.The Politics of “Hyphy”

Snoop Dogg, et al. have pilfered Bay Area hip-hop slang for years. No more.

We pass new slang terms around like joints — quietly, coyly, and informally. But that informality often clouds the issue of who first rolled the doobie in question. To this end, Bay Area hip-hop deserves a hell of a lot more credit.

The cultural significance of slang has only grown with the advent of the hip-hop era — terms once far outside the mainstream’s cultural nexus have become familiar, even ubiquitous. When Oakland rap group 3X Krazy was spitting out phrases like “Fa sheezy weezy in the keezy” (translation: “For certain, we feel at home”) back in the mid-’90s, no one could’ve possibly predicted that nearly a decade later, Fran Drescher (TV’s The Nanny) would one day say “Fa shizzle” in an Old Navy commercial.

Yes, the Yay Area is sick and tired of having its slang bitten, after years of local MCs watching helplessly as their regional expressions were co-opted by out-of-town rappers, talk-show hosts, celebrities, and even politicians: Who can ever forget the Reverend Jesse Jackson saying “Fa shizzle ma nizzle” at an awards show a few years back?

These days, terms like “It’s all good” and “Off the hook” are as popular at sporting events as hip-hop shows. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Girls Gone Wild and Soul Plane star Snoop Dogg hosts a TV show called Doggy Fizzle Televizzle, yet that terminology actually originated on the Oakland streets, and was later borrowed by Vallejo-based E-40 — who credited 3X Krazy with “lacing” him back in 1996, noting the group “taught me how to say ‘Fa sheezy. ‘”

Snoop is actually a repeat offender: Back when he was known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, he gaffled Too $hort’s famous rallying cry, “Biiiiiiiiiitch!,” as did numerous others, including E-40 and B-Legit, who at least introduced the clever variants “Bootch” and “Batch.”(Another local alternate phrasing of the B-word is “Breezy,” which sounds sophisticated, but isn’t.)

More recently, Lil’ Jon and the Ying Yang Twins had a platinum single with “Get Low,” which happens to be the name of a Fillmore rap crew, the Get Low Playaz, who first popularized the term (and its corresponding dance) in 1994 with the song “Game Recognize Game.” Similarly, terms such as “Pop yo’ colla” and “Real talk” were an integral part of Yay Area slang years before they became national catchphrases.

With current Bay Area words like “Hyphy” — a combination of “hype” and “fly” popularized by the Federation/E-40 song of the same name — already making the national rounds, some local artists are taking the unusual step of attempting to copyright their original phrases before someone else does.

According to KPFA air personality and rapper T-Kash, speech that can be identified with an individual person or group has an inherent economic value: “It’s not just slang. It’s a commodity.” He notes that Dephunk Gotti of Oaktown crew Products of My Environment has already copyrighted his favorite sayings (“Instantly” and “Buttlucker”), while Mistah Fab, another Oakland rapper, has done the same with “On-mamas” (derived from the ever-popular “I put that on my mama”). Mistah Fab has particular motivation to shield himself and his verbiage: His term “Nig-Latin,” obviously affectionate in his case, was co-opted and used as a slur by white supremacist Web sites without his consent.

As Fab relates, he received an e-mail from a group based out of Montgomery, Alabama, which used “Nig-Latin” as an example of how “suburban youth has been corrupted” by black culture to the point where they “no longer speak proper English.” His stunned reaction: “That tripped me out!” Slang, he explains, “is just the way we communicate,” offering up a few choice examples: “Like ‘Yurp,’ when they say ‘Yurple,’ that’s, like, marijuana. Like a person’ll be like, man, you got some yurp? Some Barney? Barney is purple. Purple kush, you know what I mean?”

The incident spurred the rapper to look into protecting what he deemed his own linguistic innovations. After all, he wouldn’t want the following scenario to become reality: “Say I’m in the studio with Snoop and I say, ‘Man, pass me that Barney right now, let me get on space.’ And he be like, ‘Aw, that was clean,’ and he comes out with a song called ‘I’m Using Barney in Space.’ Everybody gonna be like, ‘Oh, Snoop crazy, Snoop came up with it. ‘”

As for Snoop’s TV show, Fab says, “Aw, c’mon. 3X Krazy came out with that so long ago, ‘Tribble ribble my nizzle,’ you know, that’s hilarious.” By copyrighting his phrases, Fab thinks he can prevent that from happening to him: “C’mon, man, we plant this soil, we fertilized this soil, y’all grow up from our game, and then y’all don’t even want to acknowledge the things we done gave y’all?”

