Hyphy Thoughts Pt. 1

Posted August 9, 2006 2:31 am (about 4939 days ago)

Comments and reflections from a recent panel on "The Hyphy Movement" at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club.

While I realize that this is a bit late, it reflects the reality that the more there is to write about, the less time there is to write. Oh, the irony.

I'm hoping that you, the gentle reader, have some background on what "hyphy" means. If not, some of this may not make sense. I realize that visitors to this site come from all over. Go teachers in Taiwan!

At any rate, here are some notes that I was able to jot down, as well as some of my own thoughts, from a recent panel on the “Hyphy Movement” held at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. It was moderated by Adisa Banjoko, author of Lyrical Swords, and featured Tamara Palmer, author of Country Fried Soul: Adventures Dirty South Hip-Hop, Traxamillion, producer of numerous hits, including Keak da Sneak’s "Super Hyfie," Mistah F.A.B., a radio personality and emcee with numerous hits including "Metros and Chirpers," and Eric K. Arnold, a long time journalist who recently did a feature story on hyphy for Vibe magazine.

There were about 80 people in attendance, with a vast majority being White. I only saw a handful who I could see as being “hyphy,” which doesn’t mean that it was a bad crowd. I’m just setting some context! All ages were represented and the crowd was thoroughly engaged.

I grouped the comments up by category. F.A.B. dominated the conversation, but others made key points as well.

Roots of hyphy and is it actually a movement?:

According to Erick Arnold it’s a reaction to the criminalization of youth and the failure of the education system. There seemed to be widespread agreement that it was a movement/culture/lifestyle. However, it was never explicitly made clear about what exactly made “hyphy” a movement or lifestyle. It was described as lots of energy and if you have to ask, “you don’t get it.” The “uniform” is easy to explain-stunna shades, dreads, grills, etc. and there was a DVD playing on a big screen showing sideshows, but I don’t think that the basic question got answered. How is it a movement? I discussed this point a few days later with one of the panelists. This person rhetorically asked “isn’t a movement” supposed to take people somewhere?”

One point that did come up was how the national exposure to hyphy is a watered-down version, a not-so-subtle stab at E-40. Later, as panelists named artists who represented hyphy music, a list that included Keak, Turf Talk, Mac Dre, and F.A.B., someone in the crowd yelled E-40 and a panelist said “no sir,” then moved on. Ouch. There’s definitely been some disagreement in the Bay on the pros and cons of “Tell Me When to Go.”

It was also said that unless you’re a youngster in the streets of the Bay you’re getting 2nd and 3rd hand accounts of hyphy. Ironically, due to factors such as age and where they live, of the five participants in this event the only one who'd be considered “hyphy” is F.A.B. When asked to describe sideshows, Trax basically said “I live in San Jose and we don’t really do them” and he passed the question off to someone else. Later, when asked about beats he said he basically made what people responded to. Adisa even joked about his own tie and suspenders. I’m definitely not trying to call anyone out and I actually thought comments such as these rounded out the discussion of what it meant to be “hyphy” and the whole issue of authenticity. Can someone who produces for artists such as Keak and Too Short not be hyphy?

Negatives of hyphy:

Adisa said that San Francisco rapper San Quinn equates the use of ecstasy pills as approaching that of crack epidemic in the ‘80s and asked what was the artists' responsibility in this arena. F.A.B. was quick to say that the music promotes drugs and does play a role in the popularity of pills, drinking, etc by glorifying this behavior. He said that there really weren’t any excuses for it and that artists needed to address it. He proclaimed that he doesn’t use drugs, but he understands it and it’s what listeners are into so that’s what he raps about at times. No one said that it wasn’t a problem.

When the issue of violence came up, Eric Arnold nearly jumped out of his seat in defense of the hyphy scene, arguing that there’s always been violence in the community and that people really need to address the roots of crime. The music was just being scapegoated. He rhetorically asked if the music created more violence or lessened it. He stressed that it was party music and that people were too busy having a good time to be thinking about killing.

I agree that music and pop culture is too often blamed for larger societal issues, but it’s not beyond reproach either. How many studies have shown how video games, television, movies, and music have desensitized all of us? Even if they’re anecdotal examples, I’ve seen, dealt with, or heard about, more than enough cars crashing into buildings when someone was ghost ridin’ or someone gets hit by a car at a sideshow, or a fight breaks out because someone’s going dumb and accidentally hits someone. I doubt that EX would be so popular if it wasn’t for artists glorifying it. Just to reiterate, I agree with Arnold that the music gets an unfair shake and distracts us from the larger issues. I’m a history teacher after all, so I confront these issues on a daily basis and study the larger context. Music isn't the first thing that comes to mind when confronting issues such as abuse and violence.

