Neo-hyphy rap fail
// Colin Spensley

Unlike the current trend of shock rap from artists like Tyler the Creator and his crew of angry teenage miscreants, Lil B has gained fame through songs that make you scratch your head wondering what happened. In an effort to push California’s “hyphy” rap music genre to new extremes, artists like Lil B and Soulja have relied heavily on social media to gain attention on a national level. What first seemed like a strange inside joke about the hyphy movement between a few Berkley California boys has, unfortunately, turned into a worldwide phenomenon.

Though some people might be unfamiliar with the hyphy movement, most people are probably familiar with one of the founders, MC Hammer. Artists like Hammer and Keak Da Sneak started a style of rap that focused primarily on partying and dancing, unlike many of their peers who chose to rap about violence or political issues of the time. Hyphy exploded in the Bay Area, which included cities like Berkley, Vallejo, and Oakland in California.

What came out of this subgenre of rap music was a distinct attitude towards the music and lifestyle of its listeners in the late 1990s, including energetic dance styles. The best things to come out of hyphy were rapper Mac Dre and the jawdropping act of “ghost riding the whip”.

Ghost riding the whip is basically driving your car down a street in the Bay Area and then getting out and dancing beside, on top of, or behind the still moving vehicle, with no one having any control of the wheel. It’s incredibly dangerous, but also really, really cool. Although often parodied and mocked, ghost riding the whip was a meant to be a statement about individuality, and was about as legit as it got for many of the original fans of the hyphy scene.

More often than not, the songs blasted from the driver-free vehicles would be rappers like Mac Dre and Too $hort; rappers who gave hyphy a defined sound. Short for hyperactive, it’s pretty easy to imagine what that music would sound like: beat-heavy and fast-paced rap with booming synthesizers and chants. Mac Dre’s classic track “Get Stupid” is a perfect example of the hyphy sound, and his first studio album Young Black Brotha is hailed as a rap classic by many.

The hyphy movement was also heavily influenced by the introduction of MDMA and ecstasy in the United States in the early-to-late ‘90s. Just like all other aspects of hyphy, it was given an obscure and often-referenced name: thizz, thizzin’, or thizzle. Mac Dre became a heavy user of the drug, often taking it while performing and encouraging the audience to do the same.

The high of MDMA certainly lent itself to the faced-paced, physical dance style of hyphy. Ecstasy quickly became as large a part of the movement as “getting stupid” or ghost riding the whip. Mac Dre even created a record label laughingly entitled Nation of Thizzlam. He continued to release amazing hyphy records until his untimely death at the age of 34 by an unmotivated drive-by shooting while on tour in 2004.

In 2006, Bay Area rap group The Pack released the track “Vans”, which was named the fifth-best song of 2006 by Rolling Stone. The Pack had a very obvious hyphy sound and quickly picked up where Mac Dre had left off, becoming one of the most well-known groups in the scene. Lil B, founder of The Pack, would soon emerge as a solo artist, with a huge presence on social networking sites like Twitter and YouTube. Lil B’s alter ego Based God is a name supposedly referencing being “based”, a term which refers to getting high, usually on ecstasy or cocaine.

Although Lil B often had some of the best verses in The Pack, his new solo career saw a drastic decline in lyrical content. Whether a clever rouse or too much “thizzle”, Lil B released a string of mix-tapes in 2010 and 2011 mostly consisting of stream-of-consciousness-style rap. Usually, that’s called free-styling, but this would be more closely related to the ramblings of a lunatic. Undoubtedly, a few tracks did shine through, such as “Pretty Boy” and “Paris Hilton”, but for every one solid track, Lil B released about 20 pieces of incoherent garbage.

In what seems like an attempt to gain more fame, Lil B entitled his newest album I’m Gay, a truly shocking and controversial act for many people in the rap community. Although Lil B claims that the title was chosen in support for the gay and lesbian community, that seems a bit ridiculous when one considers the lyric “Hoes on my dick ‘cause I look like Paris Hilton” as sung by Based God.

On Nov. 13 of this year, Lil B released a new track called “I Have Aids” which he feels is his effort to inform youth about safe sex. “I lie about having sex with 40 girls. I’m not doing that, and I want people to know, if you are doing that, you are at high risk of getting AIDS,” Lil B said in an interview with MTV. Whether it was a publicity stunt or a well-meaning message, “I have AIDS” caused quite a stir across the Internet.

With many of the original supporters claiming that this is the end of hyphy, everyone seems divided over Lil B. He certainly exercise hyphy’s ideals of being an individual, doing whatever you feel and getting stupid: "I'm not gonna stop and I'm not scared of anybody on earth," Lil B said of the backlash. "That's why I [titled the album I'm Gay] and nobody gonna stop me."

//Colin Spensley, columnist

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