social movements boom in the 60s and decline in the 70s as a result of assassinations, law enforcement crackdowns, drugs, economic recession

  • Hip-Hop hits the West Coast
    • Hip-hop starts as a counter-culture in New York City. DJing, graffiti, breaking, and MCing become forms of expression responding from poor conditions in inner-cities. Spreads like wildfire through word-of-mouth and music, the 1983 film “Style Wars” influences many people outside of NYC. Bay Area youth begin to emulate and eventually develop their own forms of hip-hop. Hip-Hop is one of the biggest youth movements ever seen
    • In 1984, conditions in inner-cities decline even further with crack epidemic. Addiction, crime, and violence tear apart communities nationwide- especially in Oakland, CA. http://youtu.be/IJg0RheWi-Y?t=4m17s
    • Crack epidemic also spawns this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3TnAwoBmTQ
      • Too $hort, born in LA raised in Oakland, begins rapping and recording tapes with friends. He went from neighborhood to neighborhood selling tapes. Eventually, his music spreads across the entire Bay Area, West Coast, US, and eventually the entire world.
      • Mostly known for X-rated raps, Too $hort has also released socially-conscious music that reflects on the state of the community. “Girl” is the first example.
    • Other artists begin to sell tapes
      • Most Bay Area hip-hop music in the 80s is “gangsta” rap, providing honest commentary on the state of Bay communities.
      • Early examples include Hugh EMC (Fillmore, SF), and 415 (Oakland CA) - which was Richie Rich’s rap group. Snoop Dogg cites them as the inspiration to create 213 with Nate Dogg & Warren G, crediting Richie Rich as a major influence to his rhyme delivery.
      • A non-gangsta rapper who came up in the 1980s was MC Hammer, who borrowed money from Oakland A’s players to start creating and selling his own tapes. He eventually blew up based off his dance skills and live perfromances.
    • Graffiti in the 80s - Bay Area writers begin developing their own styles and graffiti explodes in the Bay. http://youtu.be/6Qhjo5jjwVw

  • The 90s: The Rise of Bay Area Independence
    • Inspired by Too $hort and others, Bay Area artists begin starting their own labels and finding success. With most major labels based out of LA or NY, Bay artists build their own support within the underground
      • Sick-Wit-It: Started by E-40 out of Hillside, Vallejo. Artists include: The Click (E-40, his brother D-Shot, their sister Suga T, and their cousin B-Legit), Celly Cel, Little Bruce, & more.
      • Get Low Records: Producer/rapper JT The Bigga Figga of the Fillmore was the business brain behind this label which included the Get Low Playaz (JT, San Quinn, D-Moe & Seff The Gaffla)
      • Young Black Brotha: The producer Khayree created this powerhouse label which gave a start to artists such as Mac Dre, Mac Mall, Dubee (Crestside, Vallejo), Young Lay (North Vallejo), & Ray Luv (Santa Rosa).
      • In-A-Minute Records: Although this label was not started by artists, they put out records by San Francisco artists such as IMP, Dre Dog (aka Andre Nickatina), and  RBL Posse, and Totally Insane of East Palo Alto.
      • Master P moves to Richmond from New Orleans and starts No Limit Records. He later moved back and used much of what he learned to bring his independent label to the mainstream & achieve huge success. Many accuse him of stealing game & turning his back on the Bay.
    • With so many labels and artists, many collaborations were released on compilations which became a big part of the Bay Area scene. Some of the most successful include Herm’s “Trying To Survive In The Ghetto,” Master P’s “West Coast Bad Boyz” which went Gold, and Black-N-Brown’s “17 Reasons.”
    • The Bay Area becomes major innovators of DJing & turntablism http://youtu.be/Fmw1iIXjlFE?t=16m5s
      • Bomb Hip-Hop record label releases several compilations, including the first all-DJ compilation “Return of the DJ”
    • In addition to the gangsta rap scene, the Bay Area is home to many alternative artists
      • The Coup (Boots Riley & DJ Pam The Funkstress) of Oakland has heavy political message
      • Living Legends is founded in Oakland by Mystik Journeymen
      • Bored Stiff of San Francisco influences underground hip-hop worldwide
      • Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf come out of San Jose. After Charizma was murdered in East Palo Alto, PB Wolf starts one of the biggest independent labels, Stones Throw Records.
      • Paris comes out of San Francisco with a controversial political sound
      • Hieroglyphics is formed in Oakland by Del The Funky Homosapien (Ice Cube’s cousin), and includes Casual, Pep Luv, Souls Of Mischief. After the individual artists are dropped from major labels they start their own independent brand.
    • Production sound goes from heavy sampling to the trademark “mobb” sound. Producers such as Tone Capone, Mike Mosely, Khayree, TC, Ant Banks have a heavy influence
    • Oakland graffiti artist Mike Dream pioneered Bay Area style and put conscious messages in his art until his murder in 2000.

  • The Decline and Resurgence
    • The Bay Area scene is oversaturated with artists, compilations, and labels. The socially-conscious gangsta rap becomes glorified and marketed towards the mainstream.
    • Many artists are unable to escape street life
      • Incarceration affects the careers of several artists, such as Pooh Man who is currently serving time for armed robbery.
      • Many artists die, including Hitman & Mr. Cee of RBL Posse, leaving Black C as the only survivng member
      • The death of 2Pac (who was raised in Marin City/Oakland, worked with many Bay artists, and had a large influence from the Bay Area) sets off an overall decline in rap music.
      • At the height of his popularity and on the verge of mainstream success, Mac Dre is gunned dwown in Kansas City in 2004
    • After being discovered by Too $hort, Atlanta artist Lil Jon blows up and eventually signs E-40 to a deal with Universal.
    • The Hyphy Movement shows the world many aspects of Bay culture which sparks nationwide interest in the Bay. However, Hyphy becomes played out quick with many artists jumping on the bandwagon and very little of the Bay’s diversity gets exposure.
      • This brings many new artists to the spotlight, such as Mistah FAB, Big Rich, the Jacka, and the Pack

  • Present day
    • There are now a wide variety of Bay Area artists pushing different styles of music
    • E-40 and Too $hort are still relevant, releasing albums in 2012- however there is a lack of Bay Area artists in the mainstream
    • The independent tradition carries on, and many artists find success through the internet
    • Turf dancing is created and gets worldwide attention http://youtu.be/Fmw1iIXjlFE?t=16m5s
    • The Bay is still a center for large community and political movements, such as rallies around Oscar Grant and the Occupy Oakland movement

  • The Future…
    • …is up to US to create! Keep the culture of Bay Area hip-hop alive!