Bay Area hip-hop exists in a class unto itself. Not as commercial as our NY and LA counterparts, our independent nature and uncompromising hip-hop ethos emanate from every hyphy beat, every socially-conscious rhyme, and every figment of our unique style. This list isn’t about the best songs by Bay Area artists, so much as it’s a shouting out of songs that are about the Bay Area, in one way or another and it joins this earlier list about SF-centric songs as part of San Francisco Appreciation Week. Some new, some old, it doesn’t just lay down all the classics — what list could? — to make room for some new blood too. With that, here’s twenty game-changing tracks about the ups, downs, ins and arounds of the Bay. Yeee!
San Quinn, Boo Banga and Big Rich - “San Francisco Anthem”
These dudes rep everything from the FIllmore and Twin Peaks to Hunters Point and Hayes Valley (spare me the gentrification jokes, this track is all love.) They had me at the Scott McKenzie “San Francisco” sample, which underlies the track from start to finish. And nothing hits harder than San Quinn proclaiming “5-time champion, destroy any challenger/ Hit like Barry, score like Jerry.”
Hieroglyphics - “Oakland Blackouts”
While many look at 3rd Eye Vision album opener “You Never Knew” as the defining Hieroglyphics track, Del and Opio on “Oakland Blackouts” is the one that directly shouts out the city. This was the song that pulled me towards the Hiero Imperium with its car culture metaphors delivered with the signature Hiero fluency and a loaded reference to rolling blackouts that mired the city of Oakland throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s.
RBL Posse - “Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed”
Have there ever been any bars as prophetic as “Don’t gimme no bammer weed, we don’t smoke that shit in the SFC”? Our weed clubs are arguably the finest in the country, and even before the medicinal marijuana wave took over, the Bay Area was long-considered a destination for fine herbals. RBL Posse: The Bay Area pro-legalization nostradamus crew. ***puff***
Conscious Daughters - “We Roll Deep”
Pioneers of early 90’s Bay Area hip-hop, The Conscious Daughters (CMG and Special One) put down on “We Roll Deep” an Oakland-centric cut akin to the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “Summertime.” And in classic Oakland summer style, this jam is all about 40s and reefer.
Zion I - “Konkrete Jungle”
Sure, you could cite the more overt “The Bay” as being the defining Zion I cut about the Bay, but “Konkrete Jungle” personifies the area’s grit, then extrapolates it into other cities. it never sounded realer. The hook is rugged and tough and the last line samples Gang Starr. “Konkrete Jungle” typifies the eat-or-be-eaten life that many lived in inner-city Oakland, and it’s the lynchpin of Zion I’s rap-cum-drum and bass masterpiece Mind Over Matter.
Ain't it a pity
That you hate this city
But the way you feel, ain't no big deal
You got to survive
You got to survive
You got to survive
Mystic (ft. Planet Asia) - “W”
This was my jam of jams way back when. Oakland’s Mystic and Fresno’s Planet Asia team up for this Grammy-nominated nod to the natural beauty of the West Coast and Cali. Much like the flowery vibe Mystic purveys in the Adams Point-set video for “The Life,” the Digital Underground collaborator nails it on this one off of her 2001 debut.
People Under The Stairs - “San Francisco Knights”
If there was ever a line that painted the picture of Bay Area hip-hop in the 90’s it’s “the bass is hittin’ so hard that the CD skips.” People Under The Stairs’ Thes One and Double K pay homage to the late 60’s jazz psychedelia of Gabor Szabo & The California Dreamers’ “San Francisco Nights” on this track, while they climb hills and burn one staring out at the city’s scenery.
Childish Gambino - “III. Telegraph Ave (“Oakland” by Lloyd)”
Gambino personifies the breadth of his relationship through where the apple of his eye lives: Oakland. The only way to be with her (Oakland) is to be there in the flesh. It’s about the perils of a long-distance relationship, pining to be in the city where he’s left his love. I dare you to walk out of the 19th St-Downtown Oakland BART stop ‘Telegraph Ave’ exit and not not start singing this song ad nauseum.
