Larry June On His 'Great Escape': How The Posi-Rapper's New Album With Alchemist Reflects His Healthy Hustle
'The Great Escape,' Larry June's new album with the Alchemist, is a cinematic sojourn where all the B.S. is left behind. The rapper's immense positivity flows through, with reflections on opulence, doing things differently and, of course, healthy living.
Larry June drinks about 35 oranges every morning. Pair that with 15 green juices and some chlorophyll, and you have the diet of a man who seeks the finer things in life.
"Organic" isn’t just a buzzword for Larry. His countless projects outline the Orange Print to successful living: His clothing brand, Midnight Organic, tags his apparel with words like HEALTHY, ORGANIC, and GOOD JOB!; his song titles spark conversations about the trajectory of humanity; even his lyrics provide keen insight into the daily routines and investment opportunities that have allowed June to flourish as a self-made entrepreneur.
Larry June’s persistent gratitude and optimism have guided him through the trials and tribulations within hip-hop, and his ‘hoods of Hunter’s Point, San Francisco and Vallejo. You might see him douse a crowd of fans at Rolling Loud with Uncle Larry’s Orange Juice, you might see him working at his SF boba shop, Honeybear, or you might even see him traveling through Mexico City, mesmerized by the architecture. An old-soul camouflaged as the spokesperson for Vitamin C, June has worked for over a decade to solidify his status as the suave gangster with no affinity for rap beef (unless it’s grass-fed and organic).
The Great Escape, Larry's latest album with GRAMMY-nominated producer Alchemist, is a step away from "all the bullsh—" and an invitation into the opulent grand-opening party for their cinematic The Great Escape Ski Resort. Alchemist’s beats score this groovier film-on-wax, adding touches of psychedelic-infused reggae and downtempo, as well as loops from ‘60s-era B-reels. Larry June builds his own world of gang lords and drug deals, referencing Mexican magnate Carlos Slim to discreet calls with his own invented cast of characters. With the fleeting third-person adlib of "Sing it, Larry," our world-rebound protagonist croons words of affirmation throughout the album.
Larry June's immensely positive brand of gangsta rap holds true on The Great Escape, and rappers from around the world lend verses on the opulence of life. Action Bronson appears on "Solid Plan" to discuss the banality of artificial intelligence and Tony Soprano’s sacrifices as a mob boss; Big Sean raps with Larry about their daily chlorophyll drinks and investments commercial real estate on "Palisades, CA"; and even Wiz Khalifa roll ups to relish on the empire June has created.
But June is far from out of touch with the people. The opening track begins with the rapper battling San Francisco's inclement weather: "Bend a corner, I’m on Hayes Street copping a windbreaker" — a moment anyone visiting the foggy city can relate to.
Although June spent part of his childhood in Atlanta, his heart has always been in the Bay — from its windswept hills to its hometown rap heroes. Larry June sat down with GRAMMY.com to discuss growing up, doing things differently, how he and the Alchemist concocted The Great Escape.
What was it like to live in Vallejo?
I loved it. It was so different. There were crazy house parties and shit. S— was tight as hell. Big Mac Dre culture. It’s a whole different energy.
Do you have any favorite Mac Dre songs or albums?
Man, I like "Not My Job." I could bust you a rap, I love all Mac Dre’s s—. It’s not even one particular album, his s— is just so different.
Other than Mac Dre, who are some of your favorite old-school Bay Area artists?
RBL Posse, RIP to Jack[a] — legendary, you know what I’m saying, can’t forget J. Stalin, can’t forget E-40, Too $hort, you know, all the classics. B-Legit, Cellski, everybody man, there’s so many I can’t even name all of them. It’s a whole different energy. The world still hasn’t even picked up everything that’s going on. Johnny Ca$h.
Because you mentioned Johnny Ca$h and J. Stalin, did you always have an affinity for artists who also sang a little bit?
That’s crazy you said that. For sure, I think so. J. Stalin’s really my boy, he was making music with me when I was like 16 years old. He’s a good dude, a real entrepreneur, made it out the ‘hood, started a business for himself, all kinds of s—. Legendary.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved that singing aspect in rapping. You could switch it up, and it doesn't have to be the best singing.
I saw a quote recently where someone said, "You don’t even have to be a Whitney Houston-level singer, sometimes there's beauty in using your own voice."
It’s an art. It’s natural and it’s coming from the heart. It’s how you sound, so you’re giving the people something that’s yours, versus you’re trying to sound like something and you’re trying to force it to sound perfect. Sometimes those imperfections make you 20x better.
That’s how I feel about my music – a lot of s— I might want to redo, I might have said a word wrong, but that’s how I say it. I’m going to give it to you the way I would give it to you in real life. I just do it for the motherf—rs who rock with me, that live like me, that understand what I’m talking about. If you don’t understand, hey, it wasn’t for you. [Laughs] Numbers, baby.
What inspired The Great Escape?
Me and Al, we was in the studio vibing, and the album had a real luxurious feeling. From when "Turkish Cotton" comes, it feels like a movie scene. Al was like, "This is like some Robb Report s—." I didn’t know what the Robb Report was, so he showed me and it’s like a magazine with Lamborghinis and nice properties and expensive watches.
Then, we saw something that said "The Great Escape," and it hit me. I escaped all the bulls—; I’m living very peacefully. I escaped the jealousy, the odds that were against us. What we were going for was more like a spy-feel. "Come to the spot, get your back rubbed, come to the Great Escape Ski Resort."
How did moving to Malibu and getting the place that was shown in the album’s behind-the-scenes documentary build the world of The Great Escape?
I pretty much recorded the majority of the songs at home. I’d come to [Al] and we’d escape from the world, get crazy cribs by the coast. We’d vibe, we’d hear some s— and I’d add little pieces in there.