Best of all, he says, it’s free (or at least, relatively cheap) to make one’s slang official. “It’s basic copyright clauses,” he explains. “You go get your paperwork, you send off your words — at the most, it’s gonna cost you about nine, ten dollars. You send that off, and once that’s certified you, that’s you.”

Or is it? T-Kash points to the legal precedent set by sports announcer Michael Buffer, who trademarked the phrase “Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrrrrumble” (or “LGRTR,” as Buffer’s Web site phrases it). Whenever “LGRTR” is uttered — be it a pay-per-view boxing match, a NASCAR race, an episode of The Simpsons, or a Hollywood film like Ocean’s Eleven — Buffer is paid a licensing fee.

But Oakland-based entertainment attorney Michael Ashburne isn’t so sure slang can be owned by anyone. Ashburne, who specializes in sampling and copyright issues in addition to representing numerous rappers (including the Hieroglyphics), says that for any given slang phrase, copyrighted or not, “for someone to have a case about the use of this word, you’d have to say, ‘It was created in my song, I copyrighted the song, and you can’t use that word.”

The problem, he adds, is that “just by putting it in the song doesn’t mean it takes it out of the public domain. Just because you heard something other people said and put it in your song doesn’t necessarily give you the right to copyright it.”

Ashburne speculates, however, that “If you called somebody by ‘Fa Shnizzle,’ and that was your name, and you performed in this area, then under common law, you could acquire rights to that name … [if] people recognize you by that name.” But the commonality of speech would make invention and ownership of slang difficult to prove. “I doubt very seriously that a slogan by itself could rise to the level of a protected trademark,” he says.

And until a precedent is set by a court ruling — as ultimately happened with sampling cases involving De La Soul and Biz Markie– copyrighting slang will likely remain a gray area where the law is concerned. If E-40, for instance, found out someone else was using his slang even after he had it copyrighted, “he would have to find that it was worthwhile going after such a person and making an issue of it and going to court and getting a decision — all of which happened on the sampling side,” Ashburne explains. “The same process would have to take place before people would know the limits of how you could use a phrase that was trademarked by a rapper in connection with his goods and services. That’s what would have to happen.”

Let’s hope it does, before we see the Nanny cooing over some low-rise cargo capri khakis: “That’s hyphy! Ya smell me?”

An Abridged Guide to Yay Area Slang

From Bammer to Zat, feel me?

Bammer (adj.): Low-grade marijuana (cf. RBL Posse, “Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed,” 1993)

B-Town (n.): Berkeley, California

Baller (n.): A player, pimp, or hustler; a game-related rap artist; a dope-dealer; a ghetto celebrity (cf. D-Shot et al, Boss Ballin’, 1994)

Ballin’ (v.): The act of being a baller; one who engages in street-level activities of questionable legality (cf. E-40, “Ballin’ Out of Control,” 1993; the Whoridas, “Shot Callin’ and Big Ballin’,” 1995)

Barney (n.): Purple-colored marijuana considered to be of extremely high potency (cf. Mistah Fab); see also Yurple

Batch (n.): See Biiiiiiiiiitch (cf. E-40, B-Legit, the Click)

Bluebird (n.): An annoying, bothersome person or thing (cf. RBL Posse, “Bluebird,” 1994)

Blockbustah (n.): See Buster (cf. E-40)

Biiiiiiiiiitch (n.): An epithet of disdain. Can be used to describe either a male or a female (cf. Too $hort, “Dope Fiend Beat,” 1987)

Bitch-ass (n.): A man who displays characteristics associated with women (“You’se a Bitch-ass nigga”)

Bomb (n.): Potent marijuana; anything considered excellent (“Bomb-ass beats”); an SF hip-hop label founded by David Paul

Bootsie (adj.): Fake, wack, or otherwise held in low esteem (cf. E-40, “Bootsie,” 1995)

Boss baller (n.): A high-level ghetto celebrity of enviable economic status (cf. D-Shot et al, Boss Ballin’, 1994)

Bootch (n.): See Biiiiiiiiiitch (cf. E-40, B-Legit, the Click)

Breezy (n.): A slightly less offensive variant of Biiiiiiiiiitch. Generally refers only to women

Broccoli (n.): Marijuana (cf. E-40)

Bubbling (v.): Hustling with a measure of economic success; a Baller on the Come-Up; see also Grinding

