After old-school "mobb" groups like the Click began fizzling out on mainstream radio, West Coast artists grew less media-friendly: The next wave of Northern Cali gangstas (including Messy Marv, Guce, and Killa Tay) seemed considerably more homicidal than their antecedents. Yet as their themes got darker, their commercial viability also plummeted.
Recently, mobb MCs have begun stepping up their game to create funkier, hitworthy beats, verbally inventive rhymes, and tracks with higher replay value. Gangsta Without the Rap, the latest release from Bullys wit Fullys -- duo Guce and Killa Tay -- is arguably the most ambitious mobb rap album of the year, next to San Quinn's hit-oriented I Give You My Word and Frontline's Bootleg series. Save for the guy holding an M-16 on the back cover, it's overall a happy sequel to the group's prior West Side Stories, on which BWF posed with hockey masks. The Gangsta single, "What It Do" (featuring Keak da Sneak), is a brilliant homage to a favorite regional expression. Peppered with signature gurgles and growls and set to a grimy, boom-bap track with a looped flute on the hook, it's the most infectious song currently playing on KMEL's Chop Shop.
Messy Marv, who also is jockeying for play on Top 40 radio, also has adopted a more commercial sensibility on his new album, Disobayish. Known for the likable firecracker hits "That's What's Up" and "Baby," the album mostly foregrounds his adolescent sexual fantasies and wanton braggadocio. Productionwise, it steers more in the direction of mainstream "crunk" music than the traditional gangsta fare of glacial beats overlaid with gunfire and sirens. While the singles are funky enough, the best track on Disobayish is actually Marv's more politically abhorrent ditty, "Stop Callin'," featuring E-40.
If KMEL's continual lip service to the "New Bay" is any indication, West Coast artists are bringing more depth to their music, and broadening the scope of what you can talk about -- if only to up their sales tallies by a few thousand. Still, the core values of mobb rap will never change: Messy Marv and Bullys wit Fullys still take delight in rapping about the most reprehensible behavior possible.