Past, Present & Future
During the Bay Area hip hop scene's "Golden Era" (the mid-'90s) I began publishing No Joke - The Bay Area Hip Hop Newsletter. When I say "publishing" I mean printing one hundred copies on my stepdad's computer. I had no idea what good layout/design was or that I shouldn't bombard readers with 20 different fonts per page, etc... I also didn't really have any quality content with the first issues of No Joke. I had no industry contacts so I had no real inside knowledge of Bay Area hip hop beyond the albums I had and the radio shows I listened to. I didn't know the first thing to do as far as getting in touch with labels and rappers. As a result, the first few issues were garbage. I did crappy record reviews, crappy articles, crappy top ten lists, etc... I didn't even really know what to do with each month's issues once I had photocopied and stapled them all. Who do I send them to? I figured a good thing to do would be to send them to any label/fan club address I could find on all my favorite Bay Area albums. A few of the notable fan clubs I sent them to include Potna Deuce, Totally Insane, N2Deep and IMP. Plus I had a few radio station addresses so I could send copies to the hip hop show DJ's that I liked. One of those DJ's was a man by the name of Billy Jam.
That was the beginning.
After a few issues, I had established a few contacts here and there. I was able to interview Baby Beesh (now known worldwide as Baby Bash) of Potna Deuce shortly after Welcome To Da Tilt came out and Jay Tee and TL (N2Deep) granted me an interview around the release of 24-7-365. Slowly, but surely I was connecting with labels, artists and others involved in Bay Area hip hop. One day, things got really good when I started talking to Billy Jam who I mentioned above. I had been sending him a copy of each issue for months and he had taken notice. He proposed the idea of making No Joke a part of his larger hip hop umbrella called Hip Hop Slam. I was very excited because I had been listening to him on the radio for a good amount of time and I knew he was an important, well known and respected figure in the Bay Area hip hop scene. I would give a rundown of everything Billy has done and still does, but I'll save it for another day. Maybe in a future post I'll do a feature on him. Just so you young bucks know, he's done much much more than just those funny intros and skits on 11/5's albums.
Needless to say, I agreed to make No Joke a part of Hip Hop Slam and we upped the ante as far as making the newsletter more stylish and informative. My place in the Bay Area scene was instantly upgraded once I hooked up with Billy. Every record label (independent and major) sent me everything they had from press releases to advance copies of albums, you name it. If I wanted an interview with anyone, I got it. Any function, from music conferences like the Gavin, to record release parties to you name it, I was VIP. It was great. Billy contributed interviews with numerous rappers including Too $hort, The Luniz, The Click and Mac Mall and I was blessed to interview everyone from Cougnut, Rhythmx, Herm, UDI, Dre Dog and Lateef The Truth Speaker. My favorite interview though was probably when I got a do an over the phone interview with Mac Dre while he was still locked up in Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. We chopped it up for a long time and being that I was such a huge fan of his, I even went mute a couple of times because I couldn't think of what to say to the man who made "California Livin'" and "2 Hard 4 The Fuckin' Radio". I was in awe. I still look back on that as one of my favorite times. I can only think of two other published interviews that Mac Dre did while locked up so I felt, and still feel, priviledged to be on that short list.
Eventually, Billy and I decided the newsletter was not big enough and decided to step it up and create a full-size magazine. I decided to call it Strivin' since that is a word that goes perfectly with the hustlin' way of the Bay. Strivin' is our day to day lives. I will say that Mac Dre didn't want me to change the name from No Joke. I still have a tape where he's telling me not to change it because, "No Joke is hard!" as he said.
After a great magazine release party in San Francisco with many local celebs in the house including Herm, Cougnut and IMP, Whoridas, T-Lowe, Closed Caption, Dre Dog, Primo, Big Mack, Closed Caption, African Identity and more the first issue of Strivin' was released in 1997. We had a cover interview with Tayda Tay of 11/5, plus interviews with Jay Tee from N2Deep, Ray Luv and the Link Crew, JT The Bigga Figga, Money B of Digital Underground/Raw Fusion and more. A second issue came out many months later (problems with advertising money caused numerous setbacks) and was greatly received. Mac Dre was recently released from Lompoc so it only made sense that he was on the cover. I went to the Young Black Brotha Records office/studio two weeks after his release and did an amazing interview and snapped some flicks. I even got to sit in his brand new Impala and hear the new songs he had done since his release. The issue also had interviews with Andre Nickatina (formerly Dre Dog), Closed Caption, T-Lowe, Lateef The Truth Speaker and Lyrics Born, N2Deep, Vonn & Ron from Loc-N-Load records (the guys who released the amazing compilation, Pimps, Playas & Hustlas), Assassin and Cloud Nine. Billy wrote an amazing and on-point open letter to the programming director at KMEL about their lack of support for the multitude of quality music from their own backyard which gave Strivin' a strong buzz through the local hip hop scene.
With the success of each issue, I really saw Strivin' becoming as big as Murder Dog and 4080, but still only covering Bay Area music. Unfortunately, just as things were really moving along, advertising continued to be a problem. I had a group of advertisers who always ran ads and always paid on time, but some other people talked a big game, but never followed through which led to too many delays and eventually to the end of the magazine.
Ending the magazine was very difficult for me to do especially since the third issue was to be the biggest yet. I had added eight more pages and had already completed interviews with some of the Bay's biggest stars. It was slated to include E-A-Ski, Rappin' 4-Tay, Ant Banks, 187 Fac, The Mossie, every member of Hieroglyphics and more. It would have been incredible.
Since that time, I've had people tell me how much they liked my old newsletter and magazine. Up and coming rapper Stizon Skrilla even told me that he framed his copy of Strivin' with Mac Dre on the cover. He said it was Bay Area history. People have thanked me in their album liner notes and wondered when I'd bring the magazine back. These things take me by surprise because doing the magazine was just something I enjoyed because it was on a subject that was important and influential to me. I never thought anyone would really miss the magazine or consider it an important part of Bay Area hip hop history.
Since then I've pondered the idea of bringing Strivin' back, but the Bay Area market fizzled as people started taking too many shortcuts and everyone you met was now a rapper. The quality of music was abyssmal and I couldn't see myself covering a scene where the majority of the music was awful. In the past few years though, things have started turning for the better and I'm excited about it so that's why I'm back. I was going to go the traditional magazine route again, but time and moneywise it just didn't make sense. So here's the blog... Strivin' - The Bay Area Hip Hop Blog.
This is going to grow and grow just as my newsletter did. Keep checkin' back for more updates. At first I'm going to add classic interviews and features from the old No Joke newsletters all the way through the Strivin' magazine days. After that and once I get all my contacts re-established there will be brand new content here to keep you up to date on the Bay's progress and hopefully second "Golden Era."