Before his hit "I Gott Grapes," Nump had a major hand in the hyphy movement, engineering tracks by The Federation, E-40, Mac Dre and Messy Marv. (Courtesy of Nump)
Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history, with new content dropping all throughout 2023.
If you were into Bay Area hip-hop in the mid-2000s, you probably know the answer to the question, “Who got purple?” With “I Gott Grapes,” Nump made a hit that helped take the hyphy movement across the world.
Beyond his classic track, Nump has a solid body of work as a rapper and an audio engineer. But his journey in the music industry wasn’t easy. A true Student ov da Game, as E-40 dubbed him on his 2009 sophomore album, he had to climb his way up — literally, as his first gig was “sniping” flyers onto telephone poles.
After he graduated from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Arizona in the early 2000s, Nump hustled his way through unpaid internships, first at Green Day’s Studio 880 in Oakland’s Jingletown, where he alphabetized records for Blackalicious’ Chief Xcel after hours. Later, at Michael Denton’s Infinite Studios in Nump’s hometown of Alameda, he ascended to house engineer. As the hyphy movement began to take off, Nump worked on some of the Bay Area’s most beloved songs, including Keak Da Sneak’s “White T-Shirt, Blue Jeans and Nikes” and The Federation’s “Hyphy.”
“That was my dream. And it all happened. Until I became Nump the touring artist, that was the best ‘the grit don't quit’ story,” Nump says.
It was at Infinite Studios that Nump met E-40 — a relationship that would change his life forever. Nump has credits on some of E-40’s best-known albums, including My Ghetto Report Card, and Forty Water equipped him with the connections and experience that turned “I Gott Grapes” into a hit. “Once E-40 met me, we had a bromance,” Nump says. “I showed him hard work ethic, and we got along great.”
When we meet for lunch in the East Bay suburbs on a recent rainy afternoon, Nump is in dad mode, with his three elementary school-aged children in tow. But a Sick Wid It Records forearm tattoo, iced-out chains and a neon-orange beanie embroidered with his Lapu Lapu album signal that he’s still hyphy — just grown up.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
NASTIA VOYNOVSKAYA: Can you tell me about those My Ghetto Report Card sessions with E-40? Those had to be legendary.
NUMP: Are you ready for this? So, the song “Gouda,” where he’s counting his money. He had just come up with the word “gouda.” We were recording this shit and he was like, “Five, ten, 15, gouda / 20, 25, 30, chalupa.” That wasn't something he planned to say, he just ended up going off top. And that ended up being the hardest part of the hook.
I remember going to Atlanta to do some sessions with Lil Jon [who produced My Ghetto Report Card with Rick Rock], and we go to the studio and Crime Mob pulls up, David Banner pulls up — all these South legends. My first time ever in the South, first time ever in Atlanta. And yeah, man, he was just making hit after hit.
Were Rick Rock and Lil Jon in the studio together making beats?
I don’t remember those sessions, but I worked a whole shit ton with Rick Rock. Not only helping him with the E-40 shit — I did the whole Federation project from head to toe, even the skits. We’re like this [crosses fingers].
So that’s how I got Stresmatic and Doonie [of the Federation] on “I Gott Grapes.” We were hanging out so much, one day I was like, “Hey, I got the studio to myself.” Just using them opportunities. I told Mike [Denton], I’ll run all your studio sessions, but please let me just work after, and I’ll take care of your shit. That’s the reason why I’m here today. I always gotta show love to Mike Denton.
So that album you worked on with the Federation was what broke them — especially the song “Hyphy.”
“Hyphy” was crazy. I remember when they made that remix and they had San Quinn and Keak da Sneak on that shit, and they started adding the “White T-shirt, Blue Jeans and Nikes” beat behind Keak’s verse. I remember editing all that with them.
And working with Rick Rock off top — this fool is a genius. Maybe back in the day, like a Beethoven, you smell me? He could be on the MPC working on a slap, hear a sound, switch, turn that one off, go now make a whole new blap. The first song I got to work on [with him] was “White T-shirt, Blue Jeans and Nikes.” I sat in on that session and was like, “Oh my God, this that new Keak Da Sneak shit!” Imagine me, I’m a fan. I’m a Baydestrian. And now I'm behind the scenes doing what I love and engineering.
Seeing how Rick Rock works actually evolved my style because I was blessed to be around these great motherfuckers. And when they would leave, I’m cleaning up, and now I’m messing around trying to make my own shit. I just saw Bruce Lee fight and train, but I saw what he did to do that high kick. Now he left the dojo — let me practice.
So tell me about how “I Gott Grapes” became a hit.
We made the song that night. It was me, Doonie Baby and Stresmatic, [the producer] D1 and myself. So the song is done, and that night we’re all turnt. We go straight to the club — Ibiza in Oakland, it was hella poppin’ at the time. I give DJ E Rock the CD, he plays it, and it’s like a real-life movie scene. Everyone was singing the hook by the second time they heard it. He ran it back and played it again and they still wouldn’t stop. And that's when we knew we made a banger.
That night I remember E Rock trying to take the CD from me, and I was like, “Nah, bruh, I can’t do it. It's not done yet.” And he was like, “Nah, I already got it anyways.” But he was drunk, slippin’. I took the CD out of his backpack.
A lot of people really wanted to — not take my song, but at least use it because they knew it was so good. But I believed in it so much, like, “Nah, the only one who gonna put it out is me.”
So fast forward, I finally get an engineering session with E-40. It was probably five in the morning. We were probably on one or whatever, it’s been a long night. And I was like, “40, before we wrap it up, can I get you on this song? It’s already ready.”
So he did it. We’re recording it, you know, all he had to do was say, “I got grapes” like four, five, six times. I’m an engineer, so I’m layering this shit. And I’m hearing him go, “ough” or “yee.” He’s feeling himself. So I would take them little soundbites and I had it sprinkled all through the track. D1 did what he had to do with the beat, and that’s how we made “I Gott Grapes” featuring E-40 and the Federation.
And then we would go to the club. At that time, E-40 had a nightclub called the Ambassador’s Lounge.
San Jose, right?
San Jose, which was yankin’. Every Friday, there was a celebrity guest. Before Uber, 40 would call a limo, and if I’m the engineer, “Come on, you want to roll with me?” Katt Williams came with us one time. But the big memory was Nate Dogg. My patna was giggin’ — you know how they did it on Treal TV — gig so hard your pants fall down. Nate Dogg was like, “What the fuck is this?” That’s how we dance out here, man. So RIP Nate Dogg. I'm just blessed to say I got to work with him and he was dope as fuck.
How did your life change after “I Gott Grapes”?
Shout out to Big Von and Scotty Fox, they had On the Block on KMEL. And at that time if you was a local Bay Area artist, that was the biggest platform to get your music heard. And they would always show me fuckin’ love.
After “I Gott Grapes” started poppin’ and I started doing shows, people were fuckin’ with me because of my energy. When I would do the concerts, they were like, “Bruh, this fool is lit. This fool is hyphy, going dumb, all that.” And I dressed the part too. I always had my stunna shades on, baggy clothes. I used to wear size 42 Girbauds, 4XL tall tees all the time.
Then I got on MTV My Block, Bay Area. And once that happened, my whole shit spiraled to the roof, to the moon, you feel me? I booked to go on DJ Shadow's European tour with Mistah F.A.B. He wanted to show Europe how the hyphy movement was poppin’. We all bonded so well, we went to like eight countries. I mean, Lisbon, Portugal; Brussels, Belgium; Leeds; London; Barcelona, Spain and a couple of other ones.
And once I got back from Europe, I booked a Philippines and Asia tour. Then my shit kept going. I had my sophomore album Student ov da Game. The first single was called “Legalize My Medicine.”