I’m inspired by seeing beautiful things, so I have to go to different places to get inspired while making the music. I went to Mexico City to film a portion of the "Spanish" video, and I’m seeing different architecture and eating all these different kinds of foods, seeing different s—. I started getting interested in Barragán lighting; it creates a different type of lighting in houses naturally. [Laughs] I was learning so much, and I was able to teach it to people who didn’t know it through the music.
It was real natural; nothing was forced. I was just being me and it came out dope, man. I wanted to make sure that I was rapping good enough with the Alchemist on his beats because everybody who works with the Alchemist is amazing. Artists from Roc Marci to Boldy James, Jay Worthy, Curren$y, even go back to Mobb Deep. They set the bar high. Prodigy.
[Alchemist] was like, "No, you got this s—. Stay in your bag. Don’t think about that, just do you." [Laughs]
How do you approach a Cardo album (Into The Late Night), versus a Harry Fraud album (Keep Going) versus an Alchemist album?
I’ve built a relationship with these producers where we have our own bag. When Cardo sends me beats, he’s not sending me the beats he sends to Drake or whoever, I’m in our bag and I master that bag with each producer.
It’s kind of like a superpower for me. I can cut off my Alchemist bag for two months, not even thinking about that bag at all because the Cardo bag was recharging, so I never run out of raps. I live by the motto: If you do the same s—, you get the same results. The key is never losing yourself. I did an album with Alchemist, but I’m not going to turn into Common. [Laughs]
I was surprised to hear "60 Days" because you’re probably one of the only artists who could get Al to rap. What was that conversation like?
We were really just in the studio vibing. He was jotting down some notes, and I guess he likes to write raps — he doesn’t like to be doing nothing. I looked over and I’m like, "You got something for this?" and he was like, "F— it, I got something," and he jumped in there and did it.
He didn’t want to use the record [on the album], but I love the record. I love the beat by itself. That’s why I didn’t want to rap too long – eight bars, slight hook, eight bars. The beat is so movie scene-ish. He got on there, it worked out, he didn’t want to drop it, we ended up dropping it first.
That’s the magic with this record. Every song is consistently great.
You want to give them variety, man, start soft. I drink 35 oranges as soon as I wake up in the morning.
Mhm. I might drink 15 green juices, some chlorophyll; you’ve got to stay healthy inside the body. I might take a jog. I’ll rock 35 miles, for no reason.
When did you realize that this is the lifestyle you’ve got to be chasing?
It made me feel better. I used to be going through some s—, so I use taking a walk or a jog to ease my mind and help me think clearer and see different things. I noticed when I started drinking the juices, it was making me feel better. It’s really those peaceful walks. I’ll walk in the rain 35 miles.
That’s something that’s always drawn me to your music. It’s music that you can listen to and aspire to be like.
It’s raw because I come from a completely different world. My grandma had the candy house in the hood – ICEEs, candy, sodas, making nachos for the 'hood. I’m preaching to my people that you don’t have to do the same thing.
Go get you something healthy, take a walk. Everything ain’t about sitting in the ‘hood and doing the same s— that we come from, that people know us for. It’s cool to do different s—. I’m just an advocate for that. A lot of inspiration from my dad too because he was the first n— in the 'hood coming out healthy. You’ve got to be thankful for your parents.
On "Turkish Cotton," you even mention"I was just dead broke in 2017." What changed for you?
The cars got faster. My mindset got better. I started experiencing new things and looking at things from a bigger aspect. I always got that fight in me. I’m always hustling and working because I know it can get ugly; I lived it for the majority of my life. I’m new money. I didn’t come from millions of dollars, I didn’t have nothing passed down to me. I’m breaking a cycle for me and hopefully the next generation of kids that are coming up.
That’s why I talk my s— like, "I bought the ‘Rarri," but I’m also going to let you know that, "N—, I was broke just like you." Anybody can do it if I did it. My mom had me at 15 years old. I wasn’t supposed to be doing what I’m doing now, man.
That’s why being healthy is so important because if we’re not healthy, we’re not going to be able to do nothing. It first starts with how you feel and what you put in your body when you wake up, if you have negative people around you; you’ve got to be aware of everything if you want to be successful.
Now, it’s about legacy. You dropped your first project, Cali Grown, in 2010 and look at you now.
[When I dropped] Cali Grown, I was hella into smooth, peaceful beats and started doing what I wanted to do and started developing my voice and creating. I had a vision: being a boss, healthy living, being a player — but it can’t get ugly. I was taking my equipment with me everywhere I was going and practicing.
What’s dope is that I could have easily deleted all that stuff from the internet, easily, but I left it up there purposefully to show you I was trash. [Laughs] I do it to show my people that if you keep going, you can be great, you just need to believe in it.
Sock it to 'em, Larry! Now, last but not least, what can happen in 60 days?
In 60 days, a lot can change. If you put time in and really dedicate yourself for 60 days – it can be a week, it can be 30 days, it can be 20 days – if you’re dedicating your time to doing something, it’s going to work. I’ve got a big thing about discipline. A lot can change, for real, you’ve just gotta keep rocking.
Photo: Scott Legato/Getty Images
A Guide To Bay Area Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From Northern California
Bay Area hip-hop has had a few moments to shine on the main stage, but has largely grinded independently for decades. On the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, learn how "the whole damn Yay" fits into this global culture — and how it stands out.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a geographically and culturally diverse region of Northern California whose music scene has influenced the world. There is a lot more territory to Northern California, but the more than 7.5 million people who live in the Bay are crucial to the state's music scene.
While the Summer of Love and associated boom of rock and psychedelia in the 1960s might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the sounds of San Francisco, the Bay has long been a source of creative, boundary-breaking hip-hop music and culture. The region's nine counties are where many definitive hip-hop acts were raised and became inspired to create.
