Thursday, May 31, 2007


In the late nineties I lived in a run-down Victorian on MacAllister and Steiner, around the corner from the infamous Fillmo’ projects of San Francisco. There was an amazing inequality between the residents of the Fillmo and the rest of SF, which was in the orgiastic throes of the boom. The average monthly income of project denizens was around 10 – 12 thousand a year, which wouldn’t even cover most people’s yearly rent.

I remember one morning walking past Eddy and Steiner at 6:30, and seeing loads of police in riot gear swarming the projects and herding people into paddy wagons. It turned out that the project in question was basically taken over by crack dealers. There was a lot of that going on in those parts. I’d pass dealers smoking weed in front of the police station on Filmore and Eddy on my way to work, and the corners were always full of young dudes hanging out, looking shady.

There were several homicides that I heard of in my four years there, not counting the non-fatal driveby shooting in front of my house. Of course, I only heard about the murders that my roommates were witness to or that made the papers because they involved a football player or some other tragic figure. There were countless more homicides that involved people no one cared about shooting other people no one cared about, written off as “gang-related” (read: black on black ie. Does Not Affect Us). There were RIPs spray-painted on corners, trying to preserve the memory of the deceased against the elements and the sand-blasters.

I won’t lie: the project thugs scared the crap out of me. They were young, pissed off, and had nothing to lose. Their whole being was attitude and front. They’d swagger across the streets in slow motion, pants sagging, just begging motorists to honk at them so they could get into a scuffle. People got killed for nothing – flirting with someone’s girlfriend, dissing someone, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m not the type to mess with anyone, but I especially don’t mess with people who got nothing to lose and everything to prove, whether it be the thugged-out kids on the street corners of the fillmo, or the roided out, wasted dudes trolling the marina on the weekends looking to drink some beer and kick some ass.

The disparity between the young men in the Fillmo and the rest of the city was mind-boggling. They had nothing to do with the world outside of their neighborhood, and the world outside of their neighborhood had nothing to do with them. People right up the street were getting rich off computer money, going out to eat at expensive restaurants, buying expensive cars, and they were scraping by in their scrapers, hustling for a living etc.. Totally different realities.

I was reminded of all this recently when I was listening to “So Hood” by Fillmo rap group Bullys wit Fullys. The Bullys are Messy Marv and Guce (pronounced, against all rules of English spelling, as “Juice”). The Bullys have been around for a while, and do their own version of Mobb music, which is the Bay Areas version of gangsta rap. And they are unapologetically gangsta, going as far as putting out an album titled “Gangsta Without the Rap” and declaring in rhyme “I’m a gangsta, not a rapper!”..
“So Hood” is a damn catchy song. It’s got a funky synth sound courtesy of Ea-Ski. The song is an ode to being a gang-banger, drug-dealer, coke-snorter, and all around badass.

“It's the project lover
But I'm a gang banger, and a drug smuggler
Gucey Guce, dope boy with the cake mix
I'm naked with it in the kitchen doin' late shift
See I been bout it, other niggaz rap about it”

They also throw in some classic bay area slang like
“Bitch I thizz and play with my nose” (translation: I like to take ecstasy and snort cocaine).

In some ways, I admire their balls and pride in their situation. There is a prevailing attitude in gangsta rap of “you think I’m a thug? Ima show you what a thug is!!” Or as NWA so nicely put it, “if you don’t like how I’m living then fuck you!” However, listening to the track, I couldn’t help but feel really sad. I’ve heard thousands of rappers spew the same type of lyrics, but never had it hit so close. Here they are bragging about being part of the poisonous lifestyle that keeps bay area cities’ homicide statistics in the triple digits, and has stunted Bay Area hip hop because all the MCs keep getting thrown in jail (like Marv himself). I admire their sense of pride, but I wish they were rapping about a lifestyle that was worth bragging about.

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