But if music can make us feel melancholy, want to dance, and make us think about social issues, can’t it also have a negative impact? When does music merely stop reflecting our reality and begin to shape it? I’m writing this from Southern Illinois and I’m seeing kids with stunna shades, dreads, white tees, and grills. The Bay hardly holds exclusive rights on this style of dress, but when I can go from city to city all over the country and people look like carbon copies, something’s going on that's bigger than even hyphy music. I'll spare the rant on materialism and sexism for the government, but you know what I'm sayin'.

Adisa brought up a term coined by rapper T-Kash, “turf war syndrome” to describe some of the behaviors being discussed as a response to the traumatic experiences many youth had, similar to combat veterans. I remember when I first heard the term and thought it fit well. Being that I’ve worked with youth in cities such as Detroit and Oakland and been in violent classroom situations when I’ve had chairs thrown at me and had to restrain kids, in addition to personal experiences, I’ve really had to learn how to look at the roots of the problem. Not every person responds to trauma the same way and for many, this music is a form of therapy in a world that doesn’t offer a lot of alternatives, especially for Black males.

Interestingly enough, Trax half-jokingly said that when he sees a group of 14-year olds  with grills and dreads even he gets scared. “They’re crazy!” Considering the music he makes and how he’s presented visually (check the image), it was a particularly telling comment. I’ve been teaching in East Oakland for the past few years and as much as I love my students, I’ve found myself describing certain students as the “hyphy kids.” They don’t tend to do well. It would be insanse to blame the music, but there's a reason that they pop in my head when I think of hyphy. At this point in the discussion the comments were more about youth than music.

I bring this up because it parallels similar discussions I’ve had with others about whether or not hip hop is a social movement. I’m in agreement with my friend Dawn Elissa (who teaches classes on hip hop as a social movement!) that the movement is really about people and that hip hop (or in this case hyphy) is just a tool or a factor. Regardless, this portion of the panel brought up some great food for though, even though I hardly think that sideshows are merely about a love of cars and letting off steam. But while we need to continue having these discussions, we need to DO something to address the problems in the community. As Adisa has pointed out many times, today's pop music comes from some of the most messed up places that barely benefit from their creation. We can't party all the time! If the music or “movement” isn’t helping the community out, it registers pretty low on my list. However, the panelists had some compelling examples of hyphy’s often over-looked positive impact.

Part 2 coming later this week.

Want to see pictures, including Adisa in suspenders? Click here.


1. Nate Mezmer said at August 10, 2006 2:43 pm:

What you are doing, discussing the Hyphy issue is very important. Please continue to do so! Indeed its not that Hyphy is the root of crime or ignorance, however it does nothing to improve upon these problems and does a lot to make them worse. Hyphy could do a lot of good, if people kept it real. Why cant you get Hyphy and not go Dumb? Get Hyphy, and get a job! Get Hyphy, and start a business, Get Hyphy, and go to school..theres no reason why E-40 or FAB couldnt say this. They are just scared too or they dont want too. Like my man Rap4rights says, "Go Smart!"

Nate Mezmer

2. Daniel D. Zarazua said at August 10, 2006 9:20 pm:

The thoughts are appreciated. Part two addresses some of the points that you brought up!

3. Mike Palmer said at August 11, 2006 4:52 am:

To be honest, I hadn't even heard the term "hyphy" before. Now, the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get Retarded" song makes a bit more sense. Anyway, Wikipedia has an entry on "hyphy" here: for those not in the know (like me).

4. Rap4Rights said at December 13, 2006 5:30 pm:

Thats wasup. Glad we are discussing this and people feel GO SMART too!!

5. Melissa said at January 13, 2009 12:32 pm:

I'm from Oakland California and i listened to a lot of Hyphy music...i used to like it.. but my brother opened my eyes. if the person i am right now met the person i was before i think i wouldn't have liked myself. looking back and remembering what kind of music i used to listen to disappoints. Now its mostly political stuff. honestly there is a lot of ignorance in Oakland. i still live in Oakland and the only people i know of that understand what i mean is my teachers and my brother which is sad. someone needs to open the youths eyes.

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