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12 San Jose Rap Tapes That You've (Probably) Never Heard Before

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San Jose's rap history goes far deeper than you may think. (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.

S

an Jose is the overlooked stepchild of Bay Area hip-hop. Like famed San Jose-raised producer Peanut Butter Wolf recently told KQED, it was decidedly not a hip-hop city in the ’80s and early ’90s. As large as it is, and with a vibrant 1980s East Side car culture and electro club scene, you’d think it’d be in the conversation alongside Oakland, Vallejo, East Palo Alto and Richmond.

Turns out you just have to dig deeper. Here, cassette collector J. Darrah, a.k.a. 12manrambo, dives into his collection of over 500 Northern California rap tapes from 1985–2000 to unearth and add context to some of San Jose’s best early rap. You won’t be able to find most of these on Spotify — but without a doubt, taken together, these tracks reorient San Jose in the historical landscape.

1. MC Twist & The Def Squad, ‘I Like It Loud ’89’

The one and only Bay Area artist signed to Skyywalker Records (run by Luke Skyywalker of 2 Live Crew), MC Twist came out hard with tracks like “I Like It Loud” off his Comin Thru Like Warriors LP. His DJ Boy Flash and producer Kay Jay borrow a bit from L.A.’s Rodney O And Joe Cooley, and also throw in a classic Dionne Warwick sample of “Do You Know The Way To San Jose.”

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Twist went on to self-release 1998’s MVP, a solid, more Mobb/G-funk oriented album, but disappeared soon afterward.

2. Lyrical Prophecy, ‘You Can’t Swing This’

Pressed in a low run of 500 copies, the Lyrical Prophecy 12″ is a difficult piece of wax to attain today, and it established Chris Cut, a.k.a. Peanut Butter Wolf, as a young producer/DJ/entrepreneur on the San Jose scene. Wolf would go on to achieve success and indie-rap status with his label, Stones Throw, founded about five years later.

Here, Chris set down his San Jose rap roots with Quiz One (RIP) and DJ Raleem (who went on to be better known as Assassin),
all a couple years before his unfortunately short-lived collaborations with Charizma (RIP).

Bob James “Nautilus”/Public Enemy sample on the hook? Check. ‘Conscious’/’Lyrical Miracle Spiritual’-type lyrics? Check. Though this could easily be mistaken for something coming out of the Bronx or Brooklyn, Wolf would eventually blur the lines of regionality via his gloriously genre-bending label, and the duo of Quiz One and Assassin would soon establish a more West Coast identity via the “gangster rap” sound of their group Ghetto Politics.

3. The Siggnett Posse, ‘The BBQ’

The Siggnett Posse were led by rappers J-Wanz and D-Flat, and, since half the members were from Oakland, they titled their sole release Both Sides Of The Bay. (It’s yet another Peanut Butter Wolf-related project; “Chris Cut” is credited as engineer, but in reality he ghost-produced the majority of the tape).

“The BBQ” is a classic feel-good summertime jam, full of youthful exuberance and naïveté with bit more of an edge than, say, A Lighter Shade Of Brown’s “Sunday Afternoon” or DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime.” Just check out D-Flat exclaiming “I ain’t got no time for trippin’ / cuz every plate I’ve has been finger lickin’ / mother fuckin’ good” before hittin’ the thai stick and having all the girls look at him funny for jumping into his danked-out dance routine, immediately followed by his second bottle of Crazy Horse.

4. Ghetto Politics, ‘Away From Home’

In 1993, Quiz One and Assassin released their cassette- and vinyl-only EP release ‘Ghetto Life’ on the Dukie Duke label. The following year, Assassin would be replaced by Cisco The Frisco Mack, a.k.a. Don Cisco, and the group changed the spelling of its name to Ghetto Politix for a killer, now very hard-to-find full-length cassette release, Just Mob.

But here, on their debut EP, Quiz and Assassin rock self-reflective rhymes over a hard breakbeat and a bluesy guitar-driven loop, all adding up to a hell of a mood that fit the group’s name.

5. Homeliss Derilex (feat. Encore), ‘Originator’

With their jazzy East Coast vibe, Homeliss Derilex sounded far more Gang Starr than gangsta, while rapper 50 Grand had an unmistakable drawl that perfectly fit the unique, gritty production sound of G-Luv a.k.a. The Architect. The crew busted out on the scene with a rock-solid, seven-track demo tape in 1993.

After being featured on Dave Paul’s Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation, which was the definitive underground Bay Area rap comp at the time — showcasing such crucial local artists as Bored Stiff, Mystik Journeymen and Blackalicious, to name a few — they delivered another low-key but 100% dope debut on wax in the form of the “Survive’n The Game” 12″, released on the Malvado label out of Oakland.

One year later, anticipation built for a full-length release from the Homeliss Derilex when they dropped their second 12″ single on Stones Throw, but alas, the crew never did complete an LP during the ’90s.

Here, with their demo tape track “Originator” featuring a very young, fully formed and highly overlooked emcee Encore, 50 Grand rides a thick, heavy vibraphone-laden Architect beat, proving how he “got more juice than citrus fruit.”

6. G-Pack, ‘Damned’

G-Pack were a lesser known crew that debuted on DJ Swift’s even lesser known Bay Area Rap Compilation Vol. 1, which also featured a couple artists out of Richmond and Hayward. D-Mac and E-Money were the two main rappers, though a year later on their Comin’ Way Tight album they enlisted the very promising talents of rapper Young Life (who in the late 90s was rumored to have been working on a deal with Suge Knight at Death Row Records).

