- Bert Johnson
- With his latest album, Son of a Pimp, Pt. 2, Mistah F.A.B. embraces his role as a community leader and activist.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Stanley Cox stood on the corner of 45th and Market Streets, a low-key North Oakland block where neighbors frequently hang out in front of the laundromat and liquor store. This is near where Cox grew up — before he became known as Oakland rap star Mistah F.A.B — and the intersection has always been a home base. These days, though, it's also where he's realizing a lifelong dream: a store for his clothing brand, Dope Era.
Neighbors popped their heads into the shop to say hello, or to ask F.A.B. about his seven-year-old daughter, Libby. Youngsters filming a music video outside beckoned him to do a cameo. Elders waved at him from across the street. It was as if the entire neighborhood wanted to welcome the hyphy pioneer and storied battle-rapper back home.
F.A.B. is a Bay Area legend, a man whose name is often mentioned in the same breath as E-40 and Too $hort. "He's an OG in the rap game now," is how E-40 himself described F.A.B. in an interview with the Express. "When he first came in, he was a pup.
"Now he a full-fledged Great Dane."
But in the cultural zeitgeist of hip-hop, F.A.B. is still strongly associated with the hyphy movement, and he's the first to admit to his roots. Hyphy rappers touted a party-centric lifestyle, and F.A.B. made many of its cultural exports — like ghost-riding the whip — famous to the masses. Although his discography is diverse, and he has departed from his pill-popping Da Yellow Bus Rydah days, he said in an interview at the soon-to-be opened shop that he feels his most casual listeners associate him with the gimmicks of the mid- and late-Aughts and fail to appreciate the breadth of his body of work — much of which touches on sociopolitical themes and deep-seated personal issues.
The 34-year-old hopes to change public perception with his latest album, Son of a Pimp, Pt. 2: a 21-track magnum opus five years in the making, the long-awaited follow-up to Son of a Pimp, which put F.A.B. on the map in 2005. The record marks an artist entering his second act in life, a rapper embracing his role as community leader and grass-roots activist, and a lyricist bringing the sociopolitical themes of his work full circle.
F.A.B. said he's motivated to step up and be a face for the community. "The Bay Area has always had a stronghold on social awareness," he explained. "[But] I don't see anyone who's in the ranks, or on the frontlines [of hip-hop], addressing those things."
The F.A.B. of 2016 hears this calling. His next goal is to fully live up to his nickname: the mayor of North Oakland.
Tapping into the Black Panthers' legacy
Inside Dope Era, F.A.B. discussed the trappings of the hyphy label. "Even to this day, people don't comprehend my artistry in its entirety," he explained. "But every artist, good or great, is never understood. It takes years."
And, he conceded, "Yeah, I felt like I was pigeonholed."
In contrast to hyphy-movement stereotypes, Mistah F.A.B. comes across as a deep thinker. He's committed to Black liberation, and the philosophy of the Black Panthers is at the core of his music and philanthropic projects. During his interview with the Express, he wore a red, green, and black woven bracelet on his wrist and mentioned that he's a member of a Pan African-American study group that surveys the writings of Huey P. Newton and George Jackson. He's also a fan of Ernest Hemingway and German philosopher Hegel, and is an avid reader of Darwinist theory. He confessed that, over the years, he's spent thousands of dollars at Marcus Books, the nation's oldest Black-owned bookstore, located just a few blocks from his 45th and Market headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 39th Street.
F.A.B. also said he now views success and social responsibility as inextricably linked. And that his goal now with his charitable projects and music is to shine light on Oakland's marginalized communities.
Fittingly, Dope Era stands for During Oppression People Evolve — Everyone Rises Above (F.A.B. loves acronyms; his stage name stands for Money Is Something To Always Have — Forever After Bread).
- Bert Johnson
- Mistah F.A.B.'s friends and colleagues say philanthropy has come to the forefront of his work in recent years.
It seemed that the rapper would even rather talk about social movements and the East Bay's tradition of activism than his new album. "The mecca of social consciousness was here, Oakland, California," he began. "The Black Panthers started around the corner here, on 47th and West." He spoke of the arrival of crack cocaine in Oakland, and how it was brought to the Bay to "destroy Black identity, to destroy the minds of social consciousness."
He went on to detail how the inner-cities, from Oakland to Harlem, Los Angeles to Baltimore, were flooded with drugs. "It's no coincidence that these places were some of the biggest chapters of the Black Panthers," he said.
He paused, then laughed. The conversation was getting serious — and very political. "You're trying to get me assassinated in this interview!" F.A.B. joked, cracking himself up.
F.A.B. puts his time where his mouth is. He is a proponent of Black Lives Matter, and has spearheaded Silence the Violence and Shoot Hoops, Not Bodies, events and campaigns that he says are about the Black community "protecting ourselves and governing ourselves."
F.A.B.'s longtime friends and associates admire his values and initiative as a community organizer. "He's the hardest working motherfucker I've ever met in my life," said Laurence Walker, a.k.a. L-Deez, a rapper and North Oakland native. He's known F.A.B. since 2001. "He really does shit for his community."