March 23, 2017

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As always, the Bay Area rap scene continues to produce some of the freshest voices in rap music — and part of the credit should go to Clyde Carson. It might be burgeoning now, but when Carson started in the mid-00s, the rap scene was ignored by everyone outside of the 415 and 510 area codes. Sure, there are outliers—Too Short, E-40, Mac Dre, Rappin’ 4-Tay—but for the most part, having fans in the Bay meant being a big fish in a little pond. Carson wanted more. He moved to New York and crashed with Ty Fyffe for nearly a year, but ultimately returned to Oakland. When he did, he went to work.

As part of The Team, Carson was one of the voices that comprised the early Hyphy movement—a movement responsible not only for many teenagers crashing their parents’ cars while ghost-riding, but also bringing the spotlight to Bay Area rap. This attention allowed a few artists to break out, including Mistah F.A.B., HBK, and The Pack, but The Team went largely unnoticed outside of the Bay Area, despite the fact that they’re responsible for the regional favorite, “Hyphy Juice.” Even after the Hyphy movement momentum stalled, Carson kept working.

In 2012, Carson came out with “Slow Down,” a song you couldn’t get away from on the West Coast. You’d hear it bombing out of a Pontiac Sunfire as you walked to BART, you’d hear it in a coffee shop in San Luis Obispo, you’d hear it in San Diego in a bar with a name like Hammer Jack’s filled with dudes in flip-flops and backward Dodgers hats. The song made it onto Grand Theft Auto V. This hit didn’t yield a mansion in Calabasas, but it did introduce him to Los Angeles. While some might see slow progress as no progress, Carson sees it for exactly what it is: a step in the right direction. But now he’s ready to put his foot on the gas. Something to Speak About 2, Carson’s second solo full-length project, illustrates the range of his sound and features some great acts, both locally- and nationally-celebrated. Last month, we got on the phone and discussed the evolution of the Bay Area rap scene, the importance of motion, and Keak Da motherfucking Sneak. —Justin Carroll-Allan


Your new record is the second volume in the Something to Speak About series. What made you want to make another Something to Speak About record? How would you say this differs from Playboy or one of your other projects?


Clyde Carson: It’s the second full project that I’ve had. The first Something to Speak About was my other full project. Ten tracks on each one. Playboy was eight songs, and the others were just EPs. I think of both as full albums, even though Something to Speak About was a mixtape, it felt like more of a full album to me. Nowadays, with people like Chance the Rapper winning Grammys off mixtapes, they’re just like albums. Since both Something to Speak About projects were my only full albums, I felt like they fit together. That’s the marriage between the two.


You’re credited as a big influence to the Hyphy scene. Would you classify either Something to Speak About projects as Hyphy?


Clyde Carson: No. They have elements of Hyphy, but I wouldn’t call them that. Hyphy’s a sound that was all “Turn Up” music. Even during the Hyphy movement, we—I’m talking about my group, The Team—had our own sound. I mean, we made the songs that went on the radio, but we also had a lot of eclectic music that wouldn’t fall into [the Hyphy] category. To this day, I have fans come up to me and thank me for that. We made our stamp in Hyphy, and I did create an energy drink called Hyphy Juice, but I’d never credit Clyde Carson as the Hyphy Guy. Those are Mac Dre and Keak da Sneak. They are the real personas behind the Hyphy movement. I always thought of The Team as a golden piece of the Hyphy movement.


One thing that characterizes a Hyphy hit is a video that centers on people doing things in cars. What else makes a Hyphy hit?


Clyde Carson: I believe it’s the tempo. In ’05, when this whole thing started, we already knew the tempos of Hyphy. I remember being in the studio with E-40 and he was saying, “It’s gotta be a dollar or better,” meaning the tempo had to be a hundred BPMs or more. The tempos have changed nowadays, but the energy is still there. When the energy changed, usually the names changed, that’s not the case with the Hyphy movement. We haven’t changed the name. Crunk turned into Trap, and Jerk turned into Rachet, but Hyphy’s stayed the same, even the tempos are slower now. Rather than giving way to something new, Hyphy has evolved.


Is there any remaining form of vehicular gymnastics for people to perform to show they’re hyphy?


Clyde Carson: I never underestimate the power of the mind. I can’t think of anything, but I’m sure one of the many geniuses we have out here in the Bay will come up with something.


They may get the opportunity. Hyphy reigned supreme in the mid 2000s, but has since been dormant for a number of years. But in the fall, Mista Fab released “Still Feelin’ It” to honor the legacy of Mac Dre, and a remix that features an all-star roster, including some of the Bay’s youngest stars. Is Hyphy making a comeback, or has Hyphy always been there? Is the Bay Area still making Hyphy music?


Clyde Carson: It depends on how you look at it. If we’re looking at just the tempo, then it’s changed, but it’s really more than that. Really it’s about good music. It’s a way of life, it’s an energy. I’ve grown up in the Bay Area my whole life, and for a while Hyphy meant, like, “Man, those niggas over there are getting Hyphy. I’m fittin’ to bounce.” And from there, in turned into a movement with the music, Turk dancing, swinging cars, and all that. That energy is still here.

