In 2006 the hyphy movement was ghost-ridin high. After suffering through more than a decade of being ignored by hip-hop, the Bay Area was suddenly a sensation. Everyone from The Source to the New York Times was writing about E-40 and his compatriots, and then, just like that, America got bored. To the rest of the country hyphy was a joke, a sideshow (pun intended) that it threw away as soon as the next hot thing came around. Hyphy...is...dead. Hyphy is not dead – at least it’s not in the Bay, not as long as …
DJBooth Album Review
Hyphy is not dead – at least it’s not in the Bay, not as long as Keak da Sneak is still breathing. If America remembers Keak at all it’s as “that guy in the E-40 song.” But for everyone who’s ever lived in the fog enshrouded confines of the Bay Area, Keak is more than a local celebrity, he’s a local legend. Apparently Keak thinks even more highly of himself, going so far as to title his new album Deified. (If you don’t own a dictionary, “deified” means to become a god.) Well “god” is pushing it, Deified isn’t that good, so Keak will have to settle for being a mere mortal. He’s a man amongst men, but a mortal none-the-less.
America’s starting to say Keak’s name again, even if it’s just a whisper, and the reason is That Go. The track started out as a local smash, prompting Keak to recruit some bigger names in the form of Prodigy and Alchemist for the album version. That Go breaks every rule for a hit single there is: the beat’s too slow, the chorus is minimal and the lyrics are ambiently strange, but that difference is exactly why it works. Unfortunately the original was better than the remix, but what else is new? Still, That Go’s local flavor is just too weird to go national, and that’s where the requisite track for the ladies comes in. Nothing Without You takes Keak’s usual roof-stomping style and flips it for a slow-paced ode to his girl. The female fans will love it, which is probably the most important trait a song can have, but everyone else will be bored. I appreciate the versatility, but if I wanted a slow jam I’ve got a brand new Usher album in the stereo. Keak’s gravel soaked voice is good for a lot of things, producing romantic tracks is not one of them.
Deified is its best when it revels in unapologetically slapping beats and block stomping choruses. Or more accurately, when Keak’s voice is at its grittiest. That voice, like sandpaper rubbed over broken glass, is what made Keak famous, but it’s the way he uses it that’s made him a legend. Bay Area residents will be glad to see the local classic Super Hyphy making an appearance, and Keak’s vocal cords turn the otherwise predictable Stock With Game into a captivating listen. On the flip side, Keak’s voice can be as much of a blessing as a curse, particularly over the course of a way too long 23-song album. The man’s a vastly underrated lyricist, just listen to the ode to his hometown Oakland, but it’s hard to blame listeners for passing him by when they can’t make out what he’s saying half the time. That’s why historically his best tracks have been with E-40 by his side. Just witness All I Know, a thizzed-out joint that finds perfection in the balance between Keak’s shotgun blast verse and 40-Water’s schizophrenically rapid-fire joint (and the always good never great Clyde Carson shows up too). The Bay takes particular pride in it’s often impenetrably slang, and rightly so, but that also means most of America won’t understand half of All I Know. The real question then becomes is Keak simply not capable of making a smash record, or does he just not care?
It turns out the success of Tell Me When To Go was an aberration, a musical moment when all the stars aligned for the Bay. The truth is that hyphy probably won’t produce another nationally prominent album again, and if it does it won’t be Deified. But this album isn’t for America. This album is for Oakland and Richmond and Vallejo and Bayview Hunters Point and the Fillmore. Every young rapper should look to Keak Da Sneak’s career as a blueprint. Because in the end, America may love your music for a moment, but if you can earn the love of your hometown, that love will last a lifetime.
Listen to More: Keak Da Sneak Written by Nathan S.
All N Da Doe/E1 Music
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"N Fronta Yo Momma House" (2007)
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