Major labels largely ignored Bay Area artists at the beginning of hip-hop's golden age. However, that lack of attention allowed for wider creative freedom and a bevy of distinctly Bay Area sounds.
As hip-hop celebrates half a century of soundtracking the world, it’s a good time to learn how this part of the West Coast fits into this global culture — and how it stands out. Listen to Spotify playlist below or visit Amazon Music, Pandora and Apple Music to learn more about the Bay Area's bountiful hip-hop culture.
A Brief History Of Bay Area Hip-Hop
The Bay Area's first local commercial rap release came in 1981 via Motorcycle Mike’s "Super Rat." But the world wouldn’t become seriously acquainted with Bay Area rappers until the early ‘90s, when MC Hammer told everyone what they couldn’t touch.
Some of the most notable releases tap into the region's educated and aware, activist-oriented, health-focused lifestyle. The Bay also knows how to party, and the funky musicality of the region — from Sly and the Family Stone to Con Funk Shun (whose member Felton Pilate produced some of MC Hammer’s early works) — have been a strong influence on hip-hop culture nationwide.
However, the Bay Area rap music scene is historically distinguished by reality-based work that sometimes alludes to criminal activity — including violence, murder, drug dealing and sex trafficking — and details rough times.
The intermingling between the fictional world of music and criminal realities has led rap lyrics to be used against defendants in criminal cases around the country. In the '90s and early aughts, prominent rappers such as Sacramento’s C-Bo and Vallejo’s Andre "Mac Dre" Hicks were jailed for their lyrics, which detailed crimes and had anti-police and governor sentiment.
New state legislation is setting a national example for such work to be inadmissible in court. In September, with the support of popular Bay Area rappers E-40 and Too $hort, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act to restrict the use of rap lyrics in criminal proceedings. (The Recording Academy is also involved in a federal effort to limit the use of lyrics in court.)
Several high-profile murders and deaths altered the trajectory of burgeoning careers, casting a question mark about the unrealized potential of some of the Bay Area’s brightest artists. This unfortunate list includes the 1996 Las Vegas murder of Tupac Shakur — who spent formative years being educated and recording in the Bay Area — and Mac Dre, the progenitor of the region’s hyphy culture who was shot to death in Kansas City in 2004 and still reigns as the Bay Area’s biggest posthumous figure. Pittsburg’s Dominick "The Jacka" Newton is another revered figure supported heavily by Northern California who was killed in Oakland in 2015. In 2021, Stephen "Zumbi" Gaines from Zion I died in an Oakland hospital; his death was ruled a homicide, yet no criminal charges have been filed and his family called to continue the investigation in 2022.
Bay Area hip-hop has had a few moments to shine especially bright in the eyes of the world, but the local scene has kept grinding in and out of the mainstream spotlight. Sporadic attention and contracts from the major record labels throughout the years meant that the Bay Area rap scene generally needed to continue to be sustained independently.
In the pre-streaming era, record stores such as Amoeba Music in San Francisco and Rasputin Music (which had several locations at its height) sold thousands of copies of albums and mixtapes from local artists on their own. Too $hort and E-40’s DIY business model would influence Southern rap moguls like Percy "Master P" Miller, who started his No Limit Records in Richmond, California, and Bryan "Baby" Williams of New Orleans’ Cash Money Records.
For decades, there was an absence of prolonged label and distribution support from the traditional music business centers of Los Angeles, New York City and, later, Atlanta. A significant shift began when EMPIRE Distribution opened in San Francisco in 2010, making the city a power player in the international music industry.
While the San Francisco Bay Area may not be the biggest name in the national hip-hop conversation, its underdog status is a point of pride and reason for continued creativity. In 2023, hip-hop artists, producers and businesspeople keep an eye on the Bay for lyrical, linguistic, music, dance and style trends.
Definitive Artists In Bay Area Hip-Hop
MC Hammer: Stanley Burrell’s evolution from young bat boy for the Oakland Athletics and growing up connected to the streets, to becoming the GRAMMY-winning and Billboard-charting pop superhero MC Hammer is the Bay Area’s first international hip-hop success story. He’s the only rapper from Northern California who had his own Saturday morning cartoon (Hammerman) on ABC — an epic achievement in the early '90s, when weekend programming for kids was still a household phenomenon.
He was the first to work with major brands like Taco Bell and Sprite in an era when hip-hop didn’t have the attention of corporate America, like it does now. VH1 aired a biopic in 2001 and A&E commissioned a family reality series in 2009. There’s even a Hammer doll made by the toy company Mattel.
Digital Underground: Helmed by Gregory "Shock G" Jacobs and Ronald "Money-B" Brooks, Oakland’s mischievous party rap crew Digital Underground flirted with various Billboard singles and albums charts throughout the '90s and released six albums until Jacobs' untimely passing in 2021.
The self-described "Sons of the P" drew from the well of the Parliament-Funkadelic world, sampling and interpolating George Clinton’s best-known riffs, ad-libs and freewheeling thoughts. Digital Underground’s two top 40 hits include "Kiss You Back" and "The Humpty Dance," the latter nominated for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group at the 1991 GRAMMYs. "The Humpty Dance" introduced the character of Humpty Hump, which was another of Jacobs’ alter egos, but the group pretended like they were different people, sometimes enlisting Jacobs’ own brother to help further the prank on stage.
Tupac Shakur: Shock G and Money-B took a young Tupac Shakur under their wings, bringing him on tour as a roadie and dancer in 1990 and producing songs on his 1991 debut album 2Pacalypse Now. Shakur recorded half of his sophomore album in the East Bay, and later signed to Los Angeles labels Interscope and Death Row.
