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Here’s What Bay Area Rappers Are Eating (According to Their Lyrics)

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Illustration of the rapper Larry June in an SF Giants cap, holding a crab cracker in one hand and a fork in the other. In front of him is a whole lobster on a plate.
In the history of Bay Area rap, food has always been a strong reference point — a metaphorical kitchen for creative exchange. (Torre / @torre.pentel)

W

hen conveying what it means to really be from the Bay Area, I often return to this simple yet revelatory Mac Dre lyric: “In the Bay Area, we dance a little different.”

Whether it’s in our music, political activism or technological contributions, there’s a certain out-of-box forwardness that tends to manifest from Bay Area minds — and a  pride in how we approach everything with a savvy sprinkling of game, hustlership and top-tier ideation.

The same can be said for the Bay Area’s food scene, which ranks among the nation’s best and most imaginative. From sourdough bread to the eternal Mission-style burrito, the Bay’s foodmakers have often been ahead of the curve, helping to revolutionize menus nationwide with their fresh farm-to-table approach. To borrow from the great Mac, one could say that in the Bay Area, we eat a little different.

It’s no surprise, then, that in the history of local rap, food has always been a strong reference point — a metaphorical kitchen for creative exchange. An endless platter of well-seasoned slang. For decades, our rappers have delivered punchlines involving sauce, lasagna and lumpia; dropped verses that generously reference desserts and bakeries; and supplied entire songs about stacking bread, cheese and lettuce as lucrative sandwiches.

Food-loving Bay Area rappers have always been bold when it comes to transmorphing culinary items and kitchen utensils into slang that others then appropriate and even misuse (see: “food doesn’t slap”). Shock G once talked about getting busy in a Burger King bathroom and declared, “I like my oatmeal lumpy.” On “Dreganomics,” Mac Dre himself asked, “What’s spaghetti without the sauce?” We’ve got Suga T (sweet) and Spice 1 (hot). Berner founded Cookies. And just a few weeks ago, Stunnaman02 dropped a whole series of viral videos centered on his latest single. His focus? Eating a salad.

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There’s a unifying ethos in Bay Area food and rap: Everybody eats. So here’s a brief ode to some of our region’s most skilled vocabulary chefs and the tasteful ways they’ve reimagined the ingredients of language that are possible in a kitchen — and the recording studio.

Illustration of the rapper E-40 in sunglasses and a beige apron, holding a glass of red wine. In front of him are a burrito and a grilled cheese sandwich.
E-40 might be the most prolific inventor of food-related slang words in the English language. He’s a head chef in the Bay Area’s rap kingdom. (Torre / @torre.pentel)

E-40: Green eggs, hams, candy yams, Spam, cheese, peanut butter and jam on “The Slap

“Digital scale, green eggs and hams / Yams, candy yams, Spam, damn! / Loaded, my cheese, peanut butter and jam / Sammich, mannish, me and my Hispanics / Vanish, talkin’ in codes like we from different planets.”

Though it may sound like gibberish to the uninitiated, rest assured that 99.99% of anything 40 Water vocalizes has a cleverly associative meaning. For anyone who has listened to one of the more than 25 studio albums from Vallejo’s kingpin, you’ve surely heard him mention food — perhaps in a variety of languages (some real, some ingeniously invented). In addition to the smorgasbord he notes above in “The Slap,” he has pioneered rhymes across generations that give new meanings to Gouda, feta, mozzarella, lettuce, bread, sausage, salami, paninis, spaghetti, tacos and enchiladas — ad infinitum. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Fonzarelli is an actual purveyor of foods and beverages, with a line of products that includes malt liquor, ice cream and burritos; he even co-owns The Lumpia Company. There’s no one with a bigger million-dollar mouthpiece who can distribute as much word candy (“S-L-A-N-G”) quite as flavorfully as the Goon With The Spoon himself.

Andre Nickatina: TOGO’s #41 sandwich with the hot peppers on “Fa Show

“Baby don’t act dumb, I’m number 41, high stepper / TOGO’s sandwich with the hot peppers / At 90 degrees I might freeze, so when it’s hot I sport leather.”

