I met a ton of people while I was out in the Bay to profile HBK Gang for The FADER; not all of them appeared in the finished story. These characters and scenes didn’t make the cut, but I’d like to remember them.
People I told about this story were like, Why are there 20 guys? There were two metaphors I could think of to explain how such a big rap crew works. You could think of HBK like a winning minor league baseball team, drafting and employing exceptional amateurs and prepping them for the big leagues. Or you could think of it like Vermont’s best artisanal cheese factory, using regional know-how to create a unique and coveted product, delivered to high-end boutiques nationwide in nicely designed packages.
If the Bay were a draft pool and HBK a major league team, Jay Ant would have been a first-round pick. He was semi famous well before HBK, as a member of Myspace-era group the Diligentz, who were contemporaries of The Pack. Now, Jay Ant is one of most experimental members of HBK, with a stud nose ring and very trippy-seeming tape on the horizon.
It’s hard to imagine HBK existing without The Pack, who were one of the Bay’s first rap crews to catch fire specifically in Berkeley and “on up” into the suburbs. Kuya Beats claimed “the Zumiez at Richmond Hilltop Mall sold more Vans than any other place in California,” after The Pack’s 2006 song “Vans” became an internet and radio hit. “You could never buy a pair of Vans out of Zumiez because they were always sold out,” he told me over cookies and tea at his mom’s house.
When Kool John was a toddler, his babysitter played a Jodeci tape on repeat. All of the HBK guys are cool, but Kool John might be the coolest.
Iamsu still drives the Toyota convertible he bought after he scored his first radio hit, “Up!.” He talked a lot about what car he’ll buy next, but didn’t seem in a rush to actually get it.
Speaking of cars: I bought myself a used car in 2007. It was the most valuable thing I’d ever purchased. I drove it from my parents’ house in Georgia back to college in Oregon, and in San Francisco, where I’d parked in front of a Mac Dre mural, its windows were smashed. It was so sad and also felt, from what I can remember, like the actual beginning of my adult life. I told P-Lo that story after he said something very #real that didn’t ultimately end up in the story: “There’s nothing flashy about the Bay Area. You don’t come here to be flashy, cause if you come here to be flashy, most likely, somebody’s gonna rob you. So people just work and create. Everybody from here, we’re just creative.”
P-Lo’s big brother Kuya Beats got a four-year college degree, for history at UC Berkeley. On a great driving tour of the North Bay, he talked about the legacy of Richmond’s Chevron Refinery, which employed tons of people and had hundreds of toxic accidents. According to Kuya, some kids in Richmond are awarded settlement money from Chevron as compensation for environmental damages, on their 18th birthdays. Because of this, Kuya says Su once had plans to release a tape called 18 Money.
Daghe’s name got written in and then taken out of the story a couple of times. He’s a photographer and scene king who directed at least one HBK video. He also throws parties and releases DJ mixes; basically a pro-bono vibes manager for the HBK guys plus any/all young weird kids in Oakland and its satellite towns.
Daghe was one of *so many* visitors that stopped through HBK’s Emeryville studio session. The most memorable of the lot was Ezale, an aspiring Oakland rapper who came by to meet P-Lo. That night they got hella blazed together. Later in the week, P-Lo had Ezale open up for him at a show in Santa Cruz, where Too Short was the headliner. Ezale made an incredible viral video that still hasn’t really gone viral:
Another visitor that night was a high school teacher. He said that his students hadn’t been cursing at him as much since one pupil spotted him in an Iamsu video, and realized that he knew Sage the Gemini. The teacher had been milking this, promising to bring Sage by if the kids were good.
It feels worth noting that a majority of the HBK guys have worked in after-school programs, teaching music or coaching sports. In part, I think this is where their focus on being accountable to a community-supporting team comes from. P-Lo quit his coaching job at Pinole Middle only after he landed “Bout Me” on Wiz Khalifa’s album. JR, the crew’s in-house junior manager, still coaches.
Chief and Su were best friends in high school and Su calls Chief HBK’s “essence.” These days, Chief juices, runs and carries around huge bottles of water. His diet is revered by the rest of the guys, if not emulated.
It’s widely reported (and written on Wikipedia) that Iamsu! produced the “Gas Pedal” beat. He didn’t though—that’s Sage’s beat.
The magazine story ends after Sage and Su play Cali Christmas. Later that night in LA, Sage and Su did a brief club show in Hollywood. On the hour-long drive there, they listened to their own new songs super loud. At the club, Sage hilariously trolled the wobbly crowd from the stage, saying “make some noise if you took a shower today.” On the way home, Su played songs he thought Sage should hear, like the Daft Punk song with Panda Bear and an old Busta/Kelis collab. Earlier in the week, Sage had told me he was still star-struck by Su. I found that a little strange, since Sage is arguably way more famous. But in the car, watching Su put Sage on to shit like a big brother or senior hanging out with a rad sophomore, I got it.