2 Hard 4 Tha Radio: The March Bay Area Rap Round-Up

All the latest splashes from the Warriors domain.
By    April 3, 2015


Matt Moretti is looping Chef Curry anklebreakers on Vine

 A-1 – Thurlian


For those looking for an MC who does more than recycle hip-hop tropes, check for A-1. The TeamBackPack fan favorite is a torch bearer for an alternative movement of San Francisco artists that’s been bubbling for several years. Combining elite technical rhyming ability, arguably the best live show in The Bay, and unwavering humility, A-1 represents a much needed element in hip-hop. In many ways, he’s the antithesis of the modern rap artist. Even if his music is too full of San Francisco’s famous emphasis on Peace, Love and Happiness for some, the fact that he’s had success from pushing positivity and encouraging others to approach their artistry differently is important.


Thurlian is A-1’s first project since 2012’s stand out album, THURLIAN. This go around, A-1 took a modified mixtape approach and turned to SoundCloud for his instrumentals. Choosing to spit over some of his favorite beats from the likes of Mr. Carmack, Ryan Hemsworth, and Kaytranada, every track has a focused theme, direction, and a message. Standout moments include the harrowing “Invisible Man,” which starts autobiographical and eventually contextualizes his struggles within the larger history of Black Americans. “Good People” depicts the mind state of a young man who finds out that he got his girl pregnant.  “Summertime Sadness” breaks down the craziness and violence that summer brings out of people. Admittedly, the party songs on Thurlian are a little goofier and less infectious than his previous efforts, but overall,  A-1’s put together another meaningful project that breaks left of expectations from a Bay Area rapper.

Nick Jame$ – New World Order

Last month, Wrestlemania 31 went down at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and featured an NWO reunion with Sting, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan. It’s probably a complete coincidence, but earlier in March, Nick Jame$ also released an NWO-themed album, which might be his strongest outing yet. While Jame$ may be practically unknown outside of the Bay, over the past three years he’s worked tremendously hard and done the right things to establish and build a local name. Whether performing or supporting his peers, he’s at almost every hip-hop show in the Bay. His network of collaborators has steadily expanded to include local legends as well as many of the area’s most talented and in demand young artists. He’s invested in himself and his career. Most importantly, with each official release he has steadily improved as a rapper.


On New World Order, James really stepped up his delivery. Not only does he have more presence, but his double time flow sounds more precise and effortless than it ever has. He’s always had surprising access to good bass-heavy production, but on this album he deftly adds live instrumentation for the first time. He recruits impressive guest features, including The Jacka (who may have spit the only double time verse of his career), J Stalin, Young Gully, Kidd Upstairs and Symba. The subject matter remains pretty generic and focuses almost entirely on weed, women, and dreams of success. It’s definitely an area that he needs to improve on, but it shouldn’t overshadow the overall growth exhibited. If nothing else, New World Order reminds us how amazing classic wrestling promos used to be. Listening to Ric Flair never gets old.

Chippass – Chippass Jones 2

The NHT Boyz, consisting of Chippass, Nikatine Da King, and Knawley Fit Game, are hands down one of the most entertaining rap groups in the Bay. They have captivating personalities, all three are deceptively talented MC’s, and they make funny punch line heavy rap.  They’re Oakland to the core, one of the last true rap groups remaining in Northern California, and “Murder Rate” stays one of my favorite street singles from the past five years. They’ve been been working hard to establish themselves as solo artists, with Chippass notably having the most success. With four solo mixtapes in the past two years, countless features in the underground, and a spot on Thizzler’s most recent (and final) Bay Area Freshmen 10 list, Chippass has been on a roll.


In March, Chippass Jones 2 dropped, produced entirely by The A-Team (Juneonnabeat, Dave-O and Jabari The Great), and featuring guest verses from E-40, Cousin Fik, Show Banga, and Remedy. The record blends classic late 80’s/early 90’s MOB rap with the new Bay Area swing. The beats thunder and Chippass displays characteristic wit and an aggressive delivery. The album’s a little one dimensional in terms of the sound and subject matter, but it’s an entertaining listen —  particularly when the bass can be turned up to the highest volume.

 Alier Johnson – High N’ Love

When Em Dub from Thizzler on The Roof puts his personal stamp of approval on an artist, it’s worth paying attention to. In February, he discovered Alier Johnson’s music through Chris Mixx (one of the Bay’s most talented engineers) and was so impressed that in March, Thizzler presented his new project High N’ Love. Upon listening to the record, it’s clear that the Chicago-born, Oakland raised Johnson has a wealth of talent.


Despite having a very limited catalog of music, Johnson sounds surprisingly seasoned throughout High N’ Love. There’s an apparent hunger to prove himself that drives the record. He aggressively attacks every beat and shows off a vast array of rhyme schemes — switching up the flow several times per song. His desire to show out lyrically is balanced nicely by an ability to craft melodic and catchy hooks, as well as pick quality production. In regards to subject matter, he unfortunately relies a little too heavily on his belief that he’s going to “make it”. While it’s understandable that fulfilling one’s dreams is on the forefront of a young artist’s mind when recording his/her debut record, at this point in the game declaring future Grammy’s and millions of records sold is pretty played out. Johnson’s at his best when he shifts his focus from the future, and composes well crafted songs about issues he’s more familiar with. “Hardcore Drugs” is a definite standout, and further proof that Alier Johnson is worth checking for.

 ST Spittin and YP On The Beat – Lucky 6

ST Spittin has paid dues for years. Repping his own imprint, Monsters Ink, he’s also been a part of the HBK and Shmoplife crews since their inceptions. Yet ST often stands out from his regular collaborators due to his unique delivery, and the fact that he can really attack instrumentals when so inclined. Despite elevated lyrical ability, he hasn’t really risen to the level of success as his other HBK/Shmoplife brethren. YP On The Beat has been the Bay’s hardest working producer over the past year. In 12 months time he’s produced four solo albums, collaborative EP’s with with Chippass and Nikatine Da King, as well as a grip of singles for various Bay Area artists including Iamsu!. Surprisingly enough, the quality of production has also remained consistent throughout the 50+ songs he’s released in the past year. While the two artists have collaborated before, and work within many of the same circles, this project was unannounced, and thus was a pleasant and unexpected surprise.


The EP mainly consists of party records, which at the end of the day is what both ST and YP are most known for. Some of YP’s production, on tracks like “Told You”, “Scared Money” and “No Question”, resemble an updated version of the Hot Boys-era Mannie Fresh sound, which is pretty dope. Lyrically ST isn’t reinventing the wheel, but this is party music after all. The lyrical performances are entertaining, as are the features from Iamsu! and Kool John. Plus, it was refreshing to hear “Days Like This”, which showcases why ST could have a future that involves much more than dance records if he ever chooses to go that route.

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