Fillmore’s finest, and among the most criminally underrated San Francisco rappers in history, Andre Nickatina has always had a penchant for the spicy, the flavorful, the extemporaneously saucy. From rapping about eating Cap’n Crunch around drug dealers to sarcastically handing out Baskin Robbins dollars to his enemies, Nicky Nicotine (formerly known as Dre Dog) raps about food as casually as any rapper would ever dare. Unlike many of today’s international rap personalities, who seem to only eat at high-priced sushi conglomerates, Nickatina is a Bay Area real one, electing to stay fed at a regional sandwich chain from San Jose. The enigmatic “number 41” on the Togo’s menu has since been discontinued, but a spokesperson for the restaurant IDed it as a sirloin steak and mushroom sandwich that was introduced as a seasonal special back in 2002 — the same year “Fa Show” was released. There is no doubt it must’ve been fire, given its endorsement by a legend who knows how to professionally “Break Bread.”

Illustration of the rapper Kamaiyah eating from a plate of chicken alfredo tucked under her arm. Next to her is a bottle of champagne.
Kamaiyah’s album covers often feature food, Hennessey and champagne — a reflection of the rapper’s saucy, bossy lifestyle. (Torre / @torre.pentel)

Kamaiyah: Champagne and chicken on “Whatever Whenever

“Just drink champagne with all my chicken meals.”

It’s fitting that East Oakland’s Kamaiyah — who cooked up the searingly hot single “How Does It Feel” on her transcendent debut, A Good Night in the Ghetto — continued to double down on aspirational living and good eating with her sophomore release, Got It Made. As always, the bodacious trapper rhymes over a synth-laced, floaty-spaceship soundscape while bragging about her California riches — and cuisine. The music video for “Whatever Whenever” features Kamaiyah roaming the untainted grounds of a Napa Valley-esque chateau. Her album covers over the years have also featured bags of potato chips, Hennessy and double-fisted bottles of champagne. It’s always bottoms up when Kamaiyah is on the track.

Too $hort: Macaroni, steak and collard greens on “All My B*tches Are Gone

“Eat some shit up / macaroni, steak, collard greens, or whatever the fuck.”

With over 35 years of classic albums like Cocktails and Gettin’ It, there’s no doubt that Short Dogg knows how to feed his multi-generational fanbase. He doesn’t shy away from straightforward lyrics — or having a large appetite for nefarious activities — and he has continued to make seasoned slaps for precisely 225,000 hours and counting (“get a calculator, do the math”). This OG’s plate of choice includes classic soul food staples served with a slab of steak. As the veteran unmistakably outlines on “This How We Eat”: “We make money, we eat, we feed.”

Illustration of the rapper Larry June in an SF Giants cap, holding a crab cracker in one hand and a fork in the other. In front of him is a whole lobster on a plate.
Besides establishing himself as the healthiest rapper in Bay Area lore, Larry June is also known for sporting vintage muscle cars and cracking lobsters in Sausalito as part of his luxurious lifestyle. (Torre / @torre.pentel)

Larry June: Crab legs on “Lifetime Income

“This not my girlfriend, we just eatin’ crab legs.”

If you know Larry June, then you know he’s all about smoothies, green teas, organic juices and oranges (yee hee!). But just as buttery are his numerously silky references to luxury meals and late-night outings with a seemingly endless rotation of women friends. Without question, the Hunters Point rapper has one of the healthiest appetites of anyone around a microphone, regularly dropping rhymes about his organic sustenance. Since Uncle Larry makes a living off his out-of-pocket food references, he merits an honorable mention for dropping other absolute bangers like “I might write a motherfuckin’ smoothie book or somethin’ … Sell this shit for thirty dollars” and “Watermelon juice riding bikes with my latest chick / I don’t do the clubs that often, I got a check to get.” It’s fitting that he also co-owns Honeybear Boba in the Dogpatch.

