20 Oakland Rap Tapes You've (Probably) Never Heard Before

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Along with major artists like Too Short and Tupac, the streets of the Town produced dozens of independent rappers whose rare underground cassettes contain Oakland gold. (Clockwise from top left: Mr. Fresh & Master T.M.D., Cassidine, Mac Mill, M.C. Jay and DJ Villian, Easy-A-Ski. (Collage by Sarah Hotchkiss)

Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history.

An obsessive collector of underground Bay Area rap cassettes, J. Darrah has chronicled over 500 Northern California hip-hop tapes from 1985–2000 on his blog, 12ManRambo. Here, he shares 20 standout tracks from mostly unknown Oakland rap artists who recorded some straight-up heat for posterity.

It’s an exhilarating and strange feeling to randomly find a tape like MC Sirgeo’s “Oakland Strip” and, after being mesmerized by the “self-done” cover art, you pop the tape into the deck and think “Damn, this guy’s got sort of a funny voice… but so did MC Pooh and even Too Short, right?”

The beat is a slumper, and the dude is rapping about “taking Coolidge up to Macarthur” (an intersection I lived near for 10 years) in his drop-top Mustang. Then you start finding other tapes from the same era and city, and they just happen to have MC Sirgeo listed prominently in the shout-outs inside the J-card. You start to wonder why you’ve never heard of this guy before.

Or when you find a tape from the early ’90s at the Oakland Coliseum flea market by a rapper named The Govenor and see that he’s got 2pac & Richie Rich featured on there, and you pop that tape in the deck and it’s absolutely incredible. The Govenor not only keeps up with the two heavyweights, he even seems to have been actual friends with them for a while. (Would you believe that the “feature” fee was zero dollars?).

These are just two of the many revelations I’ve had digging around the East Bay and beyond for the past 20 years, finding different releases, most on cassette, from Bay Area artists that seem to have been almost completely overlooked. You won’t find these songs on streaming, but they all link together in small ways to form a clearer picture of Oakland rap history.

Here are 20 tracks from Oakland rappers from the mid ’80s to early ’90s that you’ve likely never heard — but that definitely have historical significance, and influenced the formative years of Bay Area rap.

1. Mr. Fresh & Master T.M.D., ‘What Fer’ (1986)

A fun little jam from way back in ’86 featuring a very young Master T.M.D. (Total Mind Devastator), whose later group Capital Tax went on to be signed to MCA. Was this really the “slang of Oakland” at the time, or did they simply make this track “just to be buggin’,” as they state at the end?

2. MC Sirgeo, ‘Oakland Strip’ (1989)

An underground classic from MC Sirgeo before he formed his group Step G. Lingo is spit and spots are name-dropped as Sirgeo gives a virtual tour of East Oakland via his drop-top ‘Stang: “The light turned green and I was back on the scene / Right by Eastmont and Mickey D’s / Parked right by the 43 bus stop / Ya see they all love me ‘cuz I’m rollin’ a drop.”

3. East Side Oakland, ‘Eastmont Mall’ (1990)

MC Tray-C and Gino Blacknell (the son of legendary Bay soul/funk artist Eugene Blacknell, and whose production credits comprise a who’s-who of formative East Oakland rap) come with a dreamy ode to the town square of the East Side, the Eastmont Mall.

4. Underground Rebellion, ‘Gin & Juice’ (1991)

Preceding Snoop’s classic hit of the same name by a few years, MC Jullie D and pioneering West Oakland MC and producer Krushadelic (RIP) take a few too many gulps “down the throat chamber” over a clever Jimmy Spicer “Money (Dollar Bill Y’all)” / Vaughan Mason & Crew “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll” blend, all the while hittin’ the dank and gettin’ “major high!”

5. Cassidine, ‘Yeah Bitch I’m Cassidine’ (1988)

Seen as by some as the original Foxy Brown or Lil Kim of Rap, Cassidine definitely aimed to prove that she could get as nasty as her labelmate Too Short. Call her or her other labelmate Kimmie Fresh gimmicky Dean Hodges-funded products of his infamous 75 Girls label if you want, but these girls could rap — and in an ideal world, they would have been the start of a much bigger movement of Oakland female rappers.

6. Conscious Daughters, ‘Princess of Poetry (Original Demo Version)’ (1991)

Though the explosion of female rappers didn’t quite materialize, the Conscious Daughters took the Bay by storm. We all know CMG and Special One’s classic Ear to the Street LP, but prior to their full-length debut came their demo tape from ’91, which includes the original version of “Princess of Poetry.” Witness how they simply rip the mic to shreds despite the rather generic, skeletal production, which under the guidance of SF’s mighty “Black Panther of Hip-Hop,” Paris, would be vastly improved upon two years later.

