Iamsu! rides a new wave of Bay Area hip-hop
Ever go dumb at a sideshow and show people your thizz face while ghost-riding the whip? Probably not. But perhaps you remember hyphy—that short-lived Bay Area craze championed by acts like E-40 and Keak da Sneak. Sort of a response to crunk, in the mid ’00s it was billing itself as a movement, and for a minute it seemed like it might go mainstream. And then it didn’t, and today hyphy’s lasting legacy is a bunch of YouTube clips of teenagers from Middle America ghost-riding their parents’ whips.
Born Sudan Williams, Iamsu!, the 23-year-old rapper, producer, and de facto leader of the Heart Break Gang, remembers the hyphy movement, sort of. “I didn’t see any of that shit. I couldn’t go to the sideshow. My mom wouldn’t let me do that,” he tells the Straight while driving—presumably with two hands firmly on the wheel.
Iamsu! and the HBK Gang, along with cloud rappers Main Attrakionz and consummate weirdo Lil B the BasedGod, are part of a wave of interesting, young hip-hop artists turning eyes back to the Yay Area.
“Amazing and flourishing. It’s a hotbed of new talent and new sounds,” the man with the million-dollar afro responds, when asked how he’d characterize the Bay Area scene right now. (He was equally quick-witted when asked how one grows a million-dollar afro: “You believe in it, and then you just don’t cut your hair.”)
Iamsu! is following the tried and true blueprint for success in hip-hop: release a steady stream of mix tapes, be active on social media, and collaborate with bigger names whenever possible. He’s put his stamp on upcoming tracks with Sean Paul as well as 2 Chainz, who reached out to him via Twitter.
“He followed me and he DM’d me. I was like, ‘This cannot be fucking real.’ I checked his page and it was verified. That’s how we connected.”
Since Su has also contributed verses to LoveRance’s “Up!” (chorus: “I beat the pussy up up up up up up up”); Jonn Hart’s “Who Booty” (chorus: “Who booty? Who booty? Who booty is it?”); and Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal” (chorus: “Slow down, grab the wall/Wiggle like you tryna make yo ass fall off/Hella thick I wanna smash ’em all”), one might assume that the etymology of Heart Break Gang is obvious.
Not so, Su explains. “The Heart Break Gang, it’s not about breaking girls’ hearts. It’s about pushing ourselves to the limit. There’s a lot of struggle that comes with doing this. That’s why it’s Heart Break Gang.”
Fortunately, we have the website Rap Genius to clear up misunderstandings like this. Unfortunately, like any user-generated content site, it’s not always on point. “Can I go on there and get stuff fixed? How does that work? They always make it sound way more vulgar than my shit actually is. What the fuck?” he wonders, jokingly.
In spite of that, maybe if we had Rap Genius in 2005 all those kids who crashed their parents’ cars would have been able to understand hyphy slang and it would have actually been a movement.