‘Burban (n.): A Chevrolet Suburban automobile

Burg, the (n.): Pittsburg, California

Buster (n.): A person who comes off as less than credible

Burner (n.): A handgun

Cabbage (n.): Money (cf. E-40) Cali (n.): California

Captain (n.): A man who supports women both financially and emotionally (cf. E-40, “Captain Save-a-Ho,” 1993)

Candy paint (n.): Shiny finish applied to automobiles (cf. Ill-Mannered Posse, “Shinin’ Star,” 1995)

Cheddar: (n.) see Cabbage

Chip (n.): A cloned microchip used in unlicensed cellular telephones (cf. E-40, “Chip in da Phone,” 1995)

Chopper (n.): Automatic weapon such as an AR-15 or AK-47 (cf. E-40)

Choppin’ it up: To process drugs, usually cocaine; to converse with one’s peers

Come-up (v.): To advance one’s economic status, sometimes through illegal activities such as selling drugs or committing armed robberies

Crackin’ (v.): A happening event; a respectful greeting (“What’s crackin’, playboy?”)

Crackalackin’ or Crackulatin’ (v.): See Crackin’ (cf. E-40) Crib (n.): One’s place of residence.

Cuddie (n.): A close friend or relative, derived from “Cousin”; anyone from Vallejo’s Crestside neighborhood (cf. Mac Mall, Illegal Business?, 1993)

Dank (n.): Potent strain of Indo that causes sluggishness, first originated in East Oakland (cf. MC Pooh, “Fuckin’ wit Dank,” 1989)

D-boy (n.): A drug dealer specializing in crack (cf. Young D-Boyz, “Selling Cocaine as Usual,” c. 1994 or E-40, I Got Love for D-Boys)

Dirt (n.): Activities of an illegal nature

Dogtown (n.): Neighborhood in West Oakland known for high crime rates

Doja (n.): Vallejo-originated equivalent of Dank (cf. Mac Mall, “Sic wit This,” 1993)

Eastside O (n.): East Oakland (cf. Dru Down, “Pimp of the Year,” 1994)

Elroy (n.): Police officer (cf. E-40, “Show and Prove,” 2003)

EPA City (n.): East Palo Alto

Fa sheezy (excl.): Affirmation meaning “For sure” (cf. 3 X Krazy, E-40)

Fa shiggedy (excl.): See Fa sheezy

Fa shizzle (excl.): See Fa sheezy

Fa sho (excl.): See Fa sheezy

Fa shoo (excl.): See Fa sheezy (cf. Richie Rich, “You’se my boo Fa Shoo”)

Fed (n.): Derived from “Federal”; a government agent; a high-powered Boss Baller (cf. E-40, “Fed-X,” 1995)

Fetti (n.): Money (cf. Young Lay, “All About My Fetti,” 1995)

Flambostulatin’ (v.): Acting overly ostentatious (cf. E-40)

Five (n.): One-fourth of the amount needed to purchase a twenty-sack of marijuana (cf. the Luniz, “I Got Five on It,” 1995)

Folkers (n.): Friends or close associates

For reals? (excl.): Expression used to express disbelief at what someone has just said

Frisco (n.): San Francisco

G (n.): Gangster

Game related: To affiliate with criminal elements (cf. the Click, Game Related, 1995)

Good: Optimistic outlook, as in “It’s All Good”

Gravy: See Good (cf. the Coup, And they tell you it’s all gravy).

Gravity: See Good (cf. E-40)

Grinding (v.): The act of selling drugs on street corners; making money through illegal activities (cf. the Click, “Hustler on the Grind,” 1995)

Grip (n.): Money (cf. Digital Underground, “Packet Man,” 1989)

Gurpin’ (n.): A state of intoxication, whether from liquor, marijuana, or hallucinogens; irrational or paranoid behavior (cf. Hieroglyphics)

Haystack (n.) Hayward, California

Hella (adj.): Derived from “Hell of a lot” Henny (n.): Hennessy cognac

Ho (n.): A whore or prostitute; someone who can be pimped; a rap artist signed to a major label

Hoo-ride (v.): Driving without regard for traffic laws; to be unconcerned with the effect of one’s actions upon others

Hot ones (n.): Shots fired (cf. the Click, “Hot Ones Echo Through the Ghetto,” 1995)

HP (n.): Neighborhood in San Francisco known for high murder rates and producing rap artists (cf. Kevin Epps’ film Straight Outta Hunters Point, 2000)

Ice cream (n.): Cocaine (cf. the Luniz, “Ice Cream Man,” 1994)

Indo (n.): Marijuana of the Indica variety (cf. Dru Down, For myself, I keep Indo!)