His mother, Afeni Shakur, reconnected with the Bay Area in the last years of her life and passed away on her houseboat in Sausalito, not far from Marin City, where Tupac lived in his high school years. History hasn’t viewed him as a strictly Bay Area artist, but the region is a crucial architect of his career.
Too $hort: Though he was born in Los Angeles and moved to the East Bay in his youth, Todd Shaw’s Too $hort character is synonymous with Oakland, its pimp culture and being the first to sell custom mixtapes on the streets. He turned his "out the trunk" ethos into a decades-long deal with Jive Records.
Despite threatening to retire in the mid-'90s, Too $hort continues to make music to add to his discography, which includes six platinum-selling albums, three gold albums and the enduring hyphy anthem "Blow The Whistle." He has collaborated with many rappers, including Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., and on "Bossy," a top 20 hit for Kelis. Shaw represented the Bay Area at the 2023 GRAMMYs' tribute to hip-hop, and told PEOPLE that he was "really glad to be a part of it."
E-40: Like Too $hort, E-40 (Earl Stevens) parlayed his independent record hustle into a contract with Jive Records that yielded gold and platinum-selling singles and albums. Both essentially created a playbook that was cited and followed by Southern labels such as No Limit and Cash Money. E-40’s storytelling prowess and gift for slanguage is delivered with impressive speed, and continues to influence MCs all over the world. He’s as deft at crafting party-starters like his hyphy hit "Tell Me When to Go" as poignant tales like "Zoom," which describes how life handed him nothing, but he transcended his circumstances to become a leader.
A community-minded philanthropist, he recently donated $100,000 to Grambling University, which he attended, to create the Earl "E-40" Stevens Sound Recording Studio on campus and inspire the next generation of artists. In recent years, he has applied his independent strategies to the food, wine and spirits industries, and will release a cookbook in November.
E-40 and Too $hort have recorded two albums together, and have since formed the northern half of the rap supergroup Mount Westmore, with Los Angeles natives Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube. Stevens will soon have a Bay Area street named after him called E-40 Way in Vallejo — just as Shaw received Too $hort Way in Oakland in December.
Mac Dre: Andre Hicks didn’t have a mainstream career like MC Hammer or Too $hort, but his influence on Bay Area music and culture as a progenitor and propeller of hyphy remains outsized. His music is rooted in the streets, but also party minded and musical, bridging a gap between the rough and serious and happy and intoxicated.
His mother Wanda Salvatto, who is nicknamed Mac Wanda, continued his Thizz Entertainment label after his still-unsolved 2004 murder in Kansas City, Missouri. She has built an extensive discography of posthumous and tribute albums and compilations.
Keak Da Sneak: After making noise in the mid-Nineties Oakland group 3X Krazy and later on his own, the rapper born Charles Kente Williams has earned his spot as a crucial Bay Area music and slang innovator. He’s credited with expressions like "fa sheezy," "yadidimean" and hyphy, the latter a contraction devised to describe his hyperactive tendencies.
"I don’t think they know, that’s my word," he proclaims in the chorus of his quick-moving 2005 party hit "Super Hyphy." In 2017, Keak Da Sneak was shot eight times by an unknown assailant at a gas station in Richmond, California. Though he’s been using a wheelchair ever since, he remains active in the local scene, recently appearing at DJ and podcaster Dregs One’s History of Bay Area Hip-Hop day party in San Francisco.
Definitive Bay Area Hip-Hop Releases
Too $hort - Life Is…Too $hort (1988)
As a rapper and character, Too $hort has transcended generations of Bay Area hip-hop fans, but the old-schoolers will still point to his fifth album, which broke him out of the region thanks to support in the form of a 1989 re-release from Jive Records. It delivers the bawdy, pimp boasting raps that he’s known for, but Life Is… also shows his less-known talents for keyboard and drum programming.
MC Hammer - Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em (1990)
MC Hammer’s third album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em spent almost five months on top of the Billboard 200, and he is the only rap artist from Northern California to win GRAMMY Awards. With their hooky Rick James and Prince samples, respectively, the album’s hit singles "U Can’t Touch This" and "Pray" set a production standard that has been relied on pretty much ever since — whether in the most popular songs of P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records catalog in the 1990s, or today’s social media hits by Latto and Coi Leray.
In 1991, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em was nominated for Album Of The Year, and he took home three golden gramophones for Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best Rap Solo Performance for "U Can’t Touch This" and Best Music Video - Long Form.
Digital Underground - Sex Packets (1990)
DU’s platinum-selling debut album may be the Bay Area’s greatest concept rap album, a lascivious romp assisted by imaginary sexual enhancement pills years before Viagra was invented. Songs like "Freaks of the Industry," "Doowutchyalike" and "The Humpty Dance" brought fun and levity to the streets and households across America.
"The Humpty Dance" was not only a top 20 pop hit and a No. 1 rap single; its undulating groove formed the backbone of countless pop, rap, R&B and drum and bass songs that later sampled it. Even the Spice Girls couldn’t resist using it for their 1996 song "If U Can’t Dance."
2Pac - 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
The majority of Tupac Shakur’s first two albums were made in the Bay Area: He recorded all of 2Pacalypse Now and half of his sophomore album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… at Starlight Sound in the East Bay city of Richmond. 2Pacalypse Now shows how a descendent of the Black Panther Party reflects his history for the '90s.
He worked with local producers — including Digital Underground’s Shock G, Raw Fusion and Big D The Impossible — on early anthems like "Brenda’s Got a Baby," "Trapped" and "If My Homie Calls." Though his posthumous discography is long, he would go on to release just two more albums before his murder in 1996: Me Against the World and the GRAMMY-nominated All Eyez on Me.