Iamsu!: Chicken strips and Moscato on “Don’t Stop

“Keep it real I don’t brag though… / Chicken strips, no escargot / [sippin’] on the Moscato.”

To be fair, this lyric is from a young, mixtape-era Iamsu! and might not reflect the current palate of the multi-platinum rapper and producer from Richmond. (In fact, that’s probably true of every rapper on this list, so take these lyrics with a grain of salt.) But when I first heard this song in my 20s, it’s a line that did — and still does — resonate for its unglamorized celebration of living on a low-budget microwaveable diet while maintaining a glimmer of high-life ambition. Personally, I’d take chicken strips over escargot nine out of ten times. And, from the sound of it, so would Suzy 6 Speed.

The rapper P-Lo wiggles his fingers in delight over a plate of chicken wings sitting on a bed of dollar bills.
P-Lo often raps about his love of chicken (chicken adobo, fried chicken, chicken wings), and his favorite food-related slang word is also “chicken” (as a stand in for “money”). (Torre / @torre.pentel)

P-Lo: Chicken wings in the strip club on “Going To Work

“In the strip club eating chicken wings.”

There may not be another rapper on this list with as much love for chicken wings as Pinole’s P-Lo. For starters, the lyricist and producer launched a transnational food tour,  teaming up with Filipino restaurants around the U.S. and Canada to deliver collaborative one-off dishes, including his own spicy sinigang wings at Señor Sisig in Oakland. If that’s not enough, he has popped up on popular social media channels like Bay Area Foodz as he searches for the best wings around the Yay. His songs are even featured on national commercials for Wingstop. For P-Lo, it’s always time to bring back the bass — and taste.

Guap (formerly Guapdad 4000): Chicken adobo on “Chicken Adobo

“How I fell in love with you it was beautiful / Like chicken adobo how you fill me up.”

For the Black Filipino American rapper from West Oakland, food has always played a central role in his upbringing. The anime-loving, Marvel comics fan grew up in a Filipino household eating champorado, and his songs have never shied away from references to his dual cultures. In what might be his most well-known song, Guap equates romantic satiation to filling up on a bowl of chicken adobo. His love of food goes beyond the booth — he recently spoke out on the recent Keith Lee fiasco, and he also put together a map of his favorite places to eat around The Town.

Cellski: Canadian bacon, hash browns and cheddar cheese on “Chedda

“Gotta get the cheddar, fuck the [federals].”

As most food mentions in Bay Area rap goes, Cellski’s mention of this quintessentially North American breakfast combo isn’t exactly a homage to the real ingredients, as much as it is a reference to his hustling. His 1998 album cover for Canadian Bacon & Hash Browns features a cartoon depiction of the rapper getting pulled over and arrested by a Canadian mountie, with an open trunk revealing pounds of medicinal herbs. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance that the veteran San Francisco spitter actually does like to carry Canadian bacon, hash browns and cheddar around — he’s a part-time foodie who runs his own burger pop-up, after all.

Illustration of the rapper Dru Down in gold sunglasses and a black trench coat, holding an ice cream cone in one hand and an ice cream sundae on the table in front of him.
In a famous 1996 beef, Dru Down and the Luniz accused New Orleans rapper Master P (who started his musical career in the Bay Area) for stealing their concept of the “Ice Cream Man” — slang for a narcotics dealer. (Torre / @torre.pentel)

Dru Down: Ice cream on “Ice Cream Man” (with the Luniz)

“Get your ice cream, ice cream / Not Ice-T, not Ice Cube, ice cream.”

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Not intended for children, the classic 1993 anthem off Dru Down’s Fools From The Street paints a startling picture of addiction and illicit drug distribution around Oakland in the wake of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs. Despite its unapologetic content, “Ice Cream Man” went on to establish an indisputably popular food motif in national rap music: ice cream as a stand-in for drug dealing. Since the production includes an audio sampling of an ice cream truck’s inimitable tune, listening to it evokes a sense of nostalgia for the frozen treat — and for golden-era Bay Area hip-hop.

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