The hyphy movement is dead. Long live the hyphy movement. Depending on whom you ask, hyphy may or not be passé, but there’s no denying a movement is underfoot in the Bay Area’s hip-hop scene, whatever you want to call it.
Case in point: November 11’s “Paid in Full 3: The Hella Fresh Fest.” The third annual local showcase, held as usual at the storied Fillmore Auditorium, came off as an unqualified success, drawing a sold-out house. Yet something felt different about the event this time. As Zion-I’s Baba Zumbi, one of the event’s main organizers as well as its headliner, noted, there was a paucity of local hip-hop on the radio in 2007 — in marked contrast to the previous two or three years, when hyphy was hotter than fish oil. According to Zumbi, “The last couple of years, the Bay Area was heavily on the radio. This year, we’re not so much on Bay Area radio. … Just because the radio ain’t burning doesn’t mean cats ain’t hot, though.” The thinking going into this year’s event, he says, was to have balance between the various types of local hip-hop.
“We’re just bringing people together in the Bay,” he says. “It’s like a family vibe, a community vibe. We’re trying to cultivate the scene out here, give new cats a chance, give vets another look, and keep pushing the scene out here. That’s the main idea.”
KMEL DJ Chuy Gomez, who emceed the proceedings, seemed to take a big picture view, pointing out that he’s been around the local scene since the beginning. “Bay Area hip-hop, it’s its own entity. That’s the beautiful thing about it.” Hyphy, he says, was definitely a sound if not a genre, yet represented “just a portion of the Bay Area” as a whole. Post-hyphy, he says, “it’s really dope, because it’s gone back to that independent thing.”
With hyphy on the wane and no one to fill E-40’s size fifteen Air Pimpins on a national scale, Paid in Full seemed less about bandwagon-jumping and more about, well, good ol’-fashioned hip-hop. Not that the sold-out, amped-up, all-ages crowd seemed to mind as long as the lyrics were tight and the beat slapped. Even for been-there, done-that’s, Paid in Full offered plenty of highlights. Previous years have spotlighted up-and-coming artists who went on to wider acclaim (Turf Talk, Mistah F.A.B.); this year’s most buzzworthy performance was delivered by Clyde Carson, looking very classic old-school in a red-and-white Adidas track jacket, white Kangol cap, and Cazal sunglasses.
Onstage, Carson seemed mellower than he did two years ago, when he lit up the same venue as a member of the Team. Still, he definitely generated interest in his upcoming solo debut with a well-rounded set that showed him to be a charismatic, smooth operator who can convey a much wider range of moods than adrenaline-charged hits like “Hyphy Juice” and “It’s Getting Hot” might suggest.
Backstage, Carson showed support for issues he feels are important. “Right now, we’re just fighting to keep these cannabis clubs alive and put out good music, man,” he said. As far as local hip-hop is concerned, “The majors gon’ label it whatever they wanna call it. … We just keep putting up the dope tracks, know what I mean?” Shows like Paid in Full, he says, are beneficial for both performer and audience. “People wanna see us, they come out, they help support the movement. It’s Bay. If you from the Bay, you proud, regardless.”
A welcome addition to Paid in Full this year was the turntablist aspect of DJ culture. Though the Bay was once the mecca for beat-juggling, crab-scratching DJs, in recent years, the turntablist movement has been all but abandoned. The return of Filipino scratch superstars Triple Threat to active duty was impressive to watch. Apollo, Shortcut, and Vin Rock rocked a juggle-heavy set interpolating the Bay Area’s greatest hits, from Rick Rock and E-40’s “Yay Area” to Richie Rich’s memorable verse (Where you from? Oakland!!!) on the Luniz’ “I Got Five on It” remix.
Other bright moments were provided by Z-Man and Traxamillion — who, interestingly, downplayed his grilled-out thuglord image by coming out wearing a backpack — while Gift of Gab, Jacka, San Quinn, Kafani, Big Rich, and F.A.B. all made guest appearances before show’s end, adding to the overall sense of Bayness in the building.
But the night ultimately belonged to Zion-I, the region’s most consistent hip-hop outfit. Over their history, Zion-I have managed to make records that are memorable without being overly commercial (although this summer’s “Don’t Lose Ya Head” is easily their catchiest, most accessible tune to date). But onstage? Monsters. Whether assisted by sidekicks Deuce Eclipse, Grouch, or D.U.S.T, Zumbi conducted the energy like an antenna, working up a considerable amount of sweat in the process. By the end of the night, Zion-I’s mission — to host an extravaganza covering the entire spectrum of local hip-hop — had been completed. It’s hard to imagine a single fan going home disappointed with what they saw; once again, the Bay was in the Area.