Funny story about M.I.A. She hit us up. She liked the song “I Gott Grapes.” We finally connected. She talked to my brother D1, she talked to me. The next thing you know, the label calls. “Hey, we got your fuckin’ front-row tickets to go see M.I.A. It’s her last day on tour, she wants to meet y’all.” She’s playing at the Coliseum opening for Gwen Stefani, and this is when she dropped that “it’s bananas.” So we’re at this whole weird little youngster concert. M.I.A. is performing, it’s dope — I don’t know any of her music. But in the middle of her set she goes, “Hey, who got purple? I got grapes!” Swear to god. I wish I had IG back then or even a camera phone.
We all hang out backstage. M.I.A. hangs out with us for a whole week and a half and basically stays in San Jose, works with D1 and they just make slaps. And it’s funny because we were at our aunty house doing the beat in the laundry room. When she got there, she’s like, “Where’s the studio?” We’re like, “This is the studio.” She’s like, “How do you listen to it? “Right here, put the headphones on.” She was like, “Oh, hell nah.” She went to Guitar Center and bought us speakers.
So after that happened, we built a cool little relationship.
You worked with Messy Marv pretty extensively too. Tell me about that.
I really got a lot of respect for Messy Marv. He was the first person to call me Nump. When I met him, I was already a house engineer at Mike Denton’s, I was super excited. It was like right before [Messy Marv’s 2004] Disobayish album — classic. I did that whole album from head to toe. No one would work like Mess. I was there when he was trying to shop a deal for Warner Brothers, when hyphy was at its peak, when all these labels was really looking at us.
What do you remember about working with Mac Dre?
So Mac Dre came to the studio, shout out to Jonas [Teele]. He brings Mac Dre, and this is the time where Treal TV is the most popular DVD. We’re watching that DVD on loop every day, morning, noon and night. So this fool comes to the studio and I’m slightweight — I’m starstruck.
There’s a glass door right by the studio with a reflection, and he just giggin’ to the beat, looking at himself. And I’ll never forget, he had Vans on. Just real proper. He has some kind of Lacoste collared shirt on. He was business casual in my book.
So the rule at Infinite Studios is no smoking in the studio, and Mac Dre lit a Wood up. I was like, “Oh my God.” And I remembered in the DVD he was like, “Man, the engineer didn’t let me smoke in the studio, man. I had to take his top off, man.” And it showed him kneeing his head, right? So I’m like, “What do I do?” So my engineering brain starts troubleshooting. I open up all the doors, light hella incense. He’s in and out. Mac Dre could write his verse, lay it down and have it sound perfect in 30 minutes.
When you toured, what cities did you really see resonating with the hyphy movement?
Hawaii loved the hyphy shit. Las Vegas. Seattle. A lot of the West Coast was really tapped in with the hyphy shit. But in the Philippines, they was really on me. They was on the Treal TV, watching the shit.
Was that your first time in the Philippines?
It was my first time. I call it the motherland. It was a blessing because it showed me that I really need to be with my culture more. At that time, I really wasn’t tapped in how I should have been, even though I represented the Gorillapino side. They call us Fil-Am because we’re Filipino American. So what I learned from that was like, man, let me step it up. Let me learn this Tagalog, and from there [I started] learning the stories. And that’s what really got me excited about my culture, knowing that like a guy like Lapu Lapu — Magellan tried to take over the Philippines, and Lapu Lapu was there ready to slice his head off. They had to run back to the boat and go with a plan B because they don't expect us Filipinos to be savages like that. I teach it to the kids to this day.
That is actually one of my future goals in 2023, 2024, to curate and create more content for my Filipino people in the culture.
Mine was KNT out of the City, they had the song with San Quinn, “Come See Us,” and they had that song “Cutty Bang.” I was inspired by DJs, QBert and DJ Shortkut. It wasn’t a lot of us. But now, in 2023, from P-Lo to Guapdad to Ruby Ibarra to Saweetie to Bambu to H.E.R. It’s very inspiring. And it’s just dope to see H.E.R. on a fucking huge platform like Disney and my kids could see that and go, “She’s Filipino too.”
You have a track dedicated to the graffiti artist Mike Dream. Can you talk about why he’s important?