Pep Love - “Pacific Heights”
The Hieroglyphics sage, nobody has a voice like Pep Lava. And on "Pacific Heights", he extols the virtues of the Bay and beyond. “We got some real hard hitters in the East O/ We got some real hard hitters in Vallejo/ We got some real hard hitters in the Bay yo.” Pep’s sonata celebrates all that is great about the road up and down the Pacific Coast.
Mac Dre ft. Raphael Saadiq - “It’s Raining Game (in Northern California)”
Want to know how to make any rap cut velvety as hell? Put Raphael Saadiq on the hook. Damn this shit is silky. In fact, This is straight up unfair and a player’s anthem if I ever heard one. Extra points for that guitar outro: Mac Dre da GOAT.
E-40 - “Choices (Yup)” [Warriors Edition]
Find me a person who hears a different song in their head when thinking of the Warriors 2015 championship run and I’ll show you a liar. “Choices (Yup)” is arguably the best song Earl Stevens created in the 2010’s and the Warriors redux was the soundtrack to greatness. I’m transported to Pop’s Bar on 24th St, with this jam playing during all commercials of finals games. Shouts out E-40.
Equipto ft. Mike Marshall - “Heart & Soul”
“This the West/ til the day that I pass/ I’mma rep SF.” Can we ever question Equipto’s desire? Most recently in the news as a member of the Frisco 5, the group of activists whose hunger strike campaign against SFPD Chief Suhr contributed to his removal, Equipto is nothing if not political, having lambasted the mayor at ever turn.
Keak Da Sneak & BA - “Town Business”
On the ultimate East Oakland track, Keak Da Sneak’s reels off all the neighborhoods he rolls in. With a hyphy bass line and G-Funk effects, Keak punctuates hella hard with “I write my verses in the bathroom so I know they the shit.” You can’t top that!
IAMSU! Ft. Too $hort & E-40 - T.W.D.Y.
I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone doing this Bay Area shit better than IAMSU right now, but this track really takes the requisite Bay Area turn when Too $hort and E-40 step to the mic. It’s the new blood giving way to the forefathers and back and it hits on all levels.
Kamaiyah - “Ain’t Goin Home”
More new blood and Kamiyah is doin’ some serious work. The auteur behind A Good Night In The Ghetto — one of the best Bay Area hip-hop releases of 2016 — drops a throwback Oakland summer jam. She sings “We ain’t goin home tonight/ We get Oakland live” and it makes you wanna hop in a convertible swagged out with hydraulics and just cruise.
Caleborate - “Gotta Know” ft. Cash Campain & Cadence
Perhaps the brightest star in Bay Area hip-hop, Caleborate made waves with 2015’s Hella Good and is on the cusp of blowin’ up with this year’s incredible 1993. “Gotta Know” is Caleb at his deepest and most melancholy as he details the despair he sees around him and flashes hope with the heavy hook “You Gotta Know/ I just wanna make it from the place where the skinny niggas die every day.” Don’t sleep on this dude, it’s next level stuff.
Mac Mall - “Crestside”
Cause you can’t talk about classic cuts about The Bay without bringing up Vallejo and Mac Mall. Mac and E-40 led the charge from the 707 and this track tells the tale of the Crestside projects in “The Block” of Vallejo.
2Pac ft. Dr. Dre- “California Love”
I’ve already opened the floodgates on tracks about the Bay and beyond so let’s just throw this one in the mix. 2Pac always repped the Bay after his days growing up in Marin City and the Bay is prominently featured on this all-timer. “From Oakland to Sac-Town, Bay Area and back down” 2pac shouts. And this track rang anthemic through the whole damn state.
Rafael Casal - Bay Area Slang
Hey there recent Bay Area transplant, want to learn how to talk like a Bay Area native? Just play this song and learn its teachings (note: this won’t actually work, but you can try.) On the real though, this might be the most comprehensive lesson in Bay Area slang on the market.
Too $hort - “Blow The Whistle”
You didn’t think I was gonna leave you without a $hort Dawg cut, did you? Too $hort is Oakland and while he nods to all his contemporaries from other locales on “Blow The Whistle,” he always places the lens back on himself: “I come from East Oakland where the youngstas get hyphy.” PRO TIP: Go to a Raider game and listen for “Blow The Whistle” to come on after a pivotal touchdown (those happen in Oakland now) and, as the whole stadium sings along, you'll be witnessing the most Oakland moment possible.