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Hyphy Kids Got Trauma: A Rightnowish Podcast Series

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The words Rightnowish Presents Hyphy Kids Got Trauma are airbrushed on a white t-shirt over a yellow background.
Hyphy Kids Got Trauma, the podcast series from Rightnowish. (Rebecca Kao)

T

he year 2006 was a wild one in the Bay Area, especially if, like me, you were into hip-hop.

The scene was dominated by the hyphy movement, a youth culture driven by uptempo music, oversized airbrushed white T-shirts, big-ass sunglasses called stunna shades and candy painted cars doing donuts in intersections. Music blasted out of speakers lodged in the cars’ front grills as crowds of people gathered around, screaming “swang that shit.”

The people fueled the music, and in turn, the music moved the people. It was unbridled energy, livewire behavior, and communal celebration.

But beneath it all? That’s where it gets real — and why we’re calling this special Rightnowish podcast series Hyphy Kids Got Trauma.


Hyphy was known as a high-energy, flamboyant movement, but layered beneath it surface was no small amount of pain. (D-Ray)

O

n March 7, 2006, Oakland rapper Too Short dropped the single “Blow The Whistle.” Produced by one of Atlanta’s most acclaimed artists, Lil Jon, it perfectly married the energy of hyphy music with the power of crunk music. With a sinister bass line, energetic drums, a simple hook and Too Short’s cocky flow, the song was a smash, and still gets present-day crowds turnt.

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The very next week, on March 14, Vallejo’s legendary lyricist and esteemed entrepreneur E-40 released My Ghetto Report Card, a landmark project that featured the hit song “Tell Me When to Go.” Also produced by Lil Jon, and featuring fan favorite Keak Da Sneak from East Oakland, the song and accompanying video caused a cultural earthquake, the aftershocks of which are felt to this day.


(L–R) Keak da Sneak and E-40 on the set of the music video for 'Tell Me When To Go' in 2006.
(L–R) Keak da Sneak and E-40 on the set of the music video for ‘Tell Me When To Go’ in 2006. (D-Ray)

That year also brought about landmark projects from San Francisco’s San Quinn, Big Rich, and Messy Marv. West Oakland’s J-Stalin teamed up with DJ Fresh for a banger. North Oakland’s Mistah F.A.B. and Pittsburg’s late lyricist The Jacka both rode the wave of big projects they individually dropped the year prior. And at the end of 2006, Berkeley’s The Pack stepped into the rap game with the hit song “Vans.”

There was this one artist, Beeda Weeda, from a neighborhood in East Oakland known as the Dubs — or Murder Dubs — who made this one song I couldn’t stop slappin’.

The track was simply titled “We Ain’t Listening,” and it was pure youth rebellion over drums and synths. The lyrics provided a vent for me, a frustrated teenager. I was one of the many young adults who’d consumed too much dark liquor while celebrating each drug-induced day as if it were my last. Maybe because it very well could’ve been.

Almost 20 years later, with the benefit of hindsight and the language to express it, I can see how I was partying while simultaneously mourning, and living in a constant, traumatic state of fear.

In January of 2006, my friend Willie Clay, who I’d known since middle school, was shot and killed in the Dubs. Multiple people were hit; one other person died. That year, 148 people were killed in Oakland, one of the Town’s highest homicide totals ever recorded.

A park bench in the Dubs, pictured in 2011, memorializes loved ones from the neighborhood.
A park bench in the Dubs, pictured in 2011, memorializes loved ones from the neighborhood. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

W

hen people talk about the hyphy movement, it’s often remembered as fun-loving and goofy. And while there were definitely some comical dances and corny songs, the origins of hyphy are far from funny.

“Hyphy” originally meant hyperactive, and not in a good way. Like an aggressive loose dog, a driver speeding on the wrong side of the street, or rebellious teenagers who tell oppressive authority figures “we ain’t listening” without giving it a second thought.

As the culture grew, though, the term got watered down. There was actually a lot of pain in that era. Some of the scars were specific to that year, while others were the latest incarnation of larger societal issues (systemic racism, sexism, capitalism and imperialism, to name a few) that have oppressed folks in this country for centuries. But no matter what the cause was, the pain gave us a reason to party.

The music was an outlet; a salve for the wounds caused by the world.


Beeda Weeda, Tajai from Souls of Mischief, and J. Stalin.
(L–R) Beeda Weeda, Tajai from Souls of Mischief, and J. Stalin. (Alexander Warnow)

In addition to festering neighborhood beefs and unfortunate acts of community violence, we were facing the onset of gentrification. Banks were handing out predatory housing loans, rents were increasing and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown laid out a plan to redevelop downtown and usher in thousands of new residents. Black folks were pushed out of Oakland in droves, relocating to California’s Central Valley, Nevada, Arizona or one of the southern states. We were also dealing with over-policing from a corrupt Oakland Police Department that had entered its third year of federal oversight.

At the same time, the unjust system of mass incarceration in California hit its peak. In 2006, the state’s prisons operated at 200% of their capacity.

And nationally, as the United States hurtled toward its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the military was sending my peers to Afghanistan to fight the War on Terror, a conflict that would eventually become the longest war this country has ever seen.

Yeah, we were dealing with a lot.

How did we cope? We went stupid. We shook dreads. We dodged cops. We smoked grapes, sipped drank and shoved pills in our faces. We turned up the music, revved engines and screamed “Yee!” ’til our voices shook the concrete, causing the nation to take note of us. That’s how we dealt with pain.


A scraper bike on the set of E-40's music video 'Tell Me When to Go' in 2006.
A scraper bike on the set of E-40’s music video ‘Tell Me When to Go’ in 2006. (D-Ray)

A

few years ago I was bending corners around West Oakland and saw some graffiti on an underpass that stuck with me. The words were simple: “hyphy kids got trauma.”

The piece I saw, inspired by lyrics from San Francisco’s Rich Iyala, was by a graffiti writer named Nasty. But then I saw it in a few other places too, by different writers.

Evidently the idea resonated with folks. I wasn’t the only one.

I have fond memories of watching cars dance at sideshows, and seeing homies gig during turf dance battles at East Oakland’s Youth Uprising Center. But those sweet reflections, of kicking it with my friends at the teenage club — the Candy Shop, or hotboxing with the homies in the parking lot — are met with the unsavory realities of the the hyphy movement. It wasn’t all fun and games. There were a lot of people with the letters RIP airbrushed on their white t-shirts, and folks with funeral pamphlets on the front dashboard of their Buick scrapers. Evidence of the pain.

As a hip-hop loving, budding journalist, laying the foundation for my career path while trying to stay out of harm’s way, I took note of it all. Now, as an adult, I see it with a new perspective.

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The year 2006 truly was a wild year for the Bay Area. I’m still healing from it, and I’m not the only one.

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