Over the weekend I hung out with my relatives in the cities where I spent more than fifteen years of my childhood. Back in a world in which I passed so much time, a world I abruptly left, I experienced a sense of culture shock almost equal in magnitude to what I felt upon my return from France.
Urban fashion for the hip-hop generation in Fairfield and Vallejo is strikingly distinct from anything you'll find in the City or in Concord, which are less than an hour away. To illustrate the point, my cousin is dating a dude from San Francisco and they absolutely hate the way the other dresses. There's a jarring of the tastes that simply can't be overlooked. The hyphy movement is of course wildly influential across the Benicia Bridge, considering this is the home of E-40.
It's not uncommon to see the stunna shades everybody is trying to wear. But there's an added flavour in the clothing that, superficial sheen of hyphy/crunk aside, maintains a sense of the authentic. It's attractive, witty, tongue-in-cheek - and anything but lazily conceived. I still love the elegant earthy embroidery on colourful LRG hoodies pulled up over a crisp shirt, big-ass headphones draped lazily over the shoulders, and contrasting kicks you won't find anyplace else. I dig the brass-coloured pointy heels you wear with mid-calf jeans, a form-fitting wifebeater and a flesh aviator jacket that falls down to mid-waist. I love the long straightened hair partially covering oversized shades, and baby tees that say I'M GOING GOING BACK BACK TO CALI CALI. I think it's hype the way Vallejo and Fairfield natives have their own slang and have really pushed grassroots marketing for "the soil where them rappas be getting their lingo from" (E-40, Tell Me When to Go).
As kids, the music permeating through the flesh of the streets was wildly influential. All of us were in bands and most guys were rappers who made beats on the side. It was as if the music industry was the only foreseeable way to do anything with your life. I wrote songs to somebody else's music. Breakdancing thrived here. And we wedded all this to the provincial, authoritarian way in which we were raised - those nagging apron strings that added inherent and uniform values to our foundations.
Another interesting thing about Fairfield and Vallejo is the sense of pride wrapped around the slippery and infectious lyricism E-40 is known for. It's not something that originated with him; it's part of the earth in the cities, the asphalt's twang. I grew up saying "sigg" when a kid got teased, "goosed" when somebody got laid and "hutch" to refer to a girl of questionable propriety.
I've spent so much time away from the place that I forgot what it's like, how slow and chill life feels, and how it's as much a part of me as anything else. I can see why we moved - my father always felt that if I grew up in this atmosphere I'd acquire a brand of comfortability and possibly racial self-entitlement that would never be beneficial to an opportunist - but at the same time, I can appreciate the culture that thrