While most people know at least something about Bay Area hip-hop artists like Too $hort, Digital Underground, and E-40, San Francisco’s iconic rap legends have largely gone unrecognized outside of the area. Sadly, that’s not surprising, considering how little media attention has been paid to this city’s vibrant, yet relatively unknown hip-hop scene. In appreciation of San Francisco’s hip-hop pioneers, I’ve thrown together my picks for the most influential and impactful songs from artists we proudly claim as our own. While this list is by no means definitive (it’s heavily skewed toward the 1990s), it represents my personal picks for songs that defined Frisco hip-hop for my generation. So light up your Vegas and gurp off my list of the 11 classic tracks from the Sucka Free!
Bored Stiff - Unreleased Songs (1990s)
Unreleased demo tapes were a huge part of the local underground hip-hop experience. No group better exemplifies this than the infamous 12-person crew collectively known as Bored Stiff. Unlike other artists on this list, these pioneers don’t really have any one single you could point to as their anthem. Instead, their widely circulated, hand-dubbed mixtapes of raw, heartfelt songs traveled from person to person, defining the underground SF sound for an entire generation. They continued to release classic albums like Explainin’ and Timeless and have achieved icon status in the Bay Area rap scene both as a group and as individuals. However, for this nostalgic listener, nothing beats the realness captured in demos like these. The Stiff Exists.
Paris - "Days of Old"
From the time Paris released The Devil Made Me Do It, this gravelly voiced, militant rap icon was dropping funk-inspired beats that hit dance floors as hard as they did the mind. Even more of a political firebrand than Chuck D., Paris’ songs were often met with hostility from the media and record labels that either curtailed airplay or flat out disassociated themselves with his music. Even with his controversial reputation, this summertime jam was so powerful in 1992 that it stayed in heavy rotation on KMEL and in every boom box.
San Quinn - "Shock the Party"
San Quinn: Ask most people about Frisco rap and that’s the first name to roll off their lips. Dude’s been at it since the age of 12 and hasn’t stopped. Quinn’s legend has only grown, and he has released numerous songs that deserve to be on this list – but for the impact it had at the time and the classic Frisco video shot in the Fillmore, this is the joint.
Young Cellski - "Livin in the Bay"
Lakeview’s Young Cellski was simply one of the best producer/rappers to ever come out of the city. When the synthesizer whistle hits, there’s no denying this heat. Cellski’s stark, almost sociopathic depiction of gang violence in the city was a far cry from the stylized rhymes of many of his contemporaries and speaks to the conditions many kids in Frisco had to endure. While the whole Mr. Predictor album was spectacular from beginning to end, this track in particular stands out as a classic Frisco track that still gets me juiced!
11/5 - "Garcia Vegas"
If you smoked weed in 1990s SF, Garcia Vegas were the preferred blunts to roll with. No one captured this iconic SF ritual better than Hunters Point’s very own 11/5. Their cover of The Time song "The Walk" was a tried and true favorite of smokers from Haight Street to Oakdale Ave. While Vegas have lost popularity due to increased competition and health concerns (cough, cough), this song remains one of the city’s all-time classic jams.
Ill Mannered Posse - "Scandalous"
I remember my friend playing me this song in his family’s living room in 1989 and it changed my world. With a stripped downbeat and hyperaggressive lyrics, you could tell Cougnut (RIP) and Lakeview’s Ill Mannered Posse were not to be fucked with. Ask any ’70s baby from the city and they’ll tell you the same.
Hugh E MC - "H-Nigga Groove (aka Keep a Bitch Broke)"
Legendary rapper Hugh E MC and DJ-XI released their first full-length album, Gangsta Knowledge, in 1990 and indelibly left their mark on SF rap. Stacked with classic songs, the album was an instant classic in the streets and on local radio stations like 89.5 KPOO, one of the only stations to play real underground hip-hop. My Poetry, It’s The Game, and Gangsta-Matic were also all classics in their own right, but when it comes to that raw, SF pimp shit, this is THE track.
Rappin’ 4-Tay - "Playaz Club"
In the fall of 1994, you couldn’t drive a block without hearing Rappin’ 4-Tay’s megahit “Playaz Club” bumping from the trunk of somebody’s ride. Perfectly capturing 4-Tay’s laid-back flow, the song was an instant radio classic and the video even reached a national audience with exposure on MTV.
JT the Bigga Figga - "Game Recognize Game"
With a lack of major label attention, aspiring rappers in the SFC had to hustle to create a buzz and get their paper. No one exemplifies this trait more than Fillmore’s own JT the Bigga Figga. Aside from being the producer and mentor of numerous SFC rappers like GLP (Get Low Playaz), San Quinn, and many others, this self-released track from 1993 not only changed the game but also created the blueprint for self-made rappers everywhere, from Daz Dillinger to The Game. In the words of the man himself, “Can’t Stop the Hustle.”
RBL Posse - "Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed"
This was the anthem for every kid who knew the difference between “dank” and “bammer” and only wanted to puff on that dank right. Hunters Point’s RBL Posse, fronted by Black C and Mr. Cee (RIP) were legends in the Frisco rap scene and their music was light-years ahead of anything else at the time. This track sums up what our city is all about: “…We don’t smoke that shit in the SFC.”
Dre Dog - "Smoke Dope and Rap"
If you ask me, there isn’t a better, more representative track of that OG Frisco rap. Dre Dog aka Andre Nickatina is not only a citywide legend but has connected with fans across the globe. When this track drops at a club, you can pretty much guarantee that any native within earshot throws their hands in the air and sings along to every word of this classic Frisco anthem. “I smoke chewy like a mother-fucking nut…” The rest is history.
Added bonus: Check out Charles' Classic Frisco Rap mix on Spotify.