2 Hard 4 Tha Radio: May in the Bay

Legendvry, Mistah Fab, Trackademics, Erk Tha Jerk, and Larry June.
By    June 9, 2015



Matt Moretti is locking in a Warriors win.






Legendvry – Trap Art



Due to Bay Area rappers’ perennial underdog status, it’s often forgotten that the 90’s Mobb movement was both commercially and critically popular at the mainstream level. When gangster rap was king, the Bay’s unique twist on the genre earned Spice 1, E-40 and the Luniz gold and platinum plaques. In 2015, the Mobb sound and it’s popularity can feel like a distant memory. Sure the HBK reintroduced similar bass sounds into their production, but they aren’t giving the inside perspective of struggling in the Bay streets. And while Livewire has done a lot to keep street music alive, the lyrical content and production for many of those rappers have shifted away from a lot of the signatures of the Mobb sound as well. Yet Mobb Music is still engrained in the culture of the Bay, and every now and again a new project will emerge displaying many of the elements that made listeners gravitate towards the sub-genre in the first place. This month Legendvry’s Trap Art did just that.

Despite its name, Trap Art does not contain Atlanta styled trap music. Instead, the production (handled entirely by Spencer Stevens & FB) is minimalistic and driven by ominous bass lines.  This is the closest a modern album has sounded to a 90’s Keak Da Sneak or Celly Cell record in years. And on top of all that nostalgic knock, Legendvry comes through and paints surprisingly vivid pictures of life in Oakland. One of the areas where Legendvry moves beyond his Mobb predecessors and actually elevates the genre, is his ability to include the highs and lows of street life. He incorporates the perspective of people from the hood who aren’t necessarily career criminals, all within the same song. This album is the rare one capable of drawing out memories from 20 years ago and feeling right at home in the present.


 Mistah Fab – STFK



While many out of towners likely picture Mistah Fab as a gate keeper to the Bay Area hip-hop scene, the reality is that that’s not really true anymore. FAB has a ton of respect in the Bay, but over the past half decade (at least) it hasn’t been due to his music. If you ask the general Bay Area rap listener what they think of FAB they will likely tell you three things: 1.) I don’t really fuck with his projects anymore, but 2.) respect the shit out of what he does for the community, and 3.) he might be the best freestyler in the game. The first two points are compelling debates and conversations for another time, but focusing on the last, there is no doubt that FAB has an almost unmatched ability to improvise lyrics.

He may have picked up some tricks of the trade from Supernatural along the way, but in 2015, when it comes to real off the top of the head rhymes, nobody can incorporate the environment around them, speak on current events, and have just generally hot bars like FAB. If you’ve watched the videos, or seen him perform live in person, there isn’t really a counter argument to his freestyle dominance. He’s simply that good, and has completely embraced that fact by making it a central part of his career. So much so, that he has regularly dropped full mixtapes consisting of nothing but improvised raps.

On that note, here’s STFK. 19 freestyles recorded over a period of a day and a half. While 19 is probably 10-11 tracks too many for this type of project, it gives FAB an opportunity to show off his creative diversity. He seamlessly jumps from a tribute to the Jacka over the “Never Blink” instrumental, to spitting over the beat to Nas’s “Purple,” to rhyming over modern production for much of the second half of the album. And while most freestyles are about 80% filler and 20% worthwhile rhymes, FAB does an impressive job of actually rapping about a topic on almost every track. This may not be the type of project that gets millions of downloads and has the whole world buzzing, but for those who are interested in the art of freestyling, albums like these do a lot to elevate the field. 


Trackademics – 7th Heaven EP



Considering how many creative producers call the area home, it’s  crazy how few meaningful beat tapes or instrumental albums have come out of the Bay. If you exclude DJ Shadow, due to the fact that Davis is more Sacramento then the Bay, Dan The Automator, Amp Live, A-Plus and DJ Fresh are some of the only producers of note to have released a major instrumental record. In the case of Trackademicks’ new 7th Heaven EP, this instrumental project is worth listening to for much more than it’s novelty. The record is 19 minutes of sun drenched, heavily synthesized, bass heavy funk.

7th Heaven is sparking an L at your favorite vista while watching the sunset. It’s spaced out, nostalgic and tailor-made for the summer. Trackademicks has come a long way since the “Tell Me When To Go (Remix),” and his experience and musical growth shows off on this project, particularly in the way the beats are blended.  Instead of multiple distinctive instrumentals, Trackademicks uses one element from the previous beat to build a foundation for the next one, creating seamless transitions and giving the project a feeling of one long dynamic piece of art.


Erk Tha Jerk – The Layover EP


https://soundcloud.com/erkthajerk/sets/the-layover


Erk Tha Jerk is an interesting hybrid. He cares about skill, has plenty of it, spits over 90’s inspired sample-based instrumentals, and yet has the subject matter much modern club music. The beats are soulful, the delivery complex, the vocabulary vast, but at the end of the day, Erk is still almost strictly rapping about staying fly and never loving them hoes. He’s been developing this lane for years, and at this point, his approach is polished and consistent. Erk’s newest EP the Layover, is a great indicator of how comfortable he has grown in the world of luxury raps.

He spits bars with casual conversation effortlessness. Occasionally, he strings words together as nonchalantly as Roc Marciano, minus the criminal element of Roc’s subject matter. Besides the familiar self congratulatory lyrical content, there’s also a subtle element of frustration intertwined in Erk’s lyrics. He’s been one of the Bay’s most lyrically gifted MC’s for years, yet regardless of the quality of his musical output, his following has plateaued while the popularity of less talented artists have expanded. While he never fully addresses the issue, there a couple of bars per song that instill the sense that Erk is often sitting in the studio wondering how he isn’t a bigger deal considering his talent. It’d be interesting if he fully embraced that bitterness and released a project in which he unabashedly spoke his mind on his industry experiences, while aggressively going out of his way to prove he’s an elite lyricist.


Larry June – Bad Dreams EP



Despite how simple trap music seems, most artists can’t pull it off. MC’s from coast-to-coast have tried their hand at mastering the genre, and for the most part, they’ve failed. It’s possible that the lack of lyricism involved in the majority of trap gives artists the false sense that anyone can do it. Yet for what the genre lacks in lyrical dexterity, it’s supplemented by larger than life personalities and infectious energy. And while a rapper can learn to be more skilled, they can’t learn personality. The Bay is full of eccentric, one-of-a-kind characters, but for whatever reason no one in Northern California has really figured out how to make truly entertaining trap music. Except San Francisco’s Larry June, who has come closer to making authentic Atlanta sounding trap than any other artist in the Bay.

While listening to June’s latest project, the Bad Dreams EP (which at 15 songs probably shouldn’t be considered an EP), there’s a strong sense that the San Francisco rapper has studied the trap legends. The way in which his verses are delivered in a sort of disinterested, monotone mumble while his ad-libs are full of animated catchphrases delivered at the highest registers his voice can reach, shows that the San Francisco rapper has spent many hours (think Gucci Mane and OJ Da Juiceman). Combined with thundering instrumentals made for driving around with two 12’s in the trunk, the Bad Dreams EP is a genuinely fun listening experience. It’s the type of music that could make a frail individual feel brolic, and make a square believe that they could become a ruthless drug kingpin.

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