Del the Funky Homosapien - "Mistadobalina" (1991)
When he was a little kid, Del the Funky Homosapien designed the three-eyed face that became the logo of his Hieroglyphics crew and a worldwide symbol of Bay Area rap. "Mistadobalina," which he produced with Boogiemen and his cousin Ice Cube, was his breakout song. His confident and fun flow drew people into the Hiero world — which now includes an annual festival in Oakland — and it still sounds timeless.
RBL Posse - "Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed" (1992)
The biggest group to come from San Francisco’s tough Hunters Point neighborhood and score a major label record deal, RBL Posse is best remembered for this ode to smoking quality cannabis from their debut album A Lesson To Be Learned. Members Hitman and Mr. Cee were both victims of gun violence, but their sonic calling card remains a local anthem.
N2DEEP - "Back to the Hotel" (1992)
Vallejo is most often associated with Mac Dre and E-40, but the city also birthed N2DEEP, the Latinx group that brought the sax-heavy rap song "Back to the Hotel" to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song was everywhere in 1992, and has been due for a renaissance of appreciation.
Souls of Mischief - "93 ‘til Infinity" (1993)
Friends of Del the Funky Homosapien and fellow Hieroglyphics crew members, A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai are Souls of Mischief. "93 ‘til Infinity" remains their inspiring signature song, resonating sonically and lyrically across generations. The track has been sampled dozens of times by artists like J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and Tyga.
The Conscious Daughters - Ear to the Street (1993)
Released by Priority Records — the Los Angeles label that introduced venerable acts such as Funkadelic, N.W.A. and EPMD to the world — Ear to the Street gave a national platform to two smooth and streetwise rappers from Oakland who happened to be women: CMG (Carla Green) and the late Special One (Karryl Smith, who passed away in 2011). Their debut album, and especially its breakout single "Somethin’ to Ride to (Fonky Expedition)," are still requisite car listening in the Bay Area.
Spice 1 - 187 He Wrote (1993)
Though he collaborated with Shakur, Spice 1 is still one of the more underrated and under the radar of the old-school gangster rappers. This sophomore album features production by Too $hort and local legends Ant Banks and E-A-Ski, as well as guest spots by E-40 and Compton’s MC Eiht. 187 He Wrote topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Luniz - "I Got 5 On It (Bay Ballas Vocal Remix)" (1995)
Almost 30 years since its release, this ode to smoking weed by Oakland rappers Yukmouth and Numskull still makes frequent appearances at Bay Area events and clubs. The Bay Ballas Vocal Remix, which features E-40, Richie Rich, Spice 1, Dru Down, Shock G, hogged all the attention back in the day and is still the version to play.
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing (1996)
The mysterious DJ and producer mixed at the nucleus of the SoleSides crew, which later became the Quannum Projects label and includes vital Bay Area artists like Blackalicious, Lyrics Born and Lateef The Truthspeaker. Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing is a masterpiece of instrumental hip-hop.
Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision (1998)
Oakland’s Hieroglyphics is made up of solo MCs and groups who have created some of Bay Area rap’s most vaunted songs. The first of three crew albums, the stellar arrangement and song selection on the 22-track 3rd Eye Vision, which refers to their three-eyed logo and spotlights each individual’s talents, keeps it in the conversation 25 years since its release.
Blackalicious - "Alphabet Aerobics" (1999)
A stunning feat of linguistic excellence by the late rapper Gift of Gab (who tragically passed away in 2021 after receiving a kidney implant the year before), "Alphabet Aerobics" pushes rhymes of increasing complexity from A to Z. It’s a textbook of how to MC in one track.
Mystic - Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom (2001)
Mandolyn Wind Ludlum is best known as Mystic, a singer, rapper and educator from Oakland whose debut album sounds as fresh as when it was released in 2001. Cuts for Luck was re-released 10 years later in large part to the lead single "The Life" and "W," a duet featuring Fresno rapper Planet Asia that was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2002 GRAMMYs.
Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf - Big Shots (2003)
Murdered in 1993, South Bay rapper Charizma never got the chance to see where his talent would take him. Big Shots was not released until 2003, but his flows on songs like "Methods" and "Jack the Mack" are timeless. Peanut Butter Wolf —a San Jose native producer and close friend of Charizma — moved his record label Stones Throw to Los Angeles and keeps Charizma's legacy alive.
Mac Dre - Treal TV DVD and Soundtrack (2004)
Thanks to the continuation of his Thizz Entertainment record label after his 2004 murder, Mac Dre’s posthumous discography is extensive, but a DVD released when he was alive is perhaps the most coveted release in the collection. Treal TV has a cult following for its casual depiction of his everyday life, car collection and live footage of him performing songs such as "Thizzelle Dance," which also appears on Dre’s 2002 album Thizzelle Washington.
There’s also a CD soundtrack version of Treal TV featuring various artists and associates; a second volume of Treal TV was released in 2006 and includes footage of Mac Dre on the road in Hawaii.
Mistah F.A.B. - "Super Sic Wit It" (2005)
With his Dope Era clothing store and frequent community events, Oakland’s Mistah F.A.B. has been an entrepreneurial and philanthropic leader in the scene since he turned out hyphy club and radio hits like "Super Sic Wit It." The high energy song for car sideshows helped him score a major label contract.
E-40 - My Ghetto Report Card (2006)
E-40’s many albums have consistently good arrangement and a narrative arc of storytelling, and My Ghetto Report Card represents him at the crest of a second wind that floated him into greater international recognition. Produced by Lil Jon, the lead single "Tell Me When to Go" landed at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of the big hits of the hyphy era.
Atlanta’s king of crunk produced seven additional songs on the album, including "White Gurl" featuring UGK and Juelz Santana and "U and Dat" featuring T-Pain and Kandi, while Bay Area standard-setter Rick Rock and E-40’s son Droop-E rounded out the production duties.
