Hyphy, the dancey hip hop that was supposed to put the San Francisco Bay Area on the map circa 2006, has largeley fizzled out. Some people blame hyphy’s demise on lack of local radio support; the programmers at KMEL certainly didn’t knock themselves out to put hyphy artists into rotation, and some local acts found the station frustratingly indifferent to their material. There was also the usual label ridiculousness, shelving albums by hyphy artists until the world no longer cared about them, and failing to do enough with the energy and excitement that hyphy was generating. Hyphy’s limited sound pallete and subject range is another culprit. There can only be so many bouncy anthems to ghost riding whips and going dumb that listeners can absorb before they reach saturation. So instead of taking the nation by storm, hyphy merely produced some brilliant singles, a host of hilairous YouTube clips of fools crashing their whips while ghost riding, and many broken dreams. There are a lot of musicians and hip hop heads who feel that the Bay has never really gotten its due where hip hop is concerned.
Machete Vox might be the Bay’s next great hope. The label was formed three years ago by Bay Area veterans Boac and Dnae Beats. They draw on the best of Bay Area rap for its sound, ending up with a finished product that is a little hipster, a little street, all Bay, and all awesome. They’ve recruited local talent like Z-Man, Million Bucks, and Conceit, and released “Sneak Preview” this summer as a taste of what they have in store.
One of the most important elements of the Machete Vox sound is humor. These guys may be good, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are from the Beastie Boys/Digital Underground school of smart-ass fuck ups who are too busy laughing at their own inside jokes to worry about what you think of them. There are so many MCs out there who spend all of their time trying to prove how hard and bad they are, that it is a relief to hear MCs who aren’t afraid to mess around on the mic and concentrate on being good rappers. The rhymes here are clever, memorable, and spit with confidence and ease.
Like the Cool Kids or the Knuxx, the Machete Vox sound looks to 80s and early 90s hip hop for inspiration, copping some of those old school beats, subject matter, and flows. It’s not that they sound retro, but they skip over a lot of the bullshit that’s gunked up hip hop since the days of dot coms and the war on terror. This is fishscale hip hop, stripped down and in its purest form, free of any artifice or additives.
On “I Need Money,” Boac spits over a Dnae beat that seems to reference “The Elephant Walk,” while waxing poetic about getting rich. Boac is the millionth rapper to do an ode to money, but he does it in such a funny, original way that it works:
“I should go to Interscope
Kick Down Jimmy’s door
Tell them I’m the biggest thing since Biggie’s drawers
Sell out like tickets for a Prince tour
Win a couple of Grammys and act a bit bored
Take some pills and take my belt
Use it as a noose and hang myself
Now why would you do that?
‘Cause then I’d live forever
They’d open up a foundation with all my cheddar
And cure cancer
Help a soup kitchen
Turn a pole dancer into a beautician”
Z-Man is arguably the best rapper in the crew, and he appears on five of the tracks (besides doing the cover artwork). The best track on the album is his solo song, “Street Cred Need Me.” Over an ice-cold synth beat, he raps about not needing to prove himself:
I don’t bang
You can tell from what I wear
I don’t hang
With fools who want to stand
On the street all day
Claim a corner that’s under
The government’s name
Police roll up and put most y’all in pain
Got some dope in your pocket?
Better walk away”
Boac and Dnae split time on the boards, but both have a similar sound that is a little old school, a little future funk, and a little out there. The production ranges from the icy synths and 70s samples of “Saturday Again,” to the old soul sample on “Watching You,” to the psychedelic guitar and snapping snares of “Baby Back Ribs,” to a song like “Shuddup,” which sounds like an old Too $hort track. Despite the fact that this is a label sampler, it sounds cohesive and solid, and there isn’t a bad track on the disc. If Machete Vox don’t end up putting the Bay back on the hip hop map, then at the very least they are making some amazing music. This is what hip hop should sound like.