I will say this: it was new and improved music, and it was definitely needed because it inspired the youngsters to step the bar up, and they’ve definitely stepped it up. I’m hearing a ton of new music from people with a ton of talent that sound like they won’t be liked only in the Bay. I grew up loving music from the Bay, but I knew that if I wasn’t from the Bay I probably wouldn’t get it. There’s a lot of artists that have a wider appeal.


You’re right. There’s a lot of artists coming up now—Nef, Iamsu!, Kamaiyah—who are becoming globally known. I think that wouldn’t have been possible without the artists like you, Keak da Sneak, and others leading the way. Andre Nickatina—a rapper I’ve been trying to convince everyone I’ve met in the past fifteen years to listen to—is a legend here, but nowhere else. In an LA Weekly article a few years back, you talked about the Bay having a ceiling for a rapper’s success. Do you think that ceiling is still around?


Clyde Carson: Not no more. I remember feeling that way, and I remember leaving, because I thought this wasn’t going to work for me. At the time, this was around ’99, we had one sound. We come from the home of En Vogue and Tony! Toni! Tone! These were groups that made music for the world, and that the whole world could relate to, but the [Bay Area] hip-hop scene wasn’t doing that. And I love the music—don’t get it twisted. I know the music word for word. I grew up with it. But I knew what it was. I definitely don’t feel like that no more. There’s a lot of dope artists here now.


Why is the ceiling gone now? What changed?


Clyde Carson: Well, I’m gonna pat myself on the back for putting out some good music that I felt the world should hear. When [The Team] first came out, people were like “Y’all from Oakland?” They could tell we were from our slang, but our sound was big. I credit myself and everybody in the Hyphy movement for that. We finally got a sound that could travel, you know? I’m proud of the youngsters. I’m glad that I was able to inspire them. I’m lovin’ what’s go on right now.


Who are some of the newer artists you’ve got on Something to Speak About 2?


Clyde Carson: BOOfrmDa4, Ymtk, and 1-O.A.K. are from Oakland.


You’ve also worked with some of the biggest names in the game on previous projects. You worked with Master P on Playboy. How was that? Not a lot of people know he started in Richmond.


Clyde Carson: Yeah, he started his rap career in the Bay Area. He came out here to get away from New Orleans, and he got all the game from E-40, JT the Bigga Figga, and all the guys putting out compilations back in the day. But give full credit to him—that boy a beast. Master P is the real deal; I could tell by his energy. You don’t even realize what he did. He had the game on lock. I mean, how many times was he in Forbes for being one of the wealthiest of the year? And he always gave it up for Richmond. Of course he was born and raised in New Orleans, but you always heard him shout out Richmond. He always repped us. It was good meet him, chill with him, and get to know him because it always motivates you when you meet another black man that’s really from the same struggle that you’re from. It makes me work harder. It was a blessing.


How would you say the rap scene of the Bay compares to that of LA or the current rap mecca, Atlanta?


Clyde Carson: It’s just a different culture. Atlanta’s got a strong hold on [rap]. Really the South in general, but you can’t really compare. We have our own culture here. It’s just different. I mean, look at Houston—you’d never compare that to Atlanta, even though they’re both in the South. Same with LA and the Bay. I don’t know, man. Because we’ve got our own quirkiness out here, it makes it seem like we’re smaller. We’re different sonically and culturally. We are what we are. But we’re innovators out here, there’s just something that rubbed off on us from our ancestors—those Panthers.

I think we innovate a lot of things, and because we’ve been in the shadows for so long, we’ve got a lot of pride. When you’ve been in the shadows for so long, and you finally get some shine? I started rapping because I would never hear The Bay or Oakland. DJ Quik shouted out his town, but no one did that for the Bay. But now we have a genuine superstar out here in G-Eazy. He just sold out the Coliseum, dude. He’s doing that all across the world. The only thing that’s missing is more of me.


But you’re no stranger to the spotlight; “Slow Down” was a huge song for you. It was everywhere when it came out, including Grand Theft Auto V. That song was everywhere—you couldn’t escape it. In an interview a few years ago, you said that you didn’t know “Slow Down” would be big until you performed it live in Santa Barbara. What was it about the crowd’s reaction that told you this song was special?


Clyde Carson: When you’re a rapper in front of an audience and you’re playing new music, you expect a certain reaction. If they haven’t heard it before, then you hope that they’re kinda nodding their head. “Oh, shit. This is nice,” you know? We put on “Slow Down” and they went fucking crazy. It was a mosh pit. So I was like, “Yo we got to come out to this next show.” I thought, “This might be the one.” And then Berner hit me up and was like, “Yo, ‘Slow Down’ is the one.” Roach Gigz said something like that, too—we was all on tour together, and they were playing “Slow Down” in their rides. I was like, man, I guess this is the one. I knew it slapped, I knew it felt good, but it was something different. Chico was jumpin’ as well.


