Just when it seemed that hyphy had run out of gas, along come new albums by three of the West Coast rap movement’s leaders. Strong individual statements by themselves, when taken collectively, they suggest the wild ‘n’ crazy youth culture isn’t just spinning doughnuts, but evolving artistically. It may seem ironic to say that a genre built on goin’ dumb has begun to get smart, yet that’s what’s up, evidently. All three records here touch on the genre’s hallmarks: ridiculous amounts of bass, catchy choruses, up-tempo beats, and loads of new slang. But they also reveal deeper musical and lyrical nuances than many assumed hyphy was capable of.
Vallejo, California’s Turf Talk may be the most distinctive rap lyricist since B-Real—and unlike proposed hyphy superstar Keak Da Sneak, you can actually understand what he’s saying. On anthemic West Coast Vaccine tracks like “Bring the Base Back,” “Superstars,” and “Po-Pos,” Turf effectively varies his tonal delivery, pulling off challenging cadences while striking a lyrical balance between hood-savvy gangsta and huggable thug. A gaggle of producers (including Traxamillion, Rick Rock, and EA-Ski) provide the bedrock for such concrete storytelling, and though the 21-track album’s last third lags a bit, it’s still one of the strongest West Coast rap releases in many a moon, indie or major.
Oakland’s F.A.B. also makes a bid for lyrical respect throughout his third album, Da Baydestrian, alternating more typically dumbfounding fare like “Furley Ghost” and “Sideshow” with such reality-based songs as “Deeper Thoughts” and “100 Bars,” which address the socioeconomic conditions that created hyphy with Tupac-esque poignancy. Meanwhile, the Federation (hailing from nearby Fairfield) aren’t the world’s greatest MCs, perhaps, but their brotherly chemistry stands out in a world of generic gangstas. Their frantic energy is put to good use on It’s Whatever by the versatile, ubiquitous Rick Rock, who goes from the cracked Kraftwerk thump of “18 Dummies” to the metallic crunch of “Black Roses” (featuring live drums from Travis Barker). Not too many producers could channel the whip-pushing machismo so evident on “My Rims” and “Scraper” into a neo-gospel jam like “I’ll Fly Away,” an entirely unexpected, beautifully rendered collaboration with the Walter Hawkins Choir. Those who underestimated hyphy will be left dumbstruck.