Janky (adj.): Flawed, fake, or otherwise lacking in quality

Keyed (v.): Intoxicated on something other than alcohol

Kill-a-hoes (n.): Rap collective from SF’s Hunters Point-Bayview area popular in mid- to late-’90s

Killing Fields: Area of East Oakland comparable to Cambodia under Pol Pot because of its high murder rate (cf. Black Dynasty, “Deep East Oakland,” 1995)

L.I.P.s (n.): Rhymes said by a rapper (“Lemme go into the studio and spit these L.I.P.s”)

LV (n.): Lakeview neighborhood in San Francisco

Ma nigga (n.): Affectionate term only used for one’s closest associates

Mac (n.): Title given to succession of Vallejo rappers, such as the Mac, Mac Dre, and Mac Mall

Mail (n.): Money

Mailman (n.): Someone who makes a lot of money (cf. E-40, The Mailman, 1993)

Mobbin’ (v.): To organize as a collective entity; to drive at a high speed

Mobb music: Funk-based sound invented by producers Studio Ton and Mike Mosely, widely copied throughout the Bay Area

Marinatin’ (v.): Relaxing at leisure; kicking back (cf. E-40)

Moe (pl.): SF’s Fillmore neighborhood

Nade (n.): Marijuana laced with bug spray (cf. 11/5, Kill-a-Hoe niggas smoke Nade, we don’t even care that it’s sprayed)

Nathan (n.): Nothing; null and void (cf. E-40)

Nathaniel (n.): See Nathan (As in, “What’s crackalackin‘?” “Nathaniel”)

O, the (pl.): Oakland, California

Off the chain (exc.): Variant of “off the hook”; an exciting event

Off da heezy: See Off the chain

Off the hinges: See Off the chain

Off the Richter: See Off the chain

Paper (n.): Money

Paper route (n.): Any method of making money, either legal or illegal

Penelopes (n.): Police (cf. E-40, “Fed-X,” 1995)

Pervin’ (v.): Drunk or intoxicated

PH (n.) : Player hater; one who envies another’s success (cf. Mac Mall, “Suckers PH,” 1995)

PG (n.): The pimp game

Pimpin’ (v.): To handle oneself in a dominant, controlling manner; affectionate greeting (“What’s up, Pimpin’?”)

Pimp skillet: Term of respectful endearment (cf. E-40)

Po-pos (n.): Police (cf. E-40, “Outsmart the Po-pos,” 1991)

San Jo (pl.): San Jose, California

Saucy (adj.): Impressive or desirable (“That car is Hella Saucy”)

Scratch (n.): Money

Scrilla (n.): See Scratch

SFC (pl.): San Francisco City (cf. RBL Posse)

Sideshow (n.): Illegal exhibition of cars held on public streets (cf. 415, “Sideshow,” 1989)

Sidewayz (v.): To drive in a reckless manner at high speeds (cf. E-40, “Sidewayz,” 1995) Smebbin’ (v.): see Smobbin’ (cf. E-40)

Smobbin’ (v.): See Mobbin’ (cf. IMP, Smobbin’ the backstreets, no registration, no pink slip, 1995)

Sohab (n.): Individual from Hillside neighborhood of Vallejo (cf. E-40, the Click)

Sucka Free (n. pl.): San Francisco

Telly (n.): Hotel room (cf. Mac Mall, “Let’s Get a Telly,” 1995)

Twomp (n.): Twenty-dollar bag of marijuana

Twomps, the (n. pl.): Neighborhood in Oaklandbetween 20th and 29th avenues

V, the (n.): Vallejo, California

Vega (n.): Garcia y Vega cigar used in rolling blunts (cf. 11/5, Everybody light your Vega)

Wesssiiide (pl.): The West Coast

Yay Area (pl.): The Bay Area (cf. E-40, I represent the Yay Area)

Yayo (n.): Cocaine

Yola (n.): See Yayo (cf. 11/5, A-1 Yola, 1995)

Zat (n.): A gun, derived from “gat” (cf. Conscious Daughters, “Fonky Expedition,” 1994)

Zip (n.): An ounce of marijuana

Compiled by Eric K. Arnold, with props to the online Bay Area Hip-Hop Dictionary.

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