7. Mac Mill, ‘Lifetime Mission’ (1990)

Before Mac Mall, there was Mac Mill, a North Oakland veteran on the mic who had been making tapes since the mid-’80s, similar to those of Too Short and Freddy B with 10-minute raps over Sugar Hill and Def Jam 12″ instrumentals. The fact that he never delivered a full-length is a damn shame. His 1990 Run of the Mill EP release, however, contained three solid tracks that showcased his talents. “Lifetime Mission” is a long, way-out storytelling rhyme with his “funky def rhymes and Arabian words” that finds him mackin’ on a tender while visiting his cousins in Zanzibar and beyond.

8. Em-Cee Quik and DJ K-OS, ‘Just Rollin’ (1988)

Em-Cee Quik a.k.a. Sir Quickdraw a.k.a. A Brotha Named Quick a.k.a. Naru is somewhat of a silent factor in the East Bay rap scene. With his 1987 Macola-distributed “Rapaholic” 12″, he got an early start busting solid rhymes on wax. A year later, he and DJ Dav-id K-os came hard and ballsy as hell with B-side “Just Rollin,” which is not about rollin’ in his Cougar or Mustang…but on his bike! Quick went on to release his dope album Never in Your Wildest Dreams in ’94 on the APG-related Basement Flavor label, with production from Bas-1 and Turntable T.

9. MC Jay & DJ Villian, ‘City Of A Gangster’ (1990)

MC Jay a.k.a. Jay Soul was a super-talented rapper and producer from East Oakland who put down an impressive but virtually unheard catalog on his Cali-Jam Music label in the early ’90s. After releasing his own killer cassette-only release Once Again along with DJ Villian, as well as his ventures with Lavish Style Hustlers Klan and Twon, he seemed to simply disappear. “City of a Gangster” is a classic slow and heavy-rolling track warning of the dangers of the crime-ridden streets of Oakland in the late ’80s/early ’90s.

10. Freddy B, ‘Dopefene Beat (I Want Some Helium)’ (1992)

A lethal, bugged-out display of imaginative storytelling from Too Short’s old partner in crime Freddy B. (“Oh yeah, it takes me back to back in the days / When me and my boy Short Dog were just chillin’ / Oh yeah, we used to do somethin’ like this…”) Far outdated for ’92 (sadly, Freddy B was behind bars for much of the ’80s while Short made major moves), this song hints at the more far-out tracks the duo might have made selling “special request” tapes to local dealers and pimps around Sobrante Park and beyond.

11. Morocco Moe, ‘Task’ (1988)

A classic overlooked cut by Morocco Moe (RIP), this comes off as an updated, more hardcore version of Toddy Tee’s “Batteram” complete with a slick Kraftwerk “Man Machine” sample. Over omnipresent local producer Raul “EFX” Recinos’ beat, Moe warns of the feds that come knocking on your door when you least expect it.

12. Spice 1, ‘East Bay Gangsta (Original Version)’ (1991)

OK, yeah — we don’t care he was originally from Hayward! This mysterious tape, likely put out by DJ Pizo, introduced the world to The Coup. On the heels of Too Short’s first Dangerous Crew compilation, it also reintroduced a more full-fledged hardcore Spice 1 just before signing to Jive Records. With classic punchline- and murder-laced rhymes over a brilliantly dense sample merging of the O’Jays “Got To Give The People” and 9th Creation’s “Bubble Gum,” Spice shows why he became one of the top Bay Area rappers of all time, especially with lines as mundane as “Rollin’ thicker than a milkshake / I like to eat crab but I prefer steak” that still sound fly as all hell.

13. Commanda C & DJ MF, ‘Check ‘Em’ (1992)

A random demo tape found at Davey “I Got Everyone’s Demo Tape” D‘s crib about 10 years ago, only to find out afterward that Commanda C was wreckin’ Sproul Plaza as far back as ’84. With a thick East Bay “country accent, hillbillies-and-all-that” delivery and Hiero-esque wordplay (“Here’s the album / Now tell me how come / You haven’t bought it yet / Man, how dumb”), this guy definitely gets my vote for Influential Rapper That Almost Nobody Ever Heard Of.

14. FM Blue feat. Dangerous Dame, ‘Oakland Styles’ (1993)

A loose Dangerous Crew member with flows for days, this track finds FM Blue and the legendary Dangerous Dame (RIP) trading verses over a classic Ant Banks beat. Likely the very first release on Cell Block Records, which also released Dangerous Crew members Rappin’ Ron & Ant Diddley Dog’s almost equally slept-on album Bad N-Fluenz, it’s still a bit of a mystery why this wasn’t released on any other format than cassette in ’93.

