Hyphy Culture: A Bay Area movement – Part. 2

Hyphy Culture: A Bay Area movement – Part. 2

The codes of Hyphy culture

The term Hyphy, which is said to have been coined by Keak Da Sneak, is derived from the word Hyperactive meaning “excited” or “angry”. The word refers directly to the typical dance of the movement characterized by a carefree yet energetic style. But in reality, the word Hyphy refers to the state of mind of the culture itself, being “hyphy” is a state, a way of life and a way of expression. 

The word Thizz is also associated with the movement and can have several meanings. Popularized by rapper Mac Dre, Thizz is nothing more than an ecstasy pill, which is popular among Bay Area rappers, along with alcohol and cannabis. In fact, taking “thizz” allows to obtain the typical mood state of the Hyphy movement: excited, energetic, fun. More generally, the term refers to the way people get hyphy when they practice Thizzle Dance, take ecstasy, or listen to Bay Area rap. Other than Thizzle Dance, turfing, invented by Jeriel Bey and his group The Architeckz, is another dance associated with the movement, which allows for an emphasis on self-expression. Another way to express belonging to the Hyphy movement is the Thizz Face, usually accompanied by a “T” formed with fingers.

Bay Area slang also allows the movement to differentiate itself from other sub-genres of Hip Hop, which will be taken up by Los Angeles rappers like Snoop Dogg. Bay Area slang is characterized by the addition of the suffix “izzle” at the end of words, Thizzle is one of the best examples. One of the greatest representatives of this slang is E-40, who popularized expressions like “fo shizzle my nizzle” or “fo rizzle”, meaning respectively “for sure my nigga” and “for real”.

The Hyphy movement, and more specifically the music, was born as an alternative to commercial music, believing that Hip Hop has often forgotten the Bay Area’s influence in the overall movement. Although Bay Area rap has always remained more or less underground and unknown to the general public, its codes and sounds have always been very popular in its native San Francisco Bay Area. Even if the style is quite close to the one of Los Angeles and that it is often confused with G-Funk, the rap of the Bay Area is different with its own style. It must be admitted that the genre strongly resumes the codes of G-Funk with a lot of P-Funk samples and a gangsta side, especially with rappers like Spice 1 or Celly Cel. However, the Hyphy movement itself is not fundamentally gangsta unlike the Los Angeles rap, it brings something both cooler, more rhythmic, while being more spontaneous. The atmosphere is both warmer and more bouncy, something more Crunk, a movement to which it is often compared. Hyphy’s music is more gritty than the style of its big sister from Los Angeles, with the addition of high-pitched, shrill sound effects compared to more traditional G-Funk. 

Too Short

The word “hyphy.” They branded it, and they shouldn’t have. We, as a region, the Bay Area… Everybody wanted something to be the next crunk, the next movement. Something with the word “movement” attached to it. It sounded really good, it was a way of life, and five years later, nothing has changed… The only thing that has changed is that you don’t see motherf**kas doing wild ass sideshows and wielding the whip anymore..

Apart from music and dance, another festive activity integrated into the Hyphy culture are sideshows, gatherings where shows and stunts are performed with cars around a crazy crowd with Hyphy music and alcohol and drug consumption. The most emblematic and popular performances are car races, ghost-riding (getting in and out of a moving car or sometimes dancing next to a car that is driving without a driver) or doughnuts (spinning a car around to form a circle with the rubber of the tires). These gatherings are obviously illegal and clandestine, and usually take place on open roads or in neighborhoods, where accidents are unfortunately very frequent.

Any self-respecting culture must have its own dress style. The Hyphy movement is no exception, even there is no “typical” outfit other than the one described by one of the biggest protagonists Keak Da Sneak in his song White T Shirt, Blue Jeans, & Nikes, you get the picture. Although very popular in the Hip Hop movement as a whole and especially in Southern rap, grills are very common in Hyphy culture. Dreadlocks are also an integral part of the culture, and are actually perfect for dances, which, with the excitement, are shaken in all directions. Stunning shades, wide-framed sunglasses, are a must-have accessory for the Hyphy style and look. 

The main protagonists of the movement

Keak Da Sneak

Keak Da Sneak is a rapper from Oakland who started rapping at the age of 15 in the early 90s with his group Dual Committee alongside Agerman on albums by other Bay Area rappers like C-Bo. He then extended his group by integrating B.A. and renamed it 3X Krazy with which he released several albums in the late 90s. He then had a solo career from the 2000s and contributed to the emergence of the movement on the local scene.