The Coup - Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006)
The Coup represented the revolutionary side of Oakland with razor-sharp intellect and furiously funky beats. Pick a Bigger Weapon was released by Epitaph Records, a label known more for rock than rap music, and includes collaborations with Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys and Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine. Frontman Boots Riley has made forays into film and streaming TV, most recently with the comedy series "I’m a Virgo." The Coup’s late DJ, Pam The Funkstress, was selected by Prince to open some of his final shows.
Zion I - "Tech $" (2017)
Oakland’s Zion I has long reflected on the changes and realities of the Bay Area in their music. Nowhere does this resonate the most as it does on "Tech $," which details displacement and gentrification as it was literally happening to the late MC Stephen Gaines, who was known as Zumbi and Baba Zumbi. The accompanying music video shows him moving his family out of their house and out of the area.
Stunnaman02 - "Big Steppin’" (2021)
Perhaps the biggest local rap song to come out of the pandemic, San Francisco rapper Jordan "Stunnaman02" Gomes even got the city’s mayor to do the song’s infectious associated dance, which KQED calls "a trend that rhythmically mimics the act of bench pressing."
Bay Area Hip-Hop Subgenres & Styles
Bay Area rap can be educated, activist, party-starting and gangster — and sometimes all on the same track. There’s a distinct pride in the scope and the range of subject matter and sonic aesthetics in the region. Achieving uncategorizable moments is wonderful, but everyone seems to love big, trunk-rattling bass.
There’s always been nuance within these major styles — for example, music that could blanketly be called gangster could also be subdivided into general topic styles such as pimping and drug dealing, and even small subgenres like mobb music — which was coined to describe a particular sinister and gritty sound characterized by even heavier basslines more than the lyrical content.
Turntablism: In the '90s Bay Area DJs with mobile party and technical battle circuit experience contributed significantly to the development of turntablism. With the help of the Return of the DJ compilation series from San Francisco’s Bomb Hip-Hop Records, turntablism became an international style of using and manipulating record players like musical instruments to record original works. With talents such as Shortkut, DJ Disk, DJ Apollo, DJ Flare, D-Styles, Qbert and Mix Master Mike, local crew Invisibl Skratch Piklz won world battle championships and inspired countless fans to become DJs. Mix Master Mike has toured extensively with Beastie Boys, Metallica and Cypress Hill.
Hyphy: The aughts ushered in the music, linguistic and car subculture called hyphy, bringing in quicker tempos ready for popping pills and "going dumb" on the dancefloor. Too $hort would criticize the abuse of MDMA in his 2006 hit "Blow the Whistle," but most of hyphy’s hits revel in ignorance — and Mac Dre certainly touted the benefits of ecstasy when he was alive.
Almost 20 years since hyphy’s ascent and this is thought of as a sort of golden era of Bay Area hip-hop, a time when the world’s attention was facing west. Hyphy songs have been sampled in more contemporary contexts (as Saweetie used "Blow the Whistle" for 2020’s "Tap In"), and the subject is a common one used to evoke an uplifting nostalgia.
Based: Brandon "Lil B" McCartney formed the rap group the Pack while attending Berkeley High School, and their 2006 cult hit "Vans" led to an album deal with Jive Records. After leaving the Pack, Lil B single-handedly propagated an unedited and free associative style he called based, dubbing himself the Based God. He was the first in the area to use social media sites and apps to become an early meme, which he supported with a large quantity of songs and videos.
Rising Bay Area Rap Artists
The next generation of artists leading the future of the Bay Area is tapping into the technological prowess of the region while furthering traditions of musical innovation and philanthropic goals. While Bay Area rap has long been male-dominated, the future may be more balanced.
Larry June: Ten albums deep, Larry June is not exactly new to this, but he’s the San Francisco artist who is currently breaking through to the world with his album Spaceships on the Blade. Northern California’s healthy, organic lifestyle is a popular topic for June, who eats well, owns a boba shop and is showing his fans the benefits of consistent, hard work.
P-Lo: After years producing for the Bay Area’s HBK Gang artists as well as national stars such as Wiz Khalifa and Yo Gotti, P-Lo’s status as a solo artist is on the rise with his 2022 album STUNNA. His 2022 collab with Larry June, "Doing Good," is a uplifting banger
Lil Kayla: Born and raised in San Francisco, 24-year-old Lil Kayla is signed to Atlantic and repping for the 415 on her freestyles, singles and 2022 album Young & Turnt. "I’m about to do it for my city," she said in a May interview with Lil Blood TV. "I’m gonna be the one to do it, 'cause everybody else, they get it and they leave and they don’t come back. I’m not going nowhere."
LARussell: Born LaRussell Thomas, Vallejo’s LARussell has harnessed social media to spread his sharp rhymes, as well as his social message. He donates money to allow his community to enjoy restaurant meals they may not otherwise be able to afford. Freestyles for Sway and the Breakfast Club and his album I Hate When Life’s Going Great have solidified his name outside the region.
MacArthur Maze: Teamwork makes the dreamwork, and there’s hope that MacArthur Maze, the Oakland collective of MCs and producers led by Golden State Warriors DJ D Sharp, will help usher in a fresh era of working together for the creative good in the Bay Area, as evidenced on the new group album Blvck Saturday.
Su’Lan: This Richmond-based duo describe themselves as having "pretty girl swag with a hood twist" flip old crunk and hyphy hits into fresh new favorites on their debut album Forever Da Gang.
TotogangzMau: A female Samoan rapper from East Palo Alto, TotogangzMau is showing lyrical greatness and melodic hooks out the gate on autobiographical songs like "Grow Up."
Notable Northern California Neighbors
The Bay Area’s sky high rents and home prices have steadily driven residents to the Central Valley, which includes cities like Modesto, Stockton and California’s capital city of Sacramento, and effectively stretched the geographical and sociological boundaries of the region.
