Things move fast in rap. By the time their second album, World Premiere (Moedoe/Koch), dropped in April, the Team already had a new single, the “Hyphy Juice” remix, which now rivals “It’s Getting Hot” as their biggest radio hit. Since then, Moedoe label head K.O.A.B. has inked a deal for Hyphy Juice, the energy drink he co-owns with the group, to be sold at 7-11 stores nationwide, while Team member Clyde Carson just signed as a solo act to Capitol Records. Carson’s ambitious project, Theater Music — consisting of one multisong, album-length track à la Prince’s Lovesexy (Warner, 1988) — will appear next year, cobranded by Moedoe as well as the Game’s Black Wall Street.
Yet my appearance at the Team’s condo concerns none of these matters. Instead, I’ve been summoned by Kaz Kyzah to discuss The Gofessional, his new mixtape with KMEL managing director DJ Big Von Johnson. Consisting of 19 tracks of mostly original material, The Gofessional is part of a growing trend in the Bay Area mix scene — like Husalah and Jacka’s Animal Planet and Beeda Weeda’s Homework — of blurring the distinction between the carefully crafted album and the “anything goes” approach of mixtapes. What makes The Gofessional unique, however, is its method of distribution: it’s available for free at bigvon.com.
In the first week alone, the mixtape was downloaded 7,000 times on the strength of two singles currently spinning on KMEL: “Cocaine,” a soulful love-as-addiction metaphor over a 9th Wonder beat, and the LT-produced original “Love” (featuring Jimmie Reign), an R&B-infused investigation of more serious subjects often neglected by the Bay’s current “go dumb” ethos.
Before beginning, however, Kaz clears up the lingering mystery around World Premiere’s release, not, as anticipated, through major label Universal but rather through independent powerhouse Koch.
“We were on a label of a Mexican artist, Lil Rob, and it wasn’t the place for us,” Kaz says, referring to the Universal-distributed Upstairs imprint, which caters primarily to Latino rap. “When we got over there, it wasn’t what we wanted. But it worked out where we could use it to get the album done and move on. We didn’t have to pay any bread. We actually came out winning.”
“At the same time, I was going through legal trouble,” he continues, describing continuing fallout from a robbery charge he caught at age 18. “I was worried about going to jail and house arrest. I did end up spending a couple of months in jail, so it was a real hectic time.”
While the delays of label jumping and legal woes may have muted World Premiere’s impact, the period of house arrest last year proved productive for Kaz, who with West Oakland rapper J-Stalin and East Oakland producers Tha Mekanix formed a side group called the Go Boyz and recorded an album at the condo. These late-night sessions featuring an ankle-braceleted Kaz were the genesis of the current Go Movement, which already constitutes a third front in the Bay’s hyphy and thizz campaigns.
“What I want people to understand about the Go Movement,” the Hyphy Juice shareholder stresses, “is it’s not not about getting hyphy, going dumb. But it encompasses a whole lot more and that’s what makes it so powerful. Like when I talk to Dotrix [of Tha Mekanix], we’ll use go 1,500 times and have an in-depth conversation.
“It was Dot who said, ‘You the Gofessional, man.’ And that was one of my favorite movies, The Professional, so I used it for my mixtape. I didn’t want to come out with the Go Boyz, and nobody know what Go is all about. I was talking to some people from Marin, they never even heard of the Go Movement. To us it’s old, but a lot of people are still catching on.”
GOING FOR THE STREETS
The free download format of The Gofessional is proving to be an effective means of spreading the word. (Another 5,000 hard copies have already been distributed for the benefit of those not online, and more are on the way.) For Johnson, who apart from Kaz is the author of this largess, the free mixtape is designed to boost record sales as well as keep the Bay’s current buzz alive.
“I got 7,000 downloads in a week, when I know artists who put out records that took seven months to reach that in sales,” Johnson says later that day at KMEL. “There are a lot of big artists, a lot of songs on the radio, but sales aren’t adding up. So I feel like, give some away. Instead of trying to break a song, I’m trying to break an artist in the streets. I definitely think this will stimulate album sales.”
It’s refreshing to hear such a statement these days, when the “free download” has been blamed for bringing the recording industry to its knees. To me, Johnson’s logic is irrefutable; I’m more likely to check out something for free than for $15, and I’m way more likely to buy a $15 album from someone whose previous work I have and like. As The Gofessional is easily better than dozens of albums I’ve actually purchased, the odds of me buying an eventual Kaz Kyzah solo album are extremely high. Given the current excitement in Bay rap and Carson’s deal with Capitol, the interest in Kaz’s mixtape hasn’t failed to attract the attention of majors as well.
“I got a lot of labels looking at me,” Kaz confesses. “I ain’t put out an album. They’re checking for me off of mixtapes, which is weird, but it’s a beautiful thing. People be, like, this is hotter than people’s albums. But I’m a perfectionist, so doing a solo album is going to take a minute, really sitting down and figuring out what I want to do with it. And not being too quick to jump on the wrong deal.” SFBG