New Edition

The Pack upgrades the boy-band concept with a hyphy twist.

Roughly two years ago, folks outside the Bay Area first started smelling the gasoline fumes of purple scrapers, signaling the arrival of the hyphy movement. Naturally, there was considerable skepticism throughout the industry counterbalancing the marketing hype, which forecasted hyphy as a) an entirely new genre; b) the second coming of crunk; and c) the thing that was gonna save the rap industry from itself.

The first two points are simply incorrect, the third largely rhetorical: Hyphy was never meant to be a stand-alone genre (which implies a static, formulaic sound). Rather, it served as a backdrop for the lifestyles of the young, urban, and restless — the ADD/Ritalin generation, yellow bus riders who thizz in the clubs, scrape through the turf, and only wear their white Ts once. And while hyphy’s uptempo, bass-heavy, keyboard-laden tracks bore some similarity to the best efforts of Lil’ Jon and Mr. Collipark, if hyphy is a genre, it’s probably more accurate to call it Mobb Music 2.0 or the New Bay 1.1 than Crunk: Part Deux.

It’s no coincidence that the originators of hyphy — the legendary “Thizzelle Washington” aka the late Mac Dre (R.I.P.), asthmatic-sounding Oakland thug Keak Da Sneak, sucka-free street lyricists San Quinn and Messy Marv, and producers Rick Rock, Sean T., and EA-Ski — all earned their stripes in the mobb music era, when indie rap artists in the Bay commonly sold 100,000s of units and the Geto Boys, Outkast, UGK, and Three-Six Mafia represented the extent of the Southern contingent. When Yay Area OGs E-40 and Too $hort hopped on the bandwagon’s front seat, it only confused the issue — some folks assumed 40-Water was an Oakland artist after “Tell Me When to Go” blew up on MTV.

A year after hyphy’s fifteen minutes of fame flashed by like Daytons on a Regal in a high-speed chase, the jury’s still out on whether the Bay blew a gasket or was just revving up. For any movement to gain momentum, it’s gotta have new faces. Forty-year-old rappers (even the legendary ones) might be able to relate to the MySpace audience, but not as well as people actually from that generation can. The emergence of Mistah FAB, Turf Talk, and Clyde Carson as the Baydestrians du jour bodes well not just for Northern Cali, but for hip-hop’s health in general. Yet the strongest statement to date about the future of West Coast rap might just be the Pack’s major-label debut Based Boys, released October 30 on Jive.

Discovered by the legendary Too $hort and headed by twenty-year-old production wiz (and onetime competitive skateboarder) Young L, the Pack is a boy band with more grit than glitz. They’re pop worthy — even when rapping about freaky-deaky “Booty Bounce Boppers” — and have considerably more urban credibility than Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees or ‘N Sync (who were really just revisions of New Kids on the Block, who were themselves a ‘burbs-friendly version of New Edition).

Juxtaposing the boy-band concept onto a hyphy template somewhat inevitably results in a group like the Pack. Let’s face it, no one’s innocent these days, especially teenagers. Time was, New Edition’s “Mr. Telephone Man” could set hearts a-flutter as the soundtrack to a first kiss. Yet in an age where once-taboo subject matter has become available to anyone with an Internet connection, today’s youth might just as easily be having their first threesome to the Pack’s “My Girl Gotta Girl Too.”

It makes perfect sense for the grilled-and-tatted members of the Pack to become the idols of kids everywhere who love rap, skateboarding, and bisexual chicks — a freakin’ huge demographic, when you think about it. Sure, the Pack might not have the white-bread appeal of an ‘N Sync, but its members — Young L, Stunna, Uno, and Lil B — come off as naturally charismatic on Based Boys (despite frequent use of both the n-bomb and b-word, which isn’t so appealing).

Urban but not quite gangsta, the Pack’s penchant for mixing technicolored skater gear with a hyphy lifestyle is equally as fresh as Young L’s minimalist low-end rumbles and hypnotic keyboard oscillations. It’s worth noting that very few of the teen acts of yesteryear produced their own material; Young L is credited with all but four of Based Boys‘ seventeen tracks, resulting in a more cohesive and original sound than most multiple-producer affairs. The utterly infectious 2006 single “Vans” hinted at the Pack’s potential for huge crossover appeal, and though nothing else on Based Boys quite approaches instant classic status, even grown-ups (well, the sillier ones, anyway) might find themselves inanely repeating the simplistic chorus of “In My Car”: I’m in my car/you know I’m in my car/I’m standing in my car/My car!

Based Boys not only redeems the hopes raised by hyphy, but has the potential to replace Backstreet, ‘N Sync, and Brit (all tired or retired) in the hearts and minds of the all-important acne-and-text-messaging set. It’s no mistake that the Pack speaks directly to the core values of young people today — looking fly, having sex, getting money, and shaking their asses — probably because they are themselves members of their target audience.


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