Sacramento produced a bounty of homegrown gangster rappers. The most notable are C-Bo, a 2Pac collaborator who was jailed in 1998 for his anti-police and governor lyrics; Marvaless, a woman who debuted with C-Bo and went on to release several solo albums and collaborations with Bay Area rappers Messy Marv, Husalah and The Jacka; and Mozzy, a contemporary star from the Empire Distribution crew. The region also claims Saweetie, the "Icy Girl" who has been endorsed by McDonald’s and is signed to Warner Records; she grew up in the East Bay city of Hayward before moving to Sacramento.
After a spate of violent incidents at major hip-hop concerts led Oakland to ban rap shows for a year in 1989, the Bay Area’s biggest cities developed a reputation for being averse to the genre. Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto have served as more consistent markets for a number of Bay Area rappers, especially those with more violent or drug-related content.
Photo by CHAI
New Music Friday: Listen To New Music From Soccer Mommy, Jenny Owen Youngs, Sublime With Rome & More
With albums and songs from some of the industry’s most influential artists, take a peek at four new tracks that dropped on Sept. 22.
As we fully enter autumn, a myriad of artists are releasing new music to add to your seasonal playlist.
There’s something for everyone this Friday, with a new album from pop queen Kylie Minogue and a highly anticipated new record from Doja Cat, Scarlet. In sounds from around the globe, J-pop group CHAI offer "neo-kawaii" '90s-inspired beats. If you’re not in the mood to dance today, albums like Jenny Owen Youngs' Avalanche are an excellent soundtrack to blissfully vibe alone.
Check out these tracks from four different artists, and add them to your mix.
Jenny Owen Youngs - Avalanche
After nearly a decade since her last album, An Unwavering Band of Light, Los Angeles singer/songwriter, Jenny Owen Youngs is back. Her Avalanche is an emotional, intimate album exploring the depths of loss, grief, self-discovery, and restoration.
"When I try to say the things I can’t/It comes out like an avalanche/How else do I prove that I adore you/Something about my savage heart/That wants to tear your world apart/And stitch it all right back together for you," Youngs sings on the title track.
The beautiful, folk-inspired tracks lean heavily on piano and guitar, pulling listeners through a field of heavy emotions. At the end of the record, "certain things will be different than they were before," she said in an interview with FLOOD.
Beyond her indie folk music, Youngs continues to master all trades. She’s a co-host for podcast "Buffering The Vampire Slayer" and "The eX-Files," in addition to her work as author and frequent collaborations.
CHAI - Chai
Dedicated with love to their Japanese culture, CHAI's fourth album features fun, female empowerment tracks that they hope redefine the meaning of "kawaii," which in Japanese describes something as cute or adorable. CHAI’s uptempo new-wave sounds and pop beats add to the band's unique aesthetic and world.
CHAI’s uptempo album features new wave sounds and pop beats, as well as '90s inspired R&B and dance tracks such as "From 1992" and "Like, I Need." CHAI doesn’t forget to acknowledge their hometown, paying tribute to the genre of Japanese city pop, shouting out family members, and reminiscing on tracks "Driving22" and "KARAOKE."
CHAI's North American tour kicks off this weekend, at Flipside Festival in Idaho.
Sublime with Rome - "All I Need"
Co-founded by former Sublime member Eric Wilson, California rock-reggae band Sublime with Rome manifest positive energy on their new single, "All I Need." The group will release a new EP, Tangerine Skies on Nov. 3.
Bassist Wilson and singer/ guitarist Rome Ramirez continue to commemorate the influence of Sublime through covers and original works. As with many of the OG group's songs, Sublime with Rome's "All I Need" makes you want to lie on the warm beach and keep the good vibes coming.
Soccer Mommy - Karaoke Night EP
If you’re looking for music that makes you feel like the main character in a 2010 coming-of-age film, this EP is for you. Soccer Mommy's Karaoke Night features five covers from artists like Taylor Swift, R.E.M., Crow, Pavement and Slowdive. She seemingly reinvented the tracks, adding her own influence and alternative twang.
Born Sophie Allison, Soccer Mommy announced Karaoke Night in August, through her own version of Taylor Swift’s song, "I’m Only Me When I’m With You." Her take is a slower, guitarted version of Taylor’s original country/indie track.
"This song is one of my favorites from Taylor’s first album," she wrote on Instagram. "I listened to that record so much when I was a kid and I think it had a lot of influence on me then."
Photo: Jacob Webster
5 Takeaways From Doja Cat's New Album 'Scarlet'
'Scarlet' is a creative reset for Doja Cat, who returns to her rap roots for the 17 track, self-written record. Read on for five takeaways from Doja's jarring journey of introspection.
Doja Cat has come such a long way since her viral hit, "Mooo!" Since her 2019 breakout album, Hot Pink, which birthed the GRAMMY-nominated Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper "Say So," the 27-year-old's musical versatility, out-of-the-box concepts, and unique aesthetic helped her become one of the buzziest stars in music today.
Following her blockbuster album, Planet Her, Doja Cat is returning to her rap roots while still challenging herself. Released on Sept. 22, Doja's fourth studio project, Scarlet, was entirely self-penned. The 17-track LP contains zero features and is named after GRAMMY winner's alter ego.
Scarlet is a creative reset, released after Doja Cat denounced her previous two albums as "cash-grabs." On "Demons," Doja addresses critics who labeled her "too pop" and doubted her rap skills: "I'm a puppet, I'm a sheep, I'm a cash cow / I'm the fastest-growing bitches on all your apps now," she raps.
Elsewhere, Scarlet sees a self-assured Doja Cat trading in her radio-friendly sound for an emotional release, which is best exemplified on tracks like "97," "Skull and Bones," "Balut, " and her latest single, "Agora Hills."
