Turf’s up

Pub date September 12, 2006
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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First nicknamed the Rolling 20s in the ’70s, then the Twomps in the ’80s, the group of East Oakland avenues below MacArthur and between 19th and Fruitvale avenues received its present designation, the Murder Dubs, in the early ’90s, when a neighborhood hustler named P-Dub began a lethal reign of terror in an effort to control the local drug trade. Naturally, this didn’t endear him to the community, which locked its collective doors to him the night his number came up, leaving him to be gunned down in the street by pursuers circa 1994.
Yet despite this violent legacy, the vibe in the Dubs seems remarkably friendly, at least in the company of its most famous son, 23-year-old MC and producer Beeda Weeda. Head of the sprawling Pushin’ the Beat (PTB) camp — whose roster includes a half-dozen talented producers, as well as rappers like Lil Al the Gamer and veteran crew Under Survalance — Beeda is on familiar terms with most of the neighborhood, though this doesn’t prevent a nearby group of kids from treating him like a star.
“Are you really Beeda Weeda?” one boy asks. “My name’s Beeda Weeda too!” A girl asks for his autograph. “Go get some paper,” the rapper answers, and the kids race home for supplies, allowing us to finish our photo shoot before Beeda poses with his fans and surrenders his signature.
Far from letting it go to his head, Beeda Weeda seems merely amused at his newfound celebrity.
“People see you on TV and they think you rich and famous,” he says with a laugh, referring to his video for “Turf’s Up,” which has been in heavy rotation on VJ-TV (Oakland cable channel 78) for several months, in addition to receiving more than 70,000 plays on YouTube. There’s a vast gulf separating local access from MTV. Still, Beeda has already made inroads into MTV terrain, not the least of which is his contribution to E-40 and Keak Da Sneak’s “Tell Me When to Go” video.
Beeda explains, “40 heard about me and knew I was still in the mix in the town. He didn’t even know I did music when we first hooked up. They wanted to get the elements of the street, the whole sideshow thing, so I helped him do the casting in terms of the cars, the locations, things like that.”
Drawing on their extensive neighborhood network, Beeda Weeda and PTB’s in-house video guru, J-Mo, would end up exerting a considerable influence on the image of hyphy in the national consciousness, due to the video’s success on MTV. The experience also netted PTB some of the unused footage, not to mention high-profile cameos by E-40 and Lil Jon, for its “Turf’s Up” video. More recently, Beeda and West Oakland partner J-Stalin were filmed together in the studio working on their upcoming album, for a segment of an as-yet-untitled MTV reality show following cub reporters for Rolling Stone. (MTV exec Ryan Cunningham confirmed nothing save that the segment was likely to air. Presumably, some sort of Rolling Stone article will run.) At the time of our photo shoot, Beeda’s solo debut, Turfology 101, was about a week away from its Aug. 29 street date and had already been reviewed in the latest issue of Scratch. Released on Souls of Mischief–Hieroglyphics member Tajai’s Clear Label Records and distributed through Hiero/Fontana/Universal, Turfology has just enough major-label clout behind it to get itself noticed even on a NY magazine’s New York–centric radar.
He may not quite be famous yet, but as Beeda Weeda is forced to acknowledge, “My name’s starting to ring bells.”
Some rap names are chosen; others, given. In this case, Beeda Weeda is the rapper’s childhood nickname, derived from his association with Peeda Weeda. “He was like my OG when I was a little kid,” Beeda says. In 1992, at age 15, Peeda was shot by the Oakland Police Department and left paraplegic, one of many victims of the neighborhood’s most violent period.
As the ’90s wore on and Beeda entered his teens, he began making tracks, inspired by neighborhood musicians who would eventually form the core of the PTB production squad. “Most of them are older than me,” he says. “They were into music before me, so I was looking up to them. We got Big Vito, GB, LG, Tre, Miggz, and G-Lite.”
“My partner from the neighborhood, J-Boog, was rapping, and I started making beats,” Beeda continues. “But I didn’t start getting serious until I did a track called ‘Hard Hitters’ for a little group I put together called Dying 2 Live. It came out on an actual CD.”
