In Post-Hyphy Bay Area rap music, a revolution is certainly under way. Rappers of the bay area no longer stand as Hyphy clones looking to kill the club one beat at a time. No, something much weirder is evolving. And yes, Keak Da Sneak was not invited (but the Pack was!).I’m talking ambient rap.
Starting with 23 year old Berkeley rapper Lil B should be obvious – he is the face of twitter rap, for better or for worse. It’s as if his brand of rapping – delightfully called “based rap” for his alleged freebase cocaine use and unhinged content – is completely alien language. Lil B is a monster on youtube, with hundreds upon hundreds of videos he made for his songs, and his main gig includes writing some nonsense  about his sneakers over Hyphy beats with the Pack.

Truthfully, Lil B is like Lil Wayne on steroids: where Wayne takes absurdist hip-hop rhymes to dizzying heights (look up his song 3 Peat, for reference), Lil B’s brand of absurdism carefully intercepts reality by rapping about everyday occurrences in a strange voice with the occasional yelling of “Whoop” or “Swag” to break up the monotony. It is rap music’s classic clichés (objectification of women, selling drugs, murder, etc.) grounded into the nonsense that they are in 2011.

What makes Lil B’s brand of hip-hop ambient isn’t just the choice of beats on this track (by the absolute maestro Clams Casino, if you’re wondering), but in his way of making the verses mean nothing. Traditional rapping “skills” like wordplay or choruses are not same here, as Lil B’s objective is to represent himself as god—”the Based God.” Of course, a god has no one judging above, nor does it have to be present, on earth or above. Lil B’s rap is an extension of his created persona – angelic though harsh, punishing but also rewarding, for the minions. It’s pure fantasy rap, coming out Lil B’s heaven, yet presented as urban reality.  Lil B is a mix between all these conflicting issues trapped in the clichés. All these contradictions seem to underscore the main artistic goal of the music – when you’re god, who will understand what you say? (Swag).

If Lil B wants to be god, lording over an urban fantasyland spouting nonsense language to his twitter followers, then Main Attrakionz, a group out of Oakland, wish not to be heard at all. 20 year-old rappers Squadda B and MondreM.A.N rap under their Coldplay sampling beats as if they’re battling to see who can be quietest. It’s rap music which can put you into a lulling sleep if you don’t pay attention.


Their free and excellent mixtape, 808’s and Dark Grapes II, from Oakland’s Green Ova records, is the moment where Hip-Hop forgets to bring the “noize” and brings the white noise instead.

Squadda B and MondreM.A.N are well versed in classic gangsta rap, talking about their cars and jewelry with equal zest, but you have to try to hear them boast. Many of Main Attrakionz beats, including “Perfect Skies,” obscure their voices and create an ambient zone of negative space where the rapping should be. It’s as if the group is rapping “Perfect Skies” from the actual sky – music which gets lost in the clouds as it’s aimed at the angels. what the angels don’t understand in terms of language, they have translated in feeling.  In Main Attrakionz hands, words seem to slip through the cracks, becoming the least important part of their mood music.

These rappers are singular in conception and execution – you won’t catch any other rappers today deliberately making their voices quieter when the next Lex Luger shout rap beat can strike you a fortune. While rap can recycle clichés of being loudly young and powerful, or poor and hating it endlessly, it’s an absolute joy to hear someone get lost in their own fantasies.

Words don’t have to mean a thing when you’re dreaming right.