Thank you for asking this question. My kids are heavily into graffiti, it’s a blessing. So the story is I was at Street Jam in San Jose, this Filipino festival. And I just remember that these fools were giving tattoos outside, and back then that was rare. So I was just watching what they doing, being curious, admiring it. I saw this literature they had, and it was all about “RIP Mike Dream.” And I just collected it all and saved it. I used to have a cubicle job — I put that up in my cubicle. That’s actually what paid for my school.
Fast forward, I made that song called “Be Like Mike Dream” — be like Mike, but not Michael Jordan. I was just so infatuated and inspired, and I had no clue. I just saw his style of graffiti, I really didn’t know no stories of how great he was for the community. Not until I met everybody. After I made the song, I was at Infinite Studios, and one of my brothers there, Jonas, was tapped in with Mike Dream[’s family]. So he brought the brother and a cousin through, and they all gave me my blessing. They all did my video shoot, and the rest is history. His son Akil is in there with my daughter, Trinity. Now they’re in their early 20s — back then, they’re like five. So that song meant more to me because, not just that I paid homage to a Filipino legend, but I also got to make a whole new family with that whole graffiti side, with the TDK crew and all them.
OK, hyphy nostalgia lightning round. Where were some of your favorite places to perform in the Bay?
Santa Cruz, the Catalyst. And in Petaluma, DJ Amen would do the “Super Hyphys” at Phoenix Theatre. I did a show there when “I Gott Grapes” was at its peak. I always used to do this fuckin’ skit, right? I'm an entertainer. I stop the record — “Hey, hold on, man. I want y’all to know real quick, we shootin’ the video for ‘I Gott Grapes.’ So if you see the camera, turn the fuck up.” And I’d do that everywhere. But at this particular time, it must have been the energy — these motherfuckers was going stuey.
And in the Town, On Broadway was the one, that was the spot. If you ever could perform over there or just pull up after the club was over, we would parking-lot all day over there, right across from Nation’s. And then San Jose, of course, the Ambassador's Lounge.
But I used to do all the open mics, like every night of the week if I could — before I was even Nump and I was just trying to rap with my patnas, I would go to Club 510 in Fremont and all the San Jose open mics. And I always had my CDs, my merch and was always outside. And my friends were doing the same shit, until the point that we was outside at Berkeley, Rasputin’s, and we would all have some type of mixtape or album out. We were collecting our bread like a real job.
Do you remember your first sideshow?
Hell nah, that shit happened all the time. I just remember that shit be lit.
Do you remember your favorite tall tee?
I had an “I Gott Grapes” one that I’d always wear. I had a Mac Dre airbrush one that I was really excited about, and I had one of Carlos Rossi Rhine. I used to always drink Carlos Rossi like E-40. I looked up to him so much, so whatever he did, I wanted to do just like him. And actually my patnas, we used to make our own tall tees until we met Prospect, the airbrush guy, and he was doing everything. Shout out to Filthy Dripped on Telegraph in Berkeley.
So what was it like when the hyphy movement started to end?
Everything started sounding more like R&B radio style. Atlanta was kind of taking over with their sound. Nothing really changed with me. I was still dressing baggy, and I had to not get into a couple of clubs [because of dress code] and really start realizing, “Bro, I’ve got to transition. I gotta stop thinking that I’m in this era.” There were a few moments of that.
Now that we're looking back on the hyphy movement as a piece of history, how do you want people to remember it?
Positivity. Number one, bringing everybody together of all different cultures, all different colors, all different sizes, all different ages. Outside, just moving as one, ’cause the energy is there — no matter if you’re offbeat dancing, jumping around, going crazy or just laidback, bobbing your head, you could feel that hyphy spirit, and it’s still out there.
And I want to say, because everybody be online like, “Aw, why you call the movie We Were Hyphy? I’m still hyphy.” No, fam, I’m not saying we aren’t hyphy anymore. This is just an era when we were all hyphy, and we’re trying to document it and show you guys what it was like. I’m still hyphy, and my kids is too. It ain’t just an era, it's an expression.
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