While speaking with Roach Gigz, a San Francisco emcee whose stock continues to steadily rise, I was struck by how the term “hyphy” came up twice during our interview. Though the Bay Area has certainly had a testy relationship with the term and the movement, which never seemed to fully blow like it was poised to, Gigz used the word with no venom. To him, it was still a part of natural conversation.
While the hyphy period might still be a sore spot for some rappers in the Bay, it's nonetheless a part of the region's history, and Gigz has no misgivings about using the word himself, a telling detail that says much about his catalog. We may be more than five years removed from hyphy, but you can still hear the distinct energy of the Bay in all of Gigz's music, especially lead album single “Wasabi.” It's playful, self-deprecating ( he leads off with “I'm young, pale and skinny as hell”) and anchored by a swing that could come from nowhere other than Nor Cal.
Though Roachy won't be leading a charge to re-claim the term, he certainly represents the same sensibility and sound that led to its creation – coined by Keak Da Sneak as a “new Millenium term for hyper” – in the first place.
HipHopDX recently chopped it up with Roachy Balboa by phone on the eve of his debut release, Bugged Out. While watching some Netflix with his son down in L.A., he let me know what listeners can expect from his debut proper, informed me why Mac Dre is a huge influence for him and an icon in the Bay Area, and provided some informed advice on how to handle girls with lip rings.
HipHopDX: I wanted to start with a line of yours from “Wasabi” that really caught my ear when I heard it: “When it comes to sex, I'm Prozac to the depressed.”
Roach Gigz: [Laughs] Okay.
DX: How did you come up with a flip like that in the first place?
Roach Gigz: When I did that, it was just off the top. My brain works in a different way. It's just one of those things that popped into my head. I probably was thinking about Prozac. The first time that I really heard about it was The Sopranos so it probably had something to do with that. Tony [Soprano] had to take Prozac.
DX: You're a big Sopranos fan?
Roach Gigz: Oh yeah, man. I love it. I was addicted for so long and then it tragically ended. Life changed after that.
DX: It sounds like you were really let down by the series finale.
Roach Gigz: Oh man. The fade to black thing? I don't know, man . . . I'm in L.A., so I need to become an actor and resurrect it and be in the next Sopranos.
DX: You're gonna save the series!
Roach Gigz: Yeah, that's my goal. I'm Tony's son that he had with someone else that just came into the picture.
DX: There we go. You're already written into the series.
Roach Gigz: Exactly. I'll give you co-production credit if it's good.
DX: I love it. So Bugged Out, your first official album, is set to drop very soon. What can people expect from your debut proper?
Roach Gigz: All the best aspects of what I've done before wrapped into one and flowing even better. I would say that Bugged Out is like if you took all my mixtapes and put them into a pot, mixed them up but then added some seasoning or some salt and pepper to just make them better, and then [you] just took out the best pieces. It's kind of like a representation – a finale – of what I've done previously and gave the fans for free, just on another level. Now I can move on and do whatever the fuck I want to, but this represents what I've been doing so far, all in one.
DX: So you've still got that high-energy, real Bay feel to it, but at the same time, you maintain that precision with your bars?
Roach Gigz: Yeah. It definitely has the high energy, but it also has slower stuff on there. A lot of people, they don't know me for the slower stuff, but if they really listen to Buckets and Booty Calls and even Roachy Balboa and Roachy Balboa 2, there's definitely slow songs mixed in through all that. A lot of people like the Hyphy stuff better, and sometimes I like the slow stuff better, so it's a big combination of all of that.
DX: Are there any slower tracks on the album you want to make sure to tell people not to sleep on?
Roach Gigz: “Laid Back” is one of my favorite songs on there, and I didn't expect to make it. While everything was already being mixed, I actually re-did half the album in two weeks. I wanted a different feel. That's kind of how I am. I change my mind all the time and it just goes like that. We were supposed to be shooting a video when we were at the studio and the producer made this beat and I [ended up making] the song. I got my good friend and fellow rapper and hype man Marlow on there. It just stands out to me as one of the tightest tracks on there. It's a slower feel but it still slaps.
DX: It sounds like “Wasabi” and “Going Off G.O.” are kind of a good indicator of what to expect on Bugged Out, but that there's a lot of other stuff you'll be covering as well.
Roach Gigz: Definitely. There's a bunch of shit on there, but you gotta hit them with the Hyphy shit first, man.
DX: That's the second time you've thrown out the term Hyphy. How much is that still getting thrown around in the Bay?
Roach Gigz: I feel like Hyphy is not a term that is used. People have already disassociated themselves with that term to the fullest extent, and they just feel like it's an ugly word that nobody should use in the Bay, but if you want to be honest, the music is still Hyphy music. We just don't call it that. We call it “ratchet” or whatever we want to call it, that type of music, but we don't really use that term anymore.