Although he never got a national recognition, the rapper is still seen today as the inventor of the word Hyphy and one of the greatest representatives of the movement in the local scene. Highly respected in his native region, the rapper has released no less than twenty solo albums, in addition to numerous mixtapes and collaborative projects, his style is very typical of the Hyphy movement and Bay Area rap. 

Mac Dre

Born in Oakland and raised in Vallejo, Mac Dre is one of the biggest protagonists of the emergence of the movement in the early 2000s, before being tragically murdered in 2004 (RIP). Unlike many other Bay Area rappers, Mac Dre managed to achieve success and national visibility, albeit mixed, making him one of the true pioneers of this cultural movement and one of its greatest advocates. 

Although he started in the early 90’s, it was not until the early 2000’s that he became much more involved and outspoken in the movement, notably by creating his own record label, Thizz Entertainment. Although independent, his record company will allow him to put forward the Hyphy movement on the national scene and gain a more mainstream visibility for his own albums. With no other artists signed to the label, the goal of the label is to highlight and promote the Hyphy culture while freeing itself from the censorship of the majors. With achievements like Thizzle Washington, a classic of the genre, Mac Dre will popularize the Thizzle Dance and the typical style of the Hyphy movement.


E-40 is a rapper who started out underground with his group Tha Clik before releasing his first solo album, Federal, on the independent label Sick Wid It. In 1995, he signed a contract with Jive and released his first major label album, In A Major Way. E-40 was one of the first Bay Area rappers to sign to a major label while continuing to make rap music that was very typical of his region.

With In A Major Way, E-40 gained mainstream exposure and helped put Bay Area rap on the map in the mid-90s. As a strong supporter of his roots, he popularized the slang with the “izzle” gimmicks. In A Major Way is still one of the biggest Bay Area classics ever released. 

Shock G et les Digital Underground

Founder of the Digital Underground group containing both rappers and dancers, Shock was one of the initiators of the Hyphy movement in the late 80s with his eccentric and humorous approach. Although not directly affiliated with the movement, the Oakland rapper played a role in the development of Bay Area rap and helped to give it the uninhibited, fun and comical style that would later be taken up by Mac Dre in the early 2000s.

The Thizz Dance is more or less a derivative of the Humpty Dance that Shock G had invented a decade earlier. His eccentric style with his Groucho glasses also inspired the Hyphy movement of the 2000s. His album Sex Packets with the Digital Underground is a timeless classic of the Bay Area and a true source of inspiration for the whole movement.

Yukmouth & The Luniz

Although not directly rooted in the Hyphy movement, Yukmouth has always worked for the development of Bay Area rap by promoting young artists through his production companies Smoke-A-Lot Records and Godzilla Entertainment, still very underground. Attached to his region, he proposes a typical rap close to the Hyphy movement although slightly more gangsta.

With Numskull, Yukmouth released the album Operation Stackola under the name The Luniz, propelled to the forefront by the single I Got 5 On It, now a Bay Area anthem. The album is a little digest of Bay Area G-Funk with a gangsta, playa and hustling style and will become one of the Bay Area’s gems and an underground classic.

Too Short

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Oakland, Too Short is one of the pioneers, along with Ice-T, of West Coast rap, and the pioneer of Bay Area rap. Although his style is more akin to classic West Coast rap, as an Oakland pioneer, Too Short is a role model for all the other Bay Area rappers who follow.

Founder of the Dangerous Crew, Too Short allowed from the end of the 90’s onwards Bay Area artists, rappers and producers such as Spice 1, Goldy or Ant Banks, to make a name for themselves. Even if his style varies significantly from the typical Hyphy style, Too Short will be the inventor of the pimp rap which will be taken up later by a great number of artists. Thanks to the inspiration he was able to create among his colleagues, Too Short remains today one of the greatest artists of the Bay Area and a model for the Hyphy culture which will be born a few years later.

A great number of artists deserve to be mentioned as promoters and representatives of the Hyphy culture, for the most notable we can quote the rappers Mac Mall, Messy Marv, San Quinn, C-Bo, B-Legit, JT The Bigga Figga, or the producers Traxamillion, Rick Rock, E-A-Ski, Sean T or Droop-E. All of them have worked to develop the culture and make it live through their art. The Hyphy movement being a mainly underground movement, these artists are still very unknown to the general public. Nevertheless, the Hyphy culture is a sub-movement in its own right in Hip Hop and deserves to be studied, or at least to be heard.

Find the second part of the article:

By Grégoire Zasa

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