Justin Carroll-Allan is ghostwriting the whip.
Keak Da Sneak, the forefather of the hyphy movement, escaped death twice this year. In August, the Bay Area legend was shot eight times in the early hours of a Monday morning at a gas station in Richmond. He’d just headlined a show in Oakland the night before. For Bay Area rap fans, this triggered flashbacks to January, when Keak was shot the first time, after which he reassured fans via Instagram, with a few typos, that he was alive and well and ready to focus on music again:
You’ll never understand how valuable life is until it flash before ya eyes. Gods plan can never be determined by man an fa that I’m still livin an Can’t nothin on this earth stop me!
Eight times is a hell of a lot of times to be shot in Grand Theft Auto, but in real life? Surviving that seemed impossible, and this second shooting felt like we might not get him back. We waited for news of Keak, fearing that the next time we saw him, he would just be another spray-painted memorial dedicated to the Bay’s fallen rappers, like the mural of Mac Dre by Freemont High in Oakland, or The Jacka’s on MacArthur and 94th.
We listened to “Superhyphy” on a loop, refreshing Google for new information, and we felt the weight of Mistah F.A.B.’s words when he posted an update about Keak’s condition, and took a moment to scold us: “We need to stop waiting for news of something before we show our appreciation for someone.” Keak isn’t just the rapper who popularized the term “hyphy,” he’s the artist that reigned supreme over the hyphy movement that swarmed the West Coast—and eventually oozed through the rest of the country—and smashed the regional ceiling that prevented Bay Area rappers from breaking out.
Thankfully, after three critical surgeries, Keak was able to pull through. His latest project, Withdrawl, which we’re premiering here, is a searing celebration of Keak’s work and the golden era of Bay Area rap he helped start and a reminder why he shouldn’t be forgotten.
Withdrawl feels almost defiant in its vintage sound. Unlike other veteran rappers who’ve waved the white flag and adapted to the dominant trend of trap beats, the songs on this album are filled with the purrs and squawks of West Coast synths over a thick bassline. Produced by Mekanix, all seventeen tracks on Withdrawl harken back to the nascent stage of Bay Area rap, before the whole Bay was just an extension of Silicon Valley, back when the only time the world talked about the Warriors was when Sprewell choked out P.J. Carlesimo, and Mac Mall was an excellent rapper from Vallejo, not a place where you shopped for Apple products.
The bouncy brightness of “Thunderdome” sounds like it belongs on a JT da Bigga Figga Best of the Bay compilation circa ’94, right next to Rappin’ 4-Tay’s “Can U Buckem’.” “Keep it Goin,” with its warm synth lick laced over an ominous piano, sounds like it would’ve been right at home on Keak’s 1999 album Sneakacydal.
Withdrawl is Keak’s strongest effort in years, perhaps because it displays a comfort and confidence in his place in Bay Area rap. In “Him not Them,” a song celebrating Keak’s authenticity, Keak growls: “So glad the Mack god choose me.” All praise goes to the Mack god for giving us Keak da Sneak. Long may he reign.