DX: How inclusive would you rate the scene in the Bay right now?
Roach Gigz: I can't speak for everybody's situation because I don't know it, but as far as me, I talk to everybody and I've gotten words of encouragement. That's all I need from all of the legends and all of the big people that I associate with and respect. I root for anybody doing it in the Bay Area.
I feel like we're in a good place. I feel like people are willing to work together. I feel like people are kind of on the same page of excitement, knowing that our sound is worldwide now. Whether it be us doing it or not, our sound is worldwide, so the doors are open. I think the Bay's cool and I think that everybody's willing to work.
DX: Is the buzz starting to get up there again too? With “Up!” having had its run and “Function” and “Slow Down” looming large, are people really feeling like the momentum's about to swing back to the Bay?
Roach Gigz: I feel like it has, and I feel like it's evident in other rappers doing Bay Area songs, like Drake doing “The Motto” and all that stuff. He actually came to the Bay and showed his respect, showed the world that we were here. [With] “Up!” being a nationwide song, I think it's definitely inspiration to everyone out here. It's been a few years, but we can actually do it, and we can do it to the level that all these other regions are doing it too.
DX: I've seen in other interviews that you've cited Mac Dre as a major influence. He continues to be a huge figure in the Bay. What is it about him that really resonates for you and why do you think he's still such an icon in the Bay rap scene?
Roach Gigz: I feel like there's not another person in the world that could even compare to Mac Dre. The way he did the things that he did were just on another level. People would call Dre hyphy, but his songs were slow as fuck and people would still go crazy to them. It's being able to do things like that musically.
Another thing that attracted me to him is his ability to be funny and just talk about every-day regular shit. If you really listen to Dre's raps, he's saying real shit on almost every bar. It's not braggadocio, just over the top shit. He says regular shit but makes it sound so fly. That shit just impressed me, his ability to be himself, do what he wanted to do, and make music that everybody attached to. He's just a fucking legend. I've got him tattooed on my forearm. He's that big of an influence.
DX: When you've got people making Mac Dre “thizzle face” masks for Halloween, that's on a completely different level.
Roach Gigz: Yeah. They have [President Barack] Obama masks, and right next to there is the Mac Dre mask, so come on. What does that say? That Mac Dre should have been president. [Laughs]
DX: So for you, it sounds like his persona really showed through, because like you said, there's still nobody that's gonna be like Mac Dre.
Roach Gigz: Yeah. [He was] not afraid to be funny or goofy, but people still respected him. I think that was the dopest part about it.
DX: You and Mac Dre both showcase a real party vibe still emanates from the Bay. What do you think it is about the Bay that fosters that party vibe, that real bass-heavy sound with that swing?
Roach Gigz: I really can't call it because I wouldn't say it's the clothes that make it happen, but it's just an unspoken energy that everybody has. It must be the diversity. All these different people, all these different cultures in one place and just the energy in the water. I think there's something in the water, actually. Okay, that's my answer.
Roach Gigz: There's something in the water that makes everybody act a certain way and move a certain way and make songs a certain way. If you haven't grown up smelling that water, then you probably just are a visitor.
DX: Before I let you go, I was hoping to get some advice from you. On “Wasabi” you also say “I don't trust you like a girl with a lip ring.” What's so bad about girls with lip rings? Why should I not trust them?
Roach Gigz: Okay... Well, I don't mean to be stereotypical or anything like that, but my experiences with girls with lip rings are not positive. I haven't met a trustworthy girl with a lip ring yet. [To the trustworthy girls with lip-rings], I know you're probably out there. I don't mean to shit on your piercing. I wish you well with your piercing, but me personally, I haven't met a trustworthy girl with a lip ring. It's always the girl that you're not gonna marry that has the lip ring, so that just is what it is.
DX: When you were sipping San Pellegrino in the “Gina” video, Gina had a lip ring. Did it start with her?
Roach Gigz: No. The lip ring thing definitely didn't start with Gina. I've been had my feelings about lip rings. That is something deep down in me, but [in the] “Gina” video, she had the lip ring. She wasn't trustworthy. Gina, I'm sorry to inform you... And you know she was a hoe just cause of how fast she walked up to my [car]. She invited me over the same day. It was just like “Come on, man. At least act like you don't want it for a little bit.” What did Tupac say [on "How Do U Want It"]? “I don't want it if it's that easy” or some shit like that? But yeah, you do need to pretend like you're not a ho. Gina was a hoe. It's okay. Don't get me wrong [though], I'm talking about the character. Not the actress. I'm not saying anything about her!