The birth of a movement
The Hyphy movement is probably not the best known of the Hip Hop sub-movements. While Hip Hop was born in New York City in the mid-1970s from a fission between disco and what would become rap, many other regions would appropriate the movement by creating subcultures of the initial movement. Since the creation of Hip Hop, many movements have appeared. One of the first ones naturally appeared in New York, where it all began, and was inspired mainly by Soul and Funk. A little later, Jazz will make its first appearances in the samples of Hip Hop records, still mostly in New York.
As the Hip Hop movement grew, sub-movements began to be created across the country, and sometimes even beyond the borders of the United States. California would develop its own culture in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the emergence of gang culture and a very particular sound still inspired by Funk, G-Funk. A little further up in California, in San Francisco, a movement was born at the beginning of the 90s, the Hyphy culture.
Even if the Hyphy culture appeared at the beginning of the 90’s, it will be known and will emerge as a real subculture only a decade later, at the beginning of the 2000’s. In fact, at its birth, the Bay Area culture suffered from the similarity with the Los Angeles G-Funk movement, which prevented it from taking off and growing. Although the Hyphy movement and Bay Area rap did have an identity of their own, which we’ll see below, in the 90s they were considered more of a sub-genre of G-Funk and the Bay Area was seen as Los Angeles’ underground little sister. Indeed, even if the musical sounds are rather recognizablz, the airs of G-Funk make it too similar and the Hyphy movement sees itself evolving in the shadow of the mainstream rap of Los Angeles, carried by international stars as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Warren G and many others.
Like other sub-genres of Hip Hop such as Crunk or Southern Trap, the movement struggled to create a viable sub-culture in the 90s. In the 90s, Southern rap was mainly a slightly different extension of Los Angeles rap, or sometimes New York rap with protagonists like UGK, 8Ball & MJG or Goodie Mob. It’s only in the 2000’s that Crunk has its real identity with a more global visibility propelled to the front of the stage by Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins, or the Three 6 Mafia. The same goes for the Trap of the 2000s with T.I. Bay Area rap follows a similar path, the codes of the music are already established, the culture is in place, but the influence does not take off.
The emergence of Hyphy culture
Although the movement came to the forefront in the early 2000s, in reality the culture had already existed since the early 1990s. In a 2016 interview, Bay Area rapper Locksmith spoke with DJBooth about his experience with the Hyphy movement in its early days:
The first time I heard the term hyphy being used was around 2002. We were putting on our own shows, our first shows, in Berkeley on Telegraph Ave. There was The Team, Mistah FAB and a few other friends of mine. That’s where I first heard “Oh, they gettin hyphy,” but that was a term for when things were getting rowdy, when people were ready to fight. It wasn’t associated with any specific music, it was for when someone was out of control. Hyphy was originally an Oakland thing. The first time I heard the term, it was from people in Oakland.
Although the word hyphy was not yet in use, rappers like Keak Da Sneak, Mac Dre and E-40 were already representing it. The label Thizz Entertainment founded by Mac Dre in 1996 under the name of Romp Records contributed to the emergence of the movement in the early 2000s when he renamed it before moving from Vallejo to Sacramento. Mac Dre decided to move and change his name to draw a line under his former Romper Room Gang. Although independent, his new label will be one of the biggest representatives of the Hyphy culture with a music characterized by “feel good” and energetic associated with the feeling of taking ecstasy, Thizzle, very popular among the Bay Area rappers.
The movement was born in the city of Oakland before spreading to the rest of the Bay Area and more globally to Northern California with cities such as Vallejo, Hayward, Richmond, Sonoma, Mill Valley or Sacramento.
Paradoxically, there is a will to make people discover the culture and to make it evolve towards something more mainstream but at the same time a will to keep the culture for themselves. In fact, the culture has never really been exported outside the borders of the San Francisco Bay Area. It has managed to make itself known outside the borders, without being practiced beyond its native region. However, the culture is very attractive, and its music very appreciated by some die-hards, when we see the talent of some rappers coming from this region, this movement definitely deserves to be studied.