IN Northern California's Bay Area, where dreams of sky-high fortunes have only recently begun falling back to earth, a burgeoning underground hip hop network has not only flourished, but now experiences growing pains.
Avoiding theBy Shawn 'Speedy' Lopes
trap of bad rap
Hip hop and electronica are as much a part of San Francisco's counterculture as acid rock was in the '60's. As a result, the scene is now littered with unseasoned emcees who, in their eagerness to initiate new, intricate tongue-twisting rhyme styles, often come up with little more than nonsensical blabber. This puts S.F. rapper BOAC of the reputed Earthlings crew in a tough position.
"I don't like pop music," he affirmed in a phone interview. "But sometimes I'm sick of underground hip hop, too -- it's corny. I was just thinking about this: If I'm not making gritty, dark, underproduced homemade recordings and I'm not doing slick, overblown jiggy music, where does that leave me?"
In the new millennium, the divisions in rap are as defined as ever: The gold-and-ice-wearing, catch phrase-slangin', radio-ready rappers have long divorced themselves from the cerebral underground emcees who emphasize art over commerce and despise all corporate involvement in hip hop. BOAC, although lumped in with the latter, believes even the well-intentioned underground hip hop scene has almost become a parody of itself.
If there's one thing to be said for independent hip hop, however, it's that it is a largely inclusive, multi-ethnic affair. Outside the influence of major labels and clueless market strategists, Asians and Hispanics are as visible as their Black counterparts and for once, being Caucasian is seen as neither advantage nor disadvantage because lyricists are ultimately judged by how creatively they rock the party.
"I'm white, Jewish by heritage," BOAC says. "But it's not an issue in hip hop the way it was 10 years ago. When I started rapping, it just wasn't cool. The only real white rappers out there were Pete Nice and MC Serch from 3rd Bass, and being white and rapping was retarded.
"Some people thought I was idiot for doing it, and now when I see them around, it's like, 'How's it going? Oh well, I just toured the U.S. and Canada, how 'bout you?' and they'll say, 'Uh, I'm doing this real estate thing for my dad' or some (expletive). Not that I'm better than they are, but (double expletive) them for being close-minded, you know?"
As BOAC tells it, back at Tamalpais High (2Pac's alma mater) when he was known only as "Josh," a highly regarded neighborhood rapper christened him "Brother of Another Color" (the ultimate compliment for a non-Black rapper at the time) for his dedication to street poetry. The 26-year-old bartender-by-trade has since grown into a first-rate lyricist with a verbal whirlpool of rapid-fire rhymes, but it didn't happen overnight.
"Someone had a copy of Penthouse here the other day and I was reading it -- I was actually reading it," he says, chuckling. "And there was this girl in there who I thought was beautiful who described herself by saying, 'In high school, I was a geek.' I don't think she was saying that because she thought that was what people wanted to hear -- I think she probably was, but in time, she blossomed.
"It's the same way with me. In school, I had teachers who would say I had diarrhea of the mouth and they'd punish me for it. Now, this is what I do. I took my time and turned my interests into my art."
On stage: Kimball Collins, MC BOAC and DJ Bootleg, DJ Trek and more Honolulu DJs
The DJ Who Loved Me
Place: Downtown YMCA, 1040 Richards
When: 9 p.m. tomorrow
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