While “Hard Hitters” didn’t cause much of a ripple in Bay Area hip-hop’s late-’90s commercial doldrums, it was sufficient to establish Beeda Weeda as a neighborhood beatmaker, attracting the attention of up-and-coming rapper Lil Al.
“We hooked up, and I started slanging beats to him,” Beeda says. “He was, like, ‘Man, let’s be a group,’ so that’s when I started really writing. We put out a whole album, all original music, and pushed it in the streets. We pressed it up ourselves. Did all the artwork. I damn near engineered, produced, and mixed the whole thang. It was called Just an Introduction by Lil Al and Beeda Weeda.” Released on their own Young Black Entrepreneurs label in 2002, Just an Introduction would quickly sell out its 500-copy run and make the pair’s reputation in the streets as young rappers.
“At the same time,” Beeda confesses, “we wasn’t really eating off the music, so we had to do other things to make money. Bro got caught up in some bullshit, had to do a little time.” With Lil Al in prison, plans to press a more professionally packaged Introduction were abruptly shelved as Beeda was forced to evolve into a solo act.
“I did a few songs, and I was just pushing it through the Dubs,” Beeda continues. “My music has a lot to do with my environment, certain situations that happen to me or my people. I was basically just making music for me and my niggas.”
Such a local focus, crucial to the Turfology concept, is what gives the album its distinctive flavor. Granted, it mightn’t be to everyone’s taste: Scratch’s generally positive review faults PTB’s use of “the synthesizer,” which makes me wonder how the writer imagines hip-hop is made in the hood. If there’s sense to this remark, it’s in the fact that Beeda and company don’t hide the instrument’s “synthness.” They push big chords composed of the most unearthly sounds right in your face.
As for the suggestion that Turfology at times “sounds like one overlong track,” I can only guess the reviewer is accustomed to the 16-tracks-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-each-other formula of most rap discs. Turfology has a sonic coherence sorely lacking in contemporary hip-hop, the stuff that makes for classic albums. The PTB producers are clearly riffing off each other rather than chasing the hyphy train, yet they don’t sound like they’re in a vacuum. The in-house tracks on Turfology blend seamlessly with beats by young North Oakland producer Jamon Dru of Ticket Face, Charlie O of the Hard Labor camp, and East Oakland’s Mekanix.
“Their music is real current and authentic,” says Clear Label Records head Tajai during a session for the upcoming Souls of Mischief album.
Tajai heard some of Beeda’s demos by chance in a friend’s car and immediately got in touch with PTB. Having dropped several of his own solo albums and collaborations, Tajai was looking to expand his roster with other artists. Along with Baby Jaymes and R&B singer Chris Marisol — both of whom are scheduled to release albums next year — Beeda Weeda and PTB made Clear Label suddenly one of the hottest imprints in the Bay. Tajai dismisses the notion that a hood rapper like Beeda is incongruous with Hiero’s “backpacker image.” “Hiero is from East Oakland. Beeda’s a real serious artist and student of rap in general, and I want Clear Label to be a forum for that kind of artist.”
In the months since signing with Clear Label and preparing for Turfology to drop, Beeda has busily maintained his buzz on the mixtape circuit. “Tajai gives us the avenues, but as far as promoting, we do that on our own. Since I’m a new artist, we did The Orientation, had DJ Backside mixing it. That had about 12 songs on there and two originals. The game out here is so saturated. I was, like, ‘Let’s give them away.’ So we started passing ’em out in different cities; next thing you know, my name started ringing.”
At the end of May, Beeda dropped a second mixtape, Homework, mixed by the Demolition Men and consisting of PTB originals. A classic in its own right, Homework, with its organ-driven title track by Jamon Dru, is still banging all over Oakland, unlikely to be silenced even by Turfology’s release.
As we wrap our discussion, the PTB house in the Dubs is virtually empty, prior to being sold. The organization is getting too big to stay in the hood, and the camp is shopping for an industrial space.
“I love this place,” Beeda says. “When our studio was outside the hood for a while, I used to find myself driving out for no reason. I just missed it.” Clearly, the MC is connected to his community, and even if PTB has to relocate, it’s clear that he and his crew have no intention of leaving it behind. SFBG