Why We’re Spending a Year Covering Bay Area Hip-Hop History

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An illustration of the rapper e-40, holding his glasses, based on the cover to the album 'my ghetto report card'
'That's My Word' drops new stories each week throughout 2023. (Illustration by Shomari Smith)

There is nothing in the world like Bay Area hip-hop.

Our hip-hop is multicultural, flamboyant, political, diverse, high-energy. It’s staunchly independent and doesn’t ask for approval. It’s the product of pimps and hustlers just as much as activists and intellectuals. In the Bay — rewind that Mac Dre song — we dance a little different.

It’s no secret that hip-hop in the Bay has been overlooked. But something else has happened. The rest of the country, befuddled but fascinated, has hijacked our production, slang and dance styles as their own. Our DJs have inspired the world; our graffiti artists too. Spend a little time in hip-hop, and you’ll quickly notice just how much the Bay has influenced without recognition.

As the year 2023 marks what’s widely accepted as the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop, it’s time to give the Bay its shine. That’s why we’re spending the whole year telling the story of this culture, piece by piece.

Sly Stone, E_40, Mistah F.A.B. and Kamaiyah. (Illustration by Noah Haytin/NOH8TIN )

We’ll give you inside stories of hit records and deep cuts. We'll break down how our innovative social, political and cultural movements contributed to hip-hop's DNA. We’ll also go well beyond the music, and show how artists like Boots Riley and Tupac Shakur forced direct action for police accountability; how trailblazing women like Pam the Funkstress and the Conscious Daughters pushed hip-hop forward; and how Too Short, E-40, JT the Bigga Figga, Hieroglyphics and other entrepreneurs created the blueprint for independent artists.

Through regular feature stories, interviews, playlists, photo galleries, podcast episodes and live events throughout 2023, we’re here to backcue the record and make sure the Bay gets its due.

We’ve also embarked on an ambitious endeavor, one that's collaborative by design: a searchable, filterable timeline of important moments in Bay Area hip-hop history. It’s already over 200 entries long, and we’ll be adding to it as the year goes on for future generations to explore.

No single person can tell the entire story of Bay Area hip-hop. It’s too huge, too variegated. That’s why we’re working with contributors — journalists, visual artists, rappers, academics, turntablists — to capture as much of this history before it dissipates. We’re also working with an advisory panel consisting of Jeff Chang, Davey D Cook and Dawn-Elissa Fischer, all three of whom live and breathe hip-hop history.

But importantly, we want to hear from you. Tap in and talk to us here. Fact-check us when needed. Tell us what you’ve seen and where you’ve been. The permanent record needs you.

If you’re alive in 2023, you’ve been affected by hip-hop. For decades, it’s transformed not just music but art, politics, education and culture. So this series isn’t just for the old heads — it’s for young fans wanting to connect to the lineage; for those eager to learn about the Bay Area’s social, political and cultural history; for any of the millions across the globe whose life soundtrack spans the music of Mac Dre, The Jacka, Blackalicious, Keak Da Sneak, Kamaiyah, Digital Underground, DJ Shadow, MC Hammer, The Coup, Mystic, I.M.P., Saafir, Mistah F.A.B., the Invisibl Skratch Piklz and… you know what? If we listed everyone, we’d be here ’til infinity.

Hip-hop history is so much more than New York, L.A. and Atlanta. For the foreseeable future here in the Bay, it’s all eyez on us.

— Gabe Meline, Eric Arnold, Nastia Voynovskaya and Pendarvis Harshaw