The Rise of G-Eazy and the Death of the Traditional Oakland MC

G-Eazy

I’m a town dude. There is no doubt about it. What I mean by that is the lens through which I view the world is totally Oaklandcentric. So, if you ask me Jason Kidd is the best point guard of all time with Gary Payton being a close second, Oakland completely shaped Tupac Shakur, and the Bay Area sound deeply influenced the present-day Atlanta hip-hop scene via local producers like Ant Banks and Zaytoven. In general, Oakland has always been the most popping place on the planet—that’s just my totally biased opinion. Oaklanders are very prideful but we demand that our representatives remain humble. And dare I say that if a celebrity claims to have the town on their back then we believe that they should actually be deep in the trenches putting in work. The self-styled rapper turned pop star G-Eazy does not do that. His relationship with Oakland is largely touch and go. And one gets the overwhelming sense that Oakland has never really been enough for him but rather it’s just extremely marketable for him to continue to claim it.

 

There is a line that triggered me from his most recent single 1942. In his laid-back braggadocios flow he spits “Flooded all my diamonds, Poland Spring/ Back in Oakland I’m a king” and when he said it I cringed. My reaction was so visceral because G-Eazy moved from the Bay as soon as his career took off. One cannot be a king and reside 400 miles outside of one’s kingdom. Also Oakland has never been a place that has had a king. There is an ongoing debate about who is the reigning King of New York. Snoop Dogg once declared that he was the king of the Westcoast but no artist from Oakland or the surrounding Bay Area has ever claimed this title for himself. We historically have never played that game. We have always preferred a person’s character to be thorough rather than their appearance to be flashy, but alas the Oakland of old is gone.

Gentrification has nearly chopped the cities African-American population in half since the days when Too Short was a fixture on the Foothill strip and in Eastmont Mall. We no longer demand that our MC’s be down to earth players that don’t like drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. This code was so strictly enforced in the early 1990’s that many in the town renounced MC Hammer and deemed him a sellout because of his shiny hammer pants and multimillion dollar Pepsi deal, even though he went broke trying to uplift the city and built a mansion in nearby Fremont in order to stay close to his family. But now Oakland has become a trendy town with countless brunch spots and beer gardens, and G-Eazy is Oakland’s trendy MC.

 

G-Eazy stated on his breakfast club interview earlier this year that he’s always wanted to be a superstar outside of the Bay. He also alluded to wanting to be as big as Kanye West. And as I watched I wondered when did my hometown full of contradictions, replete with the most positive vibes yet satiated with crime that used to sit a world apart from the high society bohemian snobbery of San Francisco, become a place where our most popular rapper can get away with speaking this way in a studio in New York before flying back first class to his mansion in Los Angeles? Why is there no accountability? I mean surely there would have been a backlash if Keak Da Sneak would have taken the same approach after he dropped “Super Hyphy” in 2007 following his massively successful feature on E-40’s “Tell me when to go” the previous year. Can you imagine Keak saying that he wants to be the biggest name in entertainment and although he loves Oakland he always wanted more for himself? The hate would have been so real. But we let G-Eazy claim our struggle all the way to the bank, give us crumbs, and go back to LA.

And this is why I don’t view him the same way as I view all of the other rap legends to come out of the town. From the Mobb Music era through the Hyphy Music era to say that you were from Oakland meant that you spoke for the people in the hood in a way that no one else could. The Oakland that I love will never be a place that accepts pop star rappers who never come to the ghetto. I could never stand behind a hometown MC who flies into the town, gets the bag, and leaves. G-Eazy represents the coopting of the town swag and as I look at the world through my Oakland lens I look right past him and back into the past. For if he represents the future of Oakland hip-hop then I will not be able to watch this mockery for much longer.

-YB

 

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Royal Fanfare

I remember coming up in the early 2000’s riding down the Foothill strip with a car full of people that aren’t here anymore. These people were my cousin’s potnas and I was just with my cousin because he didn’t want to go home, so he spent the night on our couch. My sister had to study and she didn’t like how our 19-year-old energy permeated the small house. It was distracting to her so my cousin called one of his homeboys and he swooped us up. My cousin had hella homeboys back then. Before the court cases, before John George Psychiatric Ward, right after he broke up with his baby mama, but before he played his last season of college football so his eyes were still looking to the future. We hopped in the car headed to Mills Hoagie on Seminary. We busted a left down MacArthur until we got to the light on 73rd when the driver, some chubby dude that I had never met before but my cousin seemed to know well enough said; “I’m tired of this shit” referring to Yukmouth’s Thuglord C.D. I was kind of pissed because Yuk was running the bay at the moment and The Outro was about to come on which was the hardest track on the album and the dopest autobiographical track ever written.

