Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Got the Whole West Coast Doin' The Robot

One of my brother's friends mentioned a few months back that his girlfriend, a Vassar undergrad, and her friends were going to have a "hyphy" party and that she had called him one night in search of more hyphy slang. She knew "Ghost ridin' the whip" and "stupid" and "scraper"...What else was there?

To me, this is the epitome of what the hyphy movement has become: the slang is more famous than the music. Besides that Mistah F.A.B. song where he samples the Ghostbusters theme and E-40's "Tell Me When To Go," what hyphy song has really made an impact outside of the Bay Area? A compilation has recently been released entitled "Hyphy Hitz" and it begs the question: what hits?

Back when E-40's "Ghetto Report Card" came out, I gave it a glowing review in my college paper. After hearing an endless line of stale E-40 tracks with beats that sounded like the "Funk" demo on a cheap keyboard, it was exciting to hear something as off-kilter and energetic as "Go Hard or Go Home" or "Sick Wid It II." It reminded me of the kind of more-is-more attitude of Cam'Ron's Dipset, though 40 and his producers preferred big squelchy synth sounds and echo-chamber bass drums to sharp strings and military snares.

But over time, "My Ghetto Report Card" has begun to sound stale. Where once the beats sounded huge and in-your-face, like (to quote Keak Da Sneak) three or four people on a car hood "trying to cave in your roof," they now sounded weak and anemic. Part of the problem may be E-40, whose flow is quick and nimble but at heart basically laid back and chill. In my opinion, a genre like hyphy needs a fiery rapper to compete with its hyperactive energy and 40 is not that rapper.

That rapper may be Turf Talk. A cousin of E-40, Turf Talk has a whiny but raspy voice that seems highly influenced by Eminem. Just like Em, Turf Talk stretches syllables like a middle schooler just learning how fun is it to talk dirty. Last month, he released his second album, "West Coast Vaccine (The Cure)," which I purchased a used copy of after a recommendation from P-Fork and Village Voice writer Tom Breihan.

Songs like "Super Star," "That's That Turf Talk," and "I'm Ghetto" have an infectious energy that makes you realize the true potential of hyphy when it's done right. "Super Star" has a merry-go-round melody courtesy of old school Bay Area producer E-A-Ski (who has switched his style up quite well from his warmed over G-funk days) that Turf rides over with an easy and bratty confidence. "That's That Turf Talk" is produced by Tha Bizness, though it sounds like a Rick Rock beat with its mix of horns and big, (there is no other word for it) farting synthesizers. The song's hook sounds like a techno marching band parading the field with MPCs and air sirens, with the crowd in the stands shouting "Turn it up!" and "Make them speakers bump!"

"I'm Ghetto," from which the title of this post is taken from, has a ringtone-ready melody of bells and (what sounds like) champagne glasses on the verses and big synth chords on the chorus. The chorus, where Turf brags that he's ghetto like "strawberry kool aid," sounds like an early acid house song, back when just the huge sound of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer was enough to make a whole song. The fact that the usual musical choice for a "I'm from the ghetto" song would be a cut up jazz or soul sample meant to signify the soul (pun intended) of the marginalized makes "I'm Ghetto" even more refreshing and fun.

Don't get me wrong: "West Coast Vaccine" is far from a classic. As cocky and charismatic as Turf Talk is, he's simply not compelling enough as a personality to pull of anything but a really good album (at least not yet). Part of me wants to hear an album from a hyphy artist that's all hyper all the time, but I wonder if that would blunt the edge of the music. Whatever my issues with the album, it's proof that there is still life in the hyphy movement.