When I think of the hyphy movement, I think back to when the E-40 song “Tell Me When To Go” was on the radio. It was 2006, and the song was really popular, but at the time I had no idea about any sort of movement.
Hyphy, sometimes spelled hyfee, is the Bay Area music and dance style that gained mainstream attention in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the song are some “hyphy” gems: “Go dumb” refers to the hyper style of dancing that’s associated to the movement. And “ghostriding” or “ghostin’” is when someone gets out of a moving car and dances beside and around it. Both can be seen in the music video for the track:
Hyphy’s creator and Bay Area legend, Keak da Sneak, makes an appearance in the video as well with a guest verse. Keak Da Sneak first used the term “hyphy” to refer to the emerging Oakland subculture back in 1994. It was artists like the late Mac Dre, Mistah Fab, The Pack, and of course E-40 that brought hyphy to the front of hip hop culture.
But although E-40 is still in the limelight, doing tracks with everyone from Big Sean to Ty Dolla $ign to Schoolboy Q, hyphy has taken a major nose dive since its early 2000s peak.
To the Bay Area’s credit, some major talent has come out of the area in recent years. G-Eazy, Iamsu!, Sage the Gemini, Kehlani, Lil B, plus some other fresh faces. Their music, especially Iamsu! and G-Eazy, occasionally draws inspiration from the hyphy culture.Those same sharp and distinctive synth melodies frequent Iamsu’s music in the way that Mac Dre or Too $hort’s music did. But his music has outside influences as well. “Only That Real” feature’s a DJ Mustard-type cadence, and a more mainstream sound that is not the area’s own.
The music videos make even more of a difference. Keak da Sneak’s 2003 video “White T Shirt, Blue Jeans, & Nikes” features hyphy’s high energy dancing and street style. To compare, Sage The Gemini’s “Red Nose” video doesn’t feature dancing from a purely Bay Area influence. It’s much more mainstream:
So then where do you go to get hyphy?
Like New York and East Coast hip hop scenes, the Bay Area’s once distinct sound is now all over the place. Hip hop as a culture has become so universal, that there’s no way the Bay Area could stay so pure hyphy without a little outside influence from mainstream sounds like that of DJ Mustard or Mike Will Made-It.
But as E-40 has put it, “hyphy is energy, it’s letting’ yourself go, it’s down’ the fool, it’s actin’ the rectum, it’s a stress reliever, it’s letting’ your hair down..” Hyphy was a much clearer movement in the early 2000s for sure, but what style exists in the Bay now still has a lot of energy, and that’s what hyphy truly is at its core. The dances and the clothes may look different, but that energy never left.