Did life change dramatically for you after that song? Was it a game-changer?


Clyde Carson: Naw, not really. I remember going to SXSW and thinking “If you ain’t heard of me, you’ll know me now.” I feel that energy now. Lifestyle-wise, nothing much changed. It was still mainly just a West Coast record. You might’ve heard it in Miami, and I know a station in Chicago showed us love, but it was still mainly just a West Coast record.

I put a lot of work in with the Bay, but “Slow Down” introduced me to LA. They might’ve heard of me through The Team, and I remember doing a lot of college parties, but we weren’t on the radio. “Slow Down” became a number one record on the radio out there. So that definitely was a game-changer as far as acknowledgement of who Clyde Carson was, but it wasn’t like, “Oh shit, I’m set.” It was more like, “Oh shit, I’ve got a lot of work to do.” We not there yet, but we ’bout to be.


You’ve been working in this game a long time. It’s got to be hard to track artistic progress. Do you think success is a good scale of quantification?


Clyde Carson: What would you define as success?


Well, that’s a good question. The Bay’s loved you for years and years. Critics have loved you for years and years.


Clyde Carson: Slow motion is better than no motion. That’s what I heard 2 Chainz say and I agree with it. I’d rather take my time. The Bay loves me—what more could I want? I’m not tripping off the critics, but it still feels good. I feel like I’m that nigga. I’m just like Kanye. I’m just like the J. Any of the top MCs, I feel like I’m that. If it takes a little longer to get to that spot where other people recognize me as that, then we fittin’ to be cruisin’. But like I said: I’m putting my foot on the gas.


Hell of a Night was a great EP you released with your old group The Team. You guys just released Hell of a Night 2 last year. What prompted you to work with those guys again?


Clyde Carson: Well, I’m gonna pat myself on the back for putting out some good music that I felt the world should hear. When [The Team] first came out, people were like “Y’all from Oakland?” They could tell we were from our slang, but our sound was big. I credit myself and everybody in the Hyphy movement for that. We finally got a sound that could travel, you know? I’m proud of the youngsters. I’m glad that I was able to inspire them. I’m lovin’ what’s go on right now.


Hell of a Night was a great EP you released with your old group The Team. You guys just released Hell of a Night 2 last year. What prompted you to work with those guys again?


Clyde Carson: I mean, those are my brothers. We have to work. It’s a feeling that you get that you gotta follow—when it’s that time, you do work. I’m always sending [The Team] music and we’re always working together, and when we collectively get enough music, why not give it to the people? Both those projects are special to me, and I think both of them are really dope. I still listen to both of them.


How does the creative process differ when writing music with a group?


Clyde Carson: It might be a little easier, but it’s pretty much the same. I try to go into every song the same way: try to make a dope record. I cut verses out that I do that aren’t up to par, I cut verses that other people do. I mean, I feel like when I’m making a group project, it’s easier, because I feel safe that what Kaz does and Mayne does is always gonna be dope. As long as I’m cool on this verse, Kaz gonna knock it out. That’s money. Mayne’s gonna do his thing. That’s money every time.

So of course it’s easier for a group because if I do a record and I don’t like the second verse, I’ve either got to find someone to do a feature, or I’ve got to write another second verse. With The Team, it’s always easier, and it’s fun with the group. Solo, I’m just a natural artist—I work every day. Wherever I’m at, I’ve got a studio, and I’m putting together music. It’s all work, but working with The Team is easier, I guess.


Your new project features an all-star cast, but one name in particular caught my eye because of the number of time you’ve collaborated with him: Keak da Sneak. The Team signed to his label. You two have worked together so much. What is it about Keak that draws you to working with him?


Clyde Carson: That’s my big brother, rap partner, all that. We don’t hang out like that, but I’ve got the upmost respect for him. He put me on. He gave me my start, and we took the opportunity and made it happen. We got on the radio. He saw us and was like, “Damn, you guys really popped off.” He would come work with us, just on GP. He jumped on songs for us, a bunch of songs. Songs we didn’t even put out. We always crossed paths—that’s how it is in the Bay. You can’t help but run into a bunch of rappers ’cause we’re always in the studio. Everybody just knows everybody, and I’ve lived all over: Oakland, Berkeley, Vallejo, and Richmond. I’ve got hella partners all over the Bay. I know everybody.

Working with Keak, with our camaraderie—I mean that’s the guy that put me on, man. In return, I just reached back. It’s good to see him in the position that he is, after everything he’s went through recently, to see the respect and love he’s been getting. You know, he just got shot. And there was the other bullshit he went through before that in just getting out of jail. You know, he’s just a real, hood, street nigga that people love. And he’s still got it. He’s the godfather. I just want to see him shine. I wanted to shoot a video with him try to make that shit look big. I’m just trying keep it lit for him while he’s here, while we’re all here. I don’t want nothing to happen to nobody, but we be losing our people. We lost Mac, The Jack. We need to support each other and stay up out of the bullshit.