Hip-hop has always been a competitive culture, and it’s one aspect of the artform that I genuinely never want to see disappear. That said, while competition drives innovation and great art, success has been enjoyed in regions where that competitive spirit remains healthy, and an overarching desire for collaboration and helping out your fellow hometown artists not only exists but thrives.
The Bay has a unique attitude of assistance and support when it comes to regional hip-hop, a contrast to the usual “crabs in a bucket” mentality that dominates a vast majority of local hip-hop scenes across the country. Alongside Atlanta and New Orleans, the Bay Area ranks among those most concerned with the prosperity of as many artists as possible.
"Bay Area rappers—and I don’t even want to categorize us as just Bay Area rappers—but the artists out here have a tendency to support each other. If we see potential in one another we’re gonna make it our duty to push them and get them recognized. In the Bay Area, we are our brothers’ keepers. It used to be like crabs in a bucket, but that’s changed, by the grace of God. And that’s dope."
Nef himself is the product of hometown love, as Bay legend E-40 has taken the rapper on as his protégé, going so far as to sign the young emcee to a 50/50 partnership through his Sick Wid It Records imprint, potentially saving him from the predatory deals of the many major labels who spent months pursuing free agency.
Nef credits E-40 with providing decades worth of industry wisdom that he can then impart to his peers, continuing the cycle of informed hometown support.
Fellow Bay Area native G-Eazy, who took Nef on the road with him in 2016, believes the reason local artists support one another is because the region as a whole was overlooked for so long.
"It's in the fabric of who we are, it's in our DNA," G explained via text. "We're a little different out here, we have our own slang, our own style of music and our own culture, so sometimes people from other areas don't fully understand it when they see it. We've been overlooked for decades by the outside world. I think that causes us to stick together and help each other try to win. No matter where I go or how far I end up taking my career, I always want to shine a light on where I'm from and open doors behind me."
Another crucial component of the Bay Area’s continued success is local radio support, which Nef highlights in contrast to LA radio stations like Power 106 and Real 92.3, who have recently been criticized for their lack of local support. Even without the radio's support, however, Nef is quick to highlight other avenues through which the Bay consistently props itself up.
"We support our local artists a lot. We have a program called 'Home Turf Radio,' it used to be called 'Midnight on the Bay,' where you can go on the local radio station’s website and vote for the local artist that you like for the chance to hear them on the radio. If the artists get enough votes, they get put into regular rotation."
"Even without the radio, we got artists on YouTube with a million views just from the Bay Area alone, from word of mouth. The Bay Area is like a spider web: we’ve got people everywhere. If we like something and feel like it needs to be heard, then we’re gonna make that happen."
Throughout the interview, Nef references an unspoken unity of cultural identity in the Bay, and he’s not the first to convey it. Those that came before him, like E-40 and Mac Dre, similarly always referenced the Bay in ways that further made it out to be some sort of mythical land that bred nothing but slick-talkers oozing with cool. It’s the same unity and constant appreciation that we see right now in scenes like Atlanta and Chicago, two areas where that same hometown mentality has each community near the top of the list of current hip-hop hotbeds.
As the Bay continues to thrive and grow, it’s just as important to give thanks and kudos to the organic infrastructure of support and appreciation they’ve developed as it is the talent of the countless great artists they’ve produced.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Sanny Bisquerra