Iamsu! A Look Back at ‘KILT’ and HBK Gang’s 2010 Rap Revival in the Bay Area
Photo credit: Iamsu!
Amid the 10th anniversary of his KILT mixtape, Iamsu! spoke with Okayplayer about the project and HBK Gang’s impact on Bay Area rap.
Although Los Angeles is probably where you think of when you think of California rap, Northern California has always been a hub for inventive art through the rap game.
From a teenage Tupac releasing his first album and rap supergroups like the Hieroglyphics creating their own festival and record label, to the better-known pimping, slanging and turfing that were introduced by Bay legends like Too $hort, E- 40 and the Hyphy movement as a whole, the San Francisco Bay Area has not only played a role in the success of transplanted rappers who call the place home, but has also built a thriving indie market. for rappers.
In the 2010s, Iamsu! and HBK Gang became part of that legacy with the 2012 seminal KILTand led the region’s next wave in a way that has since added a new generation of voices, personalities, sounds and trends in its wake.
After emerging in 2012 with the single “Up!” – a track that achieved national notoriety and featured 50 Cent – Iamsu! and HBK have been avant-garde their way to the top of the Bay Area’s bustling scene. With their playful lyricism, defined by a high-energy style of minimalist 808 production, their trademark has strongly shaped the past decade of rap, lifestyle and fashion for Baydestrians – delivering an undeniable Young California to burst.
Over their 10-year run, HBK was responsible for a Bay Area hip-hop renaissance that ushered in the rise of generational talent like Kehlani, P-Lo, Sage the Gemini and G -Eazy – all of whom frequently collaborated or were officially listed under HBK early in their careers.
Ten years later, they’re still doing their thing.
With his latest releases, South and A real boy storyrichmond rapper Iamsu! continues to spit with the ease of a slick veteran who has confidently established himself as a figurehead among today’s lyricists.
“HBK Gang we lit forever, I live off rap, word to Philthy Rich,” he says on South notable “Flows,” a bar that simultaneously alludes to East Oakland rap legend Rich while depicting his hometown crew, the Heartbreak Gang.
Both EPs are six-track projects that play like odes to Su!’s origins; South even features a cover image of the rapper attending Youth Radio in Berkeley as a teenager. In 2022, Sun! is no longer an unknown teenager. He is a prolific artist who has carried the torch for an entire generation of Northern California talent.
But it all started when Sudan’s Ameer Williams – who would later become known as Iamsu! — enrolled at his local community college in Contra Costa, working as an after-school educator, attending classes and recording audio productions whenever he could spare time as a busy student.
“A whole class of kids remember me as Mr. Williams,” he joked in a phone call. “We [HBK Gang] recorded after school, between classes, it was teamwork. It was a culmination. The intentions were to do something classic.
Know! credits Chief, Jay Anthony, Kuya Beats, and Kuya’s younger brother P-Lo — among others in his inner circle of East Bay collaborators — who commuted to the studio and went to work around the clock at the time. Know! was primarily interested in producing rap at the time, influenced by “a pot of okra inspiration like Timbaland, The Neptunes and those big department store producers at the time”.
The lyrics came later for him, but it was the sound and vibe he and HBK Gang were looking for in their early years. Over time, he was encouraged to enter the cabin. So, in the summer of 2012, Su! and HBK fell KILT – a mixtape that raised the bar at the time for the way it blended old school with new lore. HBK’s style of tie-dye smiley, cool-party-kid music has arrived with this rejuvenating mix of Bay Area textures that echo the vibes of Mid-2000s Hyphy and Early 90’s Mobb Music – the underrated predecessor of G-funk.
The rest is Heartbreak history.
“Man, I remember leaving school to go to the airport to play in New York at the VICE offices, and doing interviews for The fade and just be fresh in the scene. I was just growing up,” he recalls. “I look at those years as shit. But we have manifested it. It was the first level. After that, Susie 6 The rapidity fall [in 2012] and I felt like I really got there and I was more confident from there.
Just one year after A$AP Rocky released his first viral mixtape, Live. To like. A$APand around the same time Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era released their first project, 1999, Su! and HBK were assembling their own version of a West Coast move that would represent the bay the way Tyler, the creator’s Odd Future, represented LA at the time.
In the era of these big group projects driven by the rise of notoriety on the Internet and social media, Su! and HBK needed its own classic to get back (and bay) on the map. They struck digital gold with the years 2012 KILT (originally titled, Takeoff).
Standout tracks like “Over,” “A Milli,” and “Cancelled Plans” showcased HBK’s obsession with synthfunk, harmonized vocals, and playful lyrics, with the project eventually catching the attention of future collaborators like E-40. , YG, Clyde Carson. , Problem and Juvenile.
“It was so crazy because it was pre-release,” Su! said. “We will never know how far it could have gone today. But I consider it a dope moment. It gave us a platform and the conviction to be rappers. I was secretly a backpacker and just wanted everyone to know I could rap. I ended up doing three mixtapes that year.
Choosing to remain independent, Su! went on to release five studio albums (highlighted by her acclaimed debut, Cordiallyin 2015), nine mixtapes and 25 singles, including “Famous” featuring Dej Loaf and K Camp, “Only That Real” featuring 2 Chainzand “Bout Me” featuring Wiz Khalifa. In addition, his closest brothers rode beside himbecoming one of the most definitive artists of their time.
To honor this trip and HBK’s legacy, Su! plans to reissue KILT This can. The project will include all of the original tracks available for the first time as a digital stream, a format that has not been made available until now.
Now the artists of this decade are ready to carry the torch that Su and her gang kept burning. Acts like Lil Bean, Lil Pete and Kaylin For Real For Real are just a few of the up-and-coming names that have HBK in their DNA, according to Sudi. It’s time for these young Heartbreakers to remix the game – and they have the necessary plan with KILT.
“People have learned to create their own brand and promote it”, Su! said. “[After that moment] more bands formed their own logos and a movement came from the HBK tree. I think it was the rhythms, the Rhodes piano, the 808 percussion, a synth flute, a little bass, the basic progression that gave the bay that basic element, that melodic sound. Now they have this strategy to rely on. They will add their own shit and it comes out everyday.
Alan Chazaro is the author of This Is Not a Frank Ocean Cover Album (Black Lawrence Press, 2019), Piñata Theory (Black Lawrence Press, 2020) and Notes from the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge (Ghost City Press, 2021). He’s written for The San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, Oaklandside, SFGATE, 48Hills and other publications, and is on Twitter and IG being a useless millennial pocho @alan_chazaro.