“Damned,” the compilation’s lead-off track, perfectly exemplifies the underground breakbeat-driven Bay Area sound of 1994, with live synths and the slick gangster/hustler flow of D-Mac & T-Spoon.

7. The Dereliks, ‘The Phrase That Pays’

Another great San Jose group featured on the Bomb Hip-Hop Compilation, The Dereliks were DJ Hen Boogie and MC Iz aka Izadoe. After a trio of promising demos from ’92-’94, the two released a classic EP, A Turn on the Wheel Is Worth More Than a Record Deal, on Hen’s own Low Self Discipline label.

Still under the heavy influence, like many others, of the almighty De La Soul and Native Tongue era, “The Phrase That Pays” shows just how bohemian, self-conscious and “witty-with-wordplay” rap could get – “I’ll leave it to Bobbito to give me a break / I Sway from the top of the Bay down to Swan Lake.”

8. F.B.G., ‘Dippin”

For those who thought San Jose couldn’t mobb like Vallejo or Oakland…think again. Rapper/producer P-Nut started out under his Nut-Houze Productions imprint with partner Jaz, forming the group Straight Funk before creating his new label Rush Force Productions and group F.B.G. with fellow rappers Tyesta and Mr. Frosty in ’96, dropping the South Bay mobb bomb Insane Ta Da Brain.

On “Dippin’,” the 408 Blocc Gangstas go all in with some of the most menacing mobb music ever made. When you hear P-Nut chanting “bottle full o’ liquor and a indo stick / mobbin’ down the avenue dippin’ sick” over that beat and those screeching tire sounds, you’d best run for cover and head west to Sunnyvale!

9. 007 Goon Squad, ‘What Dat’ 7 Like?’

The mobbin’ continues in Southside San Jose with another under-appreciated producer by the name of G-Rock. A bit older than his rap peers, G-Rock already had solid experience with state-of-the-art synths and drum machines from a previous era of funk (he played all the instruments on his World Of Ecstasy EP from 1985, under the moniker Alien Starr). As a hip-hop producer, he had a distinct and often oddly out-of-place sound compared to other Bay rap production of the time, but in retrospect seems nothing less than innovative.

Through the latter half of the ’90s, G-Rock ended up serving as a sort of in-house producer for some of San Jose’s “realest” gangster rappers (as in “actual gangbangers who happen to rap”) such as Full Clip and Loc’d Out Clique. 007 Goon Squad was made up of members of the Seven Trees Crips, and sadly never released a full-length. Luckily, they blessed us with the intense, soulful, slow-rolling track “What Dat’ 7 Like,” in which the crew “shoots a kite” to their homie serving 13 years in the clink.

10. Sub Contents, ‘Parinoid’

Consisting of Dave Dub, Persevere and beatmaker Fanatik, Sub Contents were an underground crew who also unfortunately never released a full album until well after the gritty indie-rap heyday of the mid-’90s (though their “Underbomber Theories” did make its way onto Peanut Butter Wolf’s classic Step On Our Egos EP.)

“Parinoid” finds Dave Dub firing off a fierce a capella with one of the rawest and thickest Bay rap accents ever heard south of West Oakland crew Hobo Junction’s Eyecue (a brief Southpaw label-mate of Dave’s, for the record). There’s a cold, menacing vocal sample of Black Moon’s Buckshot (“Hallucinate…ill visions in my head), which makes way for Dave Dub’s anxiety-riddled verbal onslaught, claiming “the world just ain’t the same as it was in my youth.” He retreats to the wilderness after “plugging a pig” and walking his Rottweiler with a choke-chain, wondering if he’s just paranoid or if “maybe it was just experimentation, from acid to blow.”

11. Third Sight, ‘Rhymes Like A Scientist’

A three-man crew consisting of Du-Funk, Jihad and (current Invisibl Skratch Piklz) DJ D-Styles, Third Sight debuted with their now rarer-than-hen’s-teeth cassette From Outta Nowhere in 1993. Three years later came the underground classic “Ballsacks” 12″ on their Darc Brothas label, with the B-side “Rhymes Like A Scientist” having heads nodding from the Bay back to New York, where their core sound originated. Perhaps taking a cue from Blackalicious’ “40 Oz. for Breakfast,” in which the rapper delays his verse to allow the beat and the vibe to marinate, D-Styles cuts up Eric B. & Rakim’s “My Melody” for two whole minutes with such precision that it would make DJ Premier lose sleep.

Finally, Jihad effortlessly wrecks the mic. This track was surely under the radar when it was released, but as a semi-avid clubgoer growing up in the L.A. area, I would hear this being spun (shout out to DJ Rob One RIP!) and folks in the crowd were BUGGING. OUT.

12. Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf, ‘Methods’

Peanut Butter Wolf, as stated above, was a central figure in early San Jose rap. After countless local musical collaborations and contributions, he moved to L.A. so his Stones Throw label could flourish, and the rest is hip-hop history. In the early days as a producer, he found his counterpart Charizma, but the duo was tragically short-lived due to Charizma’s death in late 1993.

In the early 1990s, long before “emo rap” existed, there were hip-hop songs that could nonetheless make the listener feel a certain way: De La Soul’s “Pass The Plugs,” Nas’ “One Love,” Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By.” That feeling hits even harder with “Methods,” a posthumously released song from Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf that leaves the listener imagining the two navigating the burgeoning industry not just as another hip-hop act but as two close friends, and pondering what heights they might have reached together.

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