The Bay Area has a thriving hip-hop scene, with a legacy of national importance as well as a host of emerging talent. In the ’90s, the Bay Area dominated the global rap music landscape, and the area has since become known for a distinctive, unconventional style unlike any other.
The artists currently driving the Bay Area hip-hop scene are making music informed and influenced by local legends. Among the most famous rappers to emerge from the Bay Area are:
- Tupac Shakur No history of Bay Area rappers can omit the legendary 2Pac. First capturing attention through collaboration with Oakland-based Digital Underground, he went on as a solo artist to become, not only one of the most influential rappers but one of the most influential musicians of all time. In 2017, the first year he was eligible, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Shakur’s skill as a poet and writer embellished his themes of social injustice, aggression, and compassion, and his influence can be felt in the work of artists as diverse as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Nas, and Rihanna.
- MC Hammer MC Hammer burst into the limelight from the Oakland rap scene to become a major crossover artist in the early ’90s. His unique style, broad appeal, and massive hit songs blazed a trail for rap musicians in subsequent decades.
- Too $hort Oakland rapper Too $hort is one of the few artists who was able to collaborate with both 2Pac and Biggie, and is one of the pioneers of West Coast hip-hop. His influence on the national music scene, as well as the work of Mac Dre, led to the creation of the hyphy genre.
- Mac Dre Local legend Mac Dre was born in Oakland, but started his career in Vallejo. He further defined and advanced the unique Bay Area hip-hop sound. His party-centric songs pioneered the hyphy movement that would dominate the local rap scene for a decade, and his unapologetic approach to a Bay Area sound that didn’t need to compete for radio play in LA or New York paved the way for a generation of distinctive, unconventional local acts.
- E-40 Vallejo also gave us E-40, one of the most enduring rap artists of all time. His music remains at the heart of the Bay Area hip-hop scene, and he is famous for defining the entrepreneurial hustle of the independent artist. E-40 showed the power of taking his music directly to the audience, maintaining creative control and defining his sound and his business on his own terms.
The decades from the mid-’80s to the early 2000s established the San Francisco rap music scene as we know it today: unique, diverse, and independent. 2Pac and Too $hort proved that West Coast hip-hop doesn’t need to come from LA, while Mac Dre and E-40 proved that artists could be truly creative and independent, finding their own sound and creating their own audiences. Today, Bay Area rappers celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of the local sound, encompassing a broad range of styles, themes, and influences to create self-made music that is unlike any other.
Local hip-hop artists that are embracing this history and taking it to the next level include:
6. Lil B. Berkeley native Lil B broke boundaries by challenging stereotypes in hip-hop, advancing themes of self-acceptance and living peacefully, while confronting homophobia and building his own audience. His huge social media following and viral hits prove the non-conformity of Bay Area rappers
7. Kamaiyah The Oakland rap scene continues to produce hitmakers, including Kamaiyah. Her party-friendly songs show the early influence of hyphy, and she was named one of 2017’s top ten “Freshmen Class” by XXL. Recent appearances with Drake and YG show that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Kamaiyah in years to come.
8. Hieroglyphics While Hiero has been around since the 90s, they continually reinvent their sound, bringing beats from the street and refusing to be defined by a single genre. They have become a Bay Area hip-hop institution, and the annual Hiero Day festival celebrates the breath, diversity, and creativity of the local music scene.
9. Mikos Mikos Da Gawd is at the forefront of the San Francisco hip-hop scene, and his unique synth rhythms and swagger have the rest of the world starting to pay attention. Fully embracing the local ethos of producing individualistic, entertaining art forms and maintaining independence, Mikos exemplifies the latest generation of Bay Area rappers.
10. Nef the Pharaoh Vallejo’s latest contribution to the hip-hop landscape is Nef the Pharaoh. His 2015 single, Big Tymin, was a smash hit in the Bay Area, and he has cemented his place in the scene through collaboration with local legend and Vallejo compatriot E-40. When asked if he feels that there may be a conflict between universal, global appeal, and the distinctive local sound, he says “No. I feel like I am exactly the right person that can do that shit.”
And of course, we couldn’t leave Mistah FAB from this list. Also known as F.A.B., he is one of the most prominent and colorful figures of the San Francisco Bay Area rap scene since the late 2000s. He quickly rose to fame as a central figure of the hyphy movement, a genre categorized with bass-heavy beats, driving synths and overall fun vibe.
We’ve just begun to explore and enjoy the incredibly rich Bay Area hip-hop scene. This legacy continues to grow and evolve, becoming ever more distinctive, unconventional, and unique, proving that San Francisco rappers don’t have to compete with anyone, anywhere for attention, recognition, or creativity. Working within a network of mutual support and collaboration, the area continues to discover and foster groundbreaking new talents.
Photo courtesy of Audible Treats