Keak Da Sneak laid out his hyphy manifesto in the lyrics to “Super Hyphy,” the mid-Aughts anthem that set the blueprint for the Bay Area’s pill-popping, freewheeling rap culture of that decade. The teens who grew up on hyphy are in their twenties now, and there’s no denying that the movement directly or indirectly informs a lot of the local rap being made today. But there’s a tendency for bloggers and critics to pigeonhole all the party rap that comes out of the Bay lately as “post-hyphy,” which — while it’s a convenient catch-all term — erases a lot of the nuance of the innovative, hybridized sounds young Bay Area artists are creating.
Thizzler Jam, the festival from the popular Bay-centric rap blog Thizzler.com, succeeds at both paying homage to Bay Area veterans and spotlighting new talent. Hiero Day, which took place in Oakland on Labor Day weekend, featured artists who pioneered West Coast conscious rap in the early Nineties (such as Hieroglyphics) alongside a solid contingent of young rappers with newer takes on similarly soulful, vintage-hued sounds. Thizzler Jam has a similar dynamic but on a smaller scale, with hyphy and mob music legend Keak as the headliner and a large lineup of local artists whose music descends from Bay Area street rap tradition.
While it would have been nice to see more female performers on the lineup (stoner rapper and one-time Kreayshawn collaborator Lil Debbie is the only one), there’s an otherwise solid diversity of talent from all sides of the Bay — including performers who rarely play in Oakland. To help you navigate the fest, which takes place on September 17 at The New Parish, and clue you in about the underground rappers you may not be familiar with (though the event promises several special guests), here’s our guide to this year’s Thizzler Jam.
Lil Yase’s growling, merciless flow lends a distinct flavor to his strong-arm street rap, which takes cues from classic Bay Area mob music, with its bass-heavy production by the likes of JuneOnnaBeat. However, unlike his more lyrical predecessors, Yase’s delivery deliberately lacks enunciation, aligning it with the current moment in hip-hop where rappers place premiums on playing with cadences, melodies, and ad libs more so than crafting intricate verses. With his slack-jawed tendencies, Lil Yase evolves mob music to suit contemporary sensibilities without obviously following radio trends. His work is ominous and streetwise. And as one of the few up-and-coming rappers repping the un-gentrified side of San Francisco — the Sunnydale housing projects, specifically — Yase’s aggressive music resonates with today’s tumultuous socioeconomic climate as pressure to hustle and survive mounts across the Bay Area’s urban centers.
Since dropping his thizzing anthem “Too High” in 2013, Ezale has become a local favorite — and recently began getting well-deserved national recognition in publications such as XXL. A native of Funktown, an East Oakland neighborhood, Ezale often opts for beats with old-school Town flavor and funky samples that evoke the likes of Eighties Too $hort. His songs celebrate debauchery, making them the perfect turn-up soundtrack — and Ezale takes his party persona pretty literally. On the several occasions that I’ve seen him live, he’s popped pills on stage while bouncing around and shaking his braids. On his latest album with DJ Fresh, The Tonite Show with Ezale, that carefree silliness translates to the way he raps — with his big, goofy grin audible through his lyrics.
The winner of the Most Consistent Hustler award in this year’s Best of the East Bay issue, Young Gully embodies an old-school ethos of hip-hop that emphasizes craftsmanship and technique. The persona he projects is humble, driven, and intense — and while his lyrics are certainly inspirational, he manages to come off as candid and real rather than preachy. In this three-part album, Bermuda, released in 2015 and ’16, he owns up to past mistakes in his tales of finding God and redemption, offering big-picture insights into life’s struggles and societal issues. His latest album, David 2, is a collaboration with DJ Fresh, and contains high-energy anthems that showcase Gully’s lyrical gifts and skillful flows as well as chilling reflections from the underbelly of Oakland’s inner city. Throughout it, Gully champions the fierce independence of someone who’s always had to do it himself.
In recent months, Thizzler has heavily championed the work of Lil Yee, another rising rapper from Frisco who runs in the same circles as Lil Yase and Yatta, and makes similarly streetwise, mobby music. In “We Livin’ Hopeless,” Lil Yee’s melodic flow glides over a glistening, piano-heavy beat by Zaytoven, the superstar Atlanta producer (who’s actually a San Francisco native) best known for his work with Gucci Mane. Although Shy Glizzy and Lil Boosie used the same beat for “Going Thru It” because of a music industry mix-up, “We Livin’ Hopeless” outshines their version. The track simultaneously captures both sadness and a sense of hope, and reminds listeners that despite obstacles, personal losses, and cruel inequality, life is still what you make it. With Lil Yee’s recent feature on Boo Banga’s “Field Trip” alongside Sacramento star Mozzy and endorsements from influential locals such as Philthy Rich, we can expect to see more of him in coming months as he prepares to drop his debut project.