In this year’s TN2 Magazine, a publication you may remember from the time I edited it last year, I have taken over responsibility for the back page column, attempting to fill the huge intellectual void left by Oisín Murphy’s post-Marxist pop culture criticism. I’ve decided to call it The Chaff, which is a reference to ‘the cast-offs of pop culture’. Basically I will be writing articles about all the stuff I like that everyone else gets annoyed with me for talking about. I started with E-40, obviously.
The second issue will be out on Tuesday, but I thought I’d put up the first one here so I can be criticised about it by the usual personages. Internet age personal responsibility. The illustration, as with every drawing of me ever, is by Fuchsia.
New York is the city on the hill when it comes to rap music, the place
where the music was invented and the home of most of its Hall of
Famers from Afrika Bambataa to Wu-Tang to 50 Cent. But out west,
350 miles north of Compton, the San Francisco Bay has a proud history
of remaking rap’s vocabulary, from ten new words for a car to things
that weren’t even concepts before of one the local self-contained
superstars imparted them over the hook of a Bay slap.
The most famous progenitors, or at least those who claim credit
regularly, are the venerable Too $hort and E-40, each recording since
the 80s and, though more so with the latter than the former, still
relevant. Too $hort, from Oakland, is broadly credited with inventing
the term “biotch” (i.e. bitch), having committed it to vinyl as early as
1988. In 2000, he told Vibe Magazine, “that’s my gift to rap music….
They didn’t ask me could they use it, but it’s cool.”
E-40, who’s been popular long enough to have songs with both Tupac
and T-Pain, developed a rap style that almost reaches Lewis Carroll
nonsense poetry at times, but a million times more threatening. In 1996
on Rapper’s Ball, he originated the term “fo’ shizzle” and thus
everything that followed that. “I told Jay-Z after he used it on its record
[H To The Izzo], I said, “That’s a Bay Area word, man.” That’s from
the land where they pop they collars and jack they slacks,” he told Vice
in 2009. He also claims to have invented saying “you feel me?” – “that’s
straight from me” – and “it’s all good” – “I was the first cat who ever put
that on wax” – in 1992. By the mid-2000s he was promising to write a
dictionary of slang that still hasn’t arrived, and being co-opted into
the ‘hyphy movement’, a super-energetic dance-led style of hip hop
emerging in the Bay.
Hyphy’s national hit, E-40’s confusingly Lil Jon-produced Tell Me
When To Go, is almost profligate in its use of slang. 40 Water invents
the word “ghettro” casually during the first verse (it’s a phone) and is
keen to point out that he does not “bump”, like every other American
hip hop artist at the time, but rather “knocks”, which essentially means
the same thing but geographically limited to the Bay Area. That’s a regular thing, denying that he has any time for something (e.g. gang-banging) but then admitting to what is basically a Bay-specific
synonym (e.g. set-tripping). It’s a matter of local pride – few Irish
people wear sneakers, for example, but plenty wear runners.
After an appearance by Keak da Sneak, who tells everyone he’s “off
that 1800 juice” (Jose Cuervo tequila) while sounding like he’s
swallowed a scissors, E-40 returns for what is effectively just a call-
and-response list of hyphy words and concepts. It’s an education, and
you can tell he takes no small joy from the idea that people in clubs
across America and the world are shouting “thizz face” (it’s drug-
related) and “ghostride the whip” (it’s complicated and involves
pretending to drive your still-running car while beside or on top of it).
There are plenty more. You might have even used some, in fact, which
is testament not only to the Bay’s influence on rap but also rap’s ever-
spreading influence on mainstream culture. If you’ve ever chillaxed
after ballin’ too much, holla at your boy. You know, the one with the
ginormous scraper (yes, even ginormous is claimed by the Bay; a
scraper is a car). But if you finna slang yayo to get that mayo, the
Elroys’ll get you. Undasmellz me?