Print & Magazine

‘Take It to the Bridge,’ CMJ New Music Monthly

Musically diverse, self-contained, self-supported, and artistically driven—most importantly, independent. Read about the early-aughts Bay Area music scene and its influence on Hieroglyphics.

The Bay Area’s new generation of beat poets.

Originally published in CMJ New Music Monthly
March 2000
Pages 60-61

Story: Billy Jam

A photograph of RUN DMC is featured on the cover of CMJ New Music Monthly. The title reads, "The Once and Future Kings of Rock?" RUN is wearing a fedora-like hat, resting his hand under his chin in a contemplative pose. Jam Master Jay is sporting a black cowboy-style hat, a leather jacket, and tinted glasses, gazing directly at the camera with a thoughtful expression. D.M.C. is wearing a navy blue beanie and has both fists clenched toward the camera, giving the impression that he is ready for action.
Hieroglyphics – CMJ New Music Monthly, March 2000

The Bay Area is unlike any other place on the planet,” says Blackalicious’ Chief Xcel. “Most definitely,” enthuses partner in rhyme Gift Of Gab, with whom he recorded the innovative new album, Nia. “The spectrum of Bay Area hip-hop is so broad its impossible to define. You ask one person what Bay Area hip-hop is and they say Invisibl Skratch Pikiz. Someone else might say Andre Nickatina or E40 and another might say Hieros or Peanut Butter Wolf or Quannum.”

In many ways the Quannum collective (which includes Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, and Latyrx) is a microcosm of Bay Area hip-hop; musically diverse, self-contained, self-supported, artistically (as opposed to commercially) driven and most importantly, independent. “[The Bay] almost forces you to be independent,” laughs Xcel.

A screenshot of the printed magazine article that reads, "Take It to the Bridge."
Hieroglyphics – CMJ New Music Monthly, March 2000

Domino, of fellow Bay Area hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics, knowingly agrees. “All the big labels are in New York and L.A.,” reminds the producer/manager/label boss who witnessed Hieroglyphics acts Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Souls Of Mischief, Casual, and Extra Prolific get dropped by majors. Domino helped the hip-hop collective set up their own indie label, Hieroglyphics Imperium, and its web site, The label’s recent single release by Del, “Phoney Phranchise,” may only sell a fraction of the units he did when he was signed to Elektra, but the artist says he’s better off. “You know I ain’t never seen no royalties from ‘Dobalina,'” notes Del, referring to his 1991 major label hit single.

“Being independent gives us more control on both a business and artistic level,” notes Souls Of Mischief’s Tajai. This includes freedom to collaborate with whom they want, when they want. Dels currently working with Dan The Automator, among others, while the Souls’ long list of collaborations include an album project with the Pharcyde and a contribution to the 1999 Quannum record.

If there’s any question that this community practices what it preaches, keep in mind that Quannum and Hieroglyphics, along with ABB Records and the Bay Area Hip-Hop Coalition (a collective of radio and club DJs), all share the same downtown Oakland office building.

A photograph of Blackalicious, the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and Del the Funky Homosapien.
Blackalicious, the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and Del the Funky Homosapien

“Obviously, it’s much more of a community here in the Bay,” offers DJ Mickey [aka Karen Dere], who runs the Hieroglyphics office, is a member of the BAHHC, and DJs on Berkeley college station KALX. “People grew up here and they tend to stay here, so every time you go out you’re bumping into people you know. Naturally that helps foster a creative environment.” Zion, of hip-hop trio Zion I, who relocated to the Bay from Atlanta, fully agrees.

“People out here come to check your shows at the Justice League or La Pena or the Maritime Hall, and the college radio shows are always down to support. Plus you can walk into [record stores like Rasputin’s or Amoeba and they’ll take your indie tape,” says the MC, whose new album Mind Over Matter (Ground Control) features a slew of Bay Area talent including Planet Asia, Rasco, Eclipse and the Grouch.

Living Legends, the Oakland and Los Angeles underground hip-hop collective that includes the Grouch and Mystik Journeymen, personifies the area’s DIY ethic. Stubbornly independent yet internationally renowned, the Mystik Journeymen have proven since the groups formation in 1991 that it’s possible to maintain artistic integrity in the dog-eat-dog record industry. When no labels would sign them, they created their own Outhouse Records. When no magazines would give them ink they published their own fanzine, Unsigned & Hella Broke and set up their own web site ( They also organized tours of Japan and Europe, scraping together budget airfares and sleeping on fans’ floors.

Back home in the East Bay they put on a slew of underground warehouse parties, including their appropriately titled “Hella Broke” shows where the price of admission was 99 cents and a packet of Top Ramen. The noodles fed them while the money paid off their overdue electric bills. And before record stores would carry their releases they walked up and down shopping areas such as Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or Haight Street in San Francisco hawking their tapes; a marketing approach known as “dirt hustlin'” applied by numerous others, including the Hobo Junction collective that includes Saafir & The WhoRidas.

One consistent outlet for all of the artists mentioned is college and community radio. “Stations like KPOO, KZSU and KALX lin San Francisco, Stanford, and Berkeley, respectively] have always been down with local hip-hop,” said DJ/producer J-Boogie, who hosts KUSF San Francisco’s popular “Beatsauce” show. Jeff “Zen” Chang, hip-hop journalist and former DJ at UC Davis station KDVS, sees the Bay’s radio network as a key factor.

“Very few people buy records without hearing them. Here in the Bay you have 20 or more shows and that means that any given day you can hear the music on the radio and that all feeds back and translates into sales.” At Amoeba Music, local indie artists regularly outsell national Billboard chart-toppers. At Amoeba’s Berkeley branch, Various Blends’ new CD, Levitude (Baraka Foundation) gets equal product placement with Rakim’s The Master. A few doors down Telegraph Avenue, the windows of Rasputin’s Records are graced with posters of both the Beatles and DJ QBert.

Turntablism plays a very important role in the Bay Area’s thriving hip-hop scene. San Francisco’s Bomb Hip-Hop label almost single-handedly kick-started the movement back in 1995 with the release of the premiere Return Of The DJ compilation. And a majority of the global movement’s top names hail from the Bay Area, including QBert, Mixmaster Mike, Shortkut and The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, DJ Shadow, Peanut Butter Wolf, Dan The Automator, DJ Design, DJ Disk, and The Space Travelers (Quest, Cue, Eddie Def, Marz). So when Doug Pray, director of Hype! (the documentary on Seattle’s grunge scene) recently began shooting his latest documentary about turntablists (under the working title VINYL), he found himself spending a lot of time in the Bay.

“Bay Area DJs will, without even trying, make up a big part of the film,” says Pray, who has filmed and interviewed many of the aforementioned Bay Area DJs. He projects a late-2000 release of the feature-length documentary.

“Maybe there’s so many DJs here ’cause the best selection of record stores is here,” laughs Peanut Butter Wolf while crate-digging at Amoeba Music in San Francisco. Wolf, a self-described vinyl addict, is a big fan of the 7″ single and has released a series of the 45 rpm formats on his highly respected Stones Throw label.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, Blackalicious and the rest of Quannum-ambassadors of Bay Area hip-hop are busy between magazine interviews and concerts (including a high-profile live show on BBC Radio One), all the while representing the Bay and its indie hip-hop ethic. “Whatever you do, you have to be true to your art,” says Gift Of Gab. “Yeah,” adds Xcel, in true Bay Area hip-hop spirit, “it really is about controlling your own destiny.”

Reproduced on for educational purposes.