15. Easy A-Ski, ‘High Stepping’ (1990)

Before he shortened his name and got with a young up-and-coming New Orleans transplant by the name of Master P who signed him to No Limit Records, EA-Ski was gettin’ busy over James Brown loops with his DJ, CMT. A solid debut here, but his production sound would soon change drastically post-Chronic (EA-Ski became a frequent Dr. Dre collaborator through the mid- to late-’90s) and help pave the way for the glorious sound of mobb music.

16. APG, ‘Action Packed Gangstas’ (1989)

The APG Crew was a legendary 12-or-more-man crew outta North Oakland (853 Apgar St., to be exact), including the main dudes putting the whole Voltron-like ensemble together, the Blackwell brothers. Marlon (a.k.a. MC Mello Mar) and Allen Blackwell (RIP), who ran Metro Records, linked with the very fine talents of DJ Red, J-Cutt and MC Money Ray, who is featured here on the lead-off track from the album. It’s a perfect early blend of East Coast-style production and undeniably Oakland vocal delivery. Long live APG!

17. Delinquents, ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’ (1992)

Incredibly dope duo G-Stak and Big V a.k.a. V-Dal of East Oakland started their own label Dank Or Die in ’92 and were even briefly signed to Priority Records in ’97. This track, off their solid debut Insane, utilizes a cool Middle Eastern sample alongside The Controllers “Stay.”

18. The Govenor feat. Richie Rich & 2pac, ‘Gaffled Like That’ (1992)

An absolutely classic “Jackin’ For Beats“-style jam featuring some top-notch ’92 verses from major factors 2pac and Richie Rich over A-1 production from 415’s DJ Daryl, who went on to be a bonafide super-producer shortly after this. Their sense of fun in the studio and camaraderie really shows; 2pac fires off an amazing verse, but nothing can beat the 415 veteran Rich’s tale of outsmarting the po-po’s while simultaneously ducking the jackers in the Fillmore, on his way to “get a fat feast on” at his cousin’s Thanksgiving party.

19. The Ansārs, ‘Not A Dance Tune’ (1991)

Led by a very young Askari X and featuring veteran MC Tray-C of East Side Oakland, this serious group was aligned philosophically with the Nation Of Islam and the Uhuru Movement. They only dropped one EP release in ’91 on the Righteous Records label before Askari was incarcerated for suspected bank robbery the very next year (the same year in which his classic solo debut Ward Of The State was released). NYC’s Dead Prez cite Askari as a major influence, and even commissioned him to produce a track off their 2003 mixtape Get Free or Die Tryin’.

20. TKO, ‘415-510’ (1993)

Mac Ted (RIP) and Kette of the “twomps” make up the duo TKO (Ted & Kette from Oakland) and put out a true gem of a tape, Let’s Get Ready To Rumble, in ’93. Ted had already been featured on the Triple R Productions Extra! Extra! mini-compilation from ’89, in addition to kicking a dope guest verse on overlooked Oakland rapper Chocolate Milk‘s debut full-length. Here, he gets so honed in on the details of the day’s activities in his hood he even mentions the hat his homeboy is sporting (“Reg has got a hat that reads ‘All The Way To Heaven'”) and name-drops Tony’s Liquor Store, which is still around on 23rd and East 20th.

But mainly, in this song (essentially a glorious ode to Richie Rich’s “415“), he’s frustrated about the area code change in the East Bay that occurred in late ’92 (“Me, I kinda took the shit personal / I think the shit shoulda been vice-verso / They changed the 415 to the 510… / Now what the fuck they do that fo’?”).


This track has to be my favorite of all the lesser-known Oakland raps, and it truly marks the end of an era in East Bay rap. Years ago, I was blown away when I mentioned this track to my boy Clint at my local liquor store Two Star Market and he immediately started reciting the hook. I mentioned Mac Ted and he said “Yep, from the 20’s — that’s where I grew up!”

Stuff like that makes me very happy to be a life-long rap fan – especially after moving to Oaktown and discovering what a treasure this city really is. Dangerous Dame (RIP) once said “New York is the place where the rappers dwell / But I don’t even care cuz I’m hard as hell / Yes Oakland’s comin’ up and it’s gonna be known / As the itty-bitty-city of the microphone.” But as I’ve found more and more tapes like these, I can say: Oakland deserves to be known as “The city where you got your whole style, swagger and slang from!”