“Did she leave it in the car blood?” He was digging through the glovebox like crazy looking for something.

“Leave what?”

“The Jack?”

“What?”

“That Mob Figaz CD. The Jacka.”

“Oh it’s under the seat blood.”

He put that CD in and it stayed in. And we listened. And never, as we rode all around East Oakland to High Street to Fonk Town back to 106th, did we ask him to take it out.

 

“It’s the Jaaaaack. Yeah I’m a dope dealer and on top of that I’m a liar and a stealer.”

Every now and then I would ask a question about this rapper because, like everyone else in the car besides my cousin, I didn’t know him. As blunts were being passed around that little car in every direction and as girls were being hollered at and harassed like;

“Heyyyyy girl what’s your name?”

I found out he was from Richmond but moved to Pittsburgh. They told me that C-Bo had put him on. They assured me that he was hard and that he wasn’t next but that he was now. The Jacka is poppin right now!

“This shit pound,” my cousin said as he inhaled the smoke. And the more he inhaled the more he seemed to believe it.

“Yeah it do,” I confirmed.

I’ve never smoked but I didn’t need to in order to understand that this man was telling us about our own lives in first person narration. We were enraged by everything. We felt the walls of the trap closing in on us and we were fighting for more time, for more breath, fighting in order to figure out what was happening. Why did failure feel like our destiny? Why couldn’t we push these walls back and be liberated or have someone pull the lever into the off position right before we perished just like in an old episode of Batman and Robin or The Dukes of Hazard or The A-Team or MacGyver or any of those shows when the good guys never die. We were young men, but men all the same and we were beginning to understand that we weren’t the good guys. That millions of people weren’t watching our story unfold in suspense hoping so desperately that we survived, that they refused to go to the restroom because they didn’t want to miss the inevitable escape. We were beginning to understand with every false arrest, with every real arrest, with every funeral, with every ended relationship with a pregnant girlfriend, with every class that we dropped at community college, with every institution that refused to hire us, that no one ever expected us to make it. That wasn’t how the game was played. We were born at the bottom, and we were supposed to stay at the bottom, and never complain about it. And the only power that we ever had was to make our neglected ghettos with Arab owned liquor stores on the corner, and dope fiends tweaking on the sidewalk, and broken shards of glass in the street, seem cool. To play a trick on those who were fortunate enough not to hear men being blown away every night when neighborhoods feuded and go to schools where the ceilings leaked water on your journal in the middle of class whenever it rained, and make them feel like they were the ones who were missing out. The Jacka had put a spotlight on our particular Bay Area brand of misery and made our lifestyle feel glamorous. He had placed us right in the middle of the culture. All of us. I swear. And he never stopped.

I’m the Jack, ice cold mack from the Figaz

Locked in the county, shared my cell with a killer

All he ever said was Jack, I never heard a nigga realer

Fat shout out to the four XIV gorillas

All my niggas doing life, do what I can to make it better

Five years later and of the four people in that car: One of us would be dead, another would be in a mental institution, and one would be in prison. And we rode through town in that little bucket like we knew that the fuse was lit and we had to get it all in before we were blown to pieces. We gigged super hard at every stop light and rolled through stop signs like we didn’t have hella weed in the car and like we weren’t born looking suspicious. It didn’t matter. We stunted like we weren’t poor and confused and like that little car belong to one of us as opposed to the driver’s girlfriend’s mother. Let us tell it we were all bosses and it was nothing to a boss. It was our town; it was our world and somehow we were able to convince ourselves that we had no reason to be scared of what was to come because we would force the ruling class to make room for our greatness.

The Jacka spoke to all the pain that we were trying to numb out. The trauma that we were going through and would continue to go through. And he validated our lives in a way that even our own mothers could not because he was a man. Because he had to struggle mightily to be able to compare the California ghettos to a battlefield in the Vietnam War. He had to have been hated on severely to warn us that we might be the greatest but people will never say it. So we rode around East Oakland feeling like four kings being welcomed into Buckingham Palace and The Jacka’s CD was our Royal Fanfare. By the time I was brought back home it was pitch black and many daps were given before I exited the car. I went to bed thinking hard about the track called, Die Young until I fell asleep. The next morning I woke up and went to Tower Records at Bayfair Mall and bought The Jacka of the Mob Figaz and listened to it nonstop on my way to class.

-YB