"It's kind of an intro to what's to come," she told Harper’s Bazaar in August. "This new album is more introspective, but I'm not leaning so hard into that to where it becomes boring. So I want to give stories and bops. It's a nice mixture of both.
"I think this project is a really fun canvas for me to play with my rap skills and talk about what's going on in my life," she continued. "But I'm not abandoning who I was and what I know about pop and singing and that aspect of music."
Throughout its jarring journey of introspection, here are five takeaways from Doja Cat’s new album, Scarlet.
She's Devilishly Creative In Her Scarlet Era
Doja Cat has been quirky and daring since day one, but Scarlet demonstrates her desire to reinvent herself and provoke anyone who'll listen — even if it means possibly alienating her fanbase. True to form, Scarlet had an impossible-to-miss rollout, which included her Scarlet character's nude, blood-covered wax figure popping up around the U.S.
But that stunt pales in comparison to her music videos for "Demons" and "Paint the Town Red," the latter of which is the first hip-hop song to top the Hot 100 this year.
Both visuals feature occult themes, as well as references to death and the devil, but no matter how "frightening" they may come off to some, they're further proof that Doja Cat isn't just an internet meme — she's a creative genius who knows how to demand our attention.
She's Enjoying Her Success And Fame
Multiple tracks off Scarlet, including "Paint the Town Red," "Attention," and "F— the Girls (FTG)," are a direct response to how Doja Cat's seemingly meteoric success in recent years has made her the target of jealousy and criticism from fans and peers. But "Love Life" stands out due to its lighter approach, as Doja Cat expresses her gratitude for those who helped her make it this far: "I love it when my team feel strong and them deals flowin' in" and "I understand you want me to win / I understand how hard that you bend."
Like many artists, Doja Cat's rise to fame was not without some struggle. Most notably, her "writer's block" stopped her from being able to join forces with Billie Eilish on her popular 2017 song, "Bellyache." But life now is good for the star, born Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, and she isn't apologizing for it.
But She's Aware That Celebrity Culture Has Its Dangers
A year ago, Doja Cat shocked fans when she shaved her head and eyebrows on Instagram Live, which drew some comparisons to Britney Spears’ infamous head shaving incident in 2007. Of her physical transformation, she told Dazed, "I have never felt more beautiful in my entire life."
But on lead single, "Attention," it's clear Doja isn't done setting the record straight.
"I read it, all the comments sayin', 'D, I'm really shooketh' / 'D, you need to see a therapist, is you lookin'?' / Yes, the one I got, they really are the best / Now I feel like I can see you bitches is depressed / I am not afraid to finally say s— with my chest," she raps in the first verse.
She's Not Ready To Completely Abandon Singing
The highly-anticipated release of Scarlet marks Doja Cat's official return to her rap roots, but the album isn't void of the catchy, pop-esque hooks and sugary sweet singing style she's known for on songs like "Say So," "Kiss Me More" with SZA, and "You Right" with the Weeknd.
On Scarlet's sensual "Often," she effortlessly emulates neo-soul icons like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Maxwell as her breathy vocals take center stage. The track shows off Doja's softer side while doubling as perfect "baby-making music."
"'Cause when you run your tongue up my thigh / I can't help but wonder, hmm, why / You got so much more up yo' sleeve / You wanna make sure I don't leave," she croons on the song's chorus.
Her IDGAF Attitude Is On Full Display
In late July, Doja Cat lost half a million Instagram followers after slamming fans who call themselves "Kittenz" and use her real name as their screen names.
In addition, her relationship with boyfriend J.Cyrus — who was accused of grooming and sexual misconduct — and use of darker imagery (e.g., her "Demons" video and bat skeleton back tattoo) have sparked backlash. Yet Scarlet's "97" proves how Doja Cat is unfazed by the noise and thrives off controversy: "They gon' buy it, they gon' pirate, they gon' play it, they consume it / If you're scootin', let me know 'cause that's a comment, that's a view / And that's a ratin', that's some hatin', that's engagement I could use."
Similarly, she gets the last laugh on "Skull and Bones" and "Balut," the latter of which fires back at haters who accused her of stealing other artists' style. They speak to Doja Cat's defiant nature, which seems to be paying off for the superstar as she prepares to embark on her first headlining tour kicking off on Oct. 31.
Photo: Mitchell Gerber/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
GRAMMY Rewind: Digable Planets Share Their Hopes For The "Universal Black Family" In 1994
As jazz-rap trio Digable Planets won their first GRAMMY — for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group, for "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)" — the group sent an inspiring message to the Black community.
They're cool like that. Back in 1994, Digable Planets took home the trophy for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for their single "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)" at the 36th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
Accepting the award from presenters SWV and Salt-N-Pepa, the jazz-rap connoisseurs dedicated their win to "hip-hop music [and] Black culture in general" before sharing an entreaty for the less fortunate outside the gilded glamour of Radio City Music Hall.
"We'd like for everybody to think about the people right outside this door that's homeless as you sittin' in these $900 seats and $300 seats — they out there not eatin' at all," Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler added. "Also, we'd like to say to the universal Black family that one day we gon' recognize our true enemy and we're gonna stop attacking each other. And maybe then we'll get some changes goin' on."
As their debut single, "Rebirth of Slick" served as Digable Planets' seminal hit. That night, it beat out other four other rap classics: Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain," Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray," Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's "Nuthin' But a G Thang" and Arrested Development's "Revolution."
The trio — Butler, Mariana "Ladybug Mecca" Vieira and Craig "Doodlebug" Irving — were also nominated for Best New Artist, an award that ultimately went to Toni Braxton.
Press play on the video above to revisit Digable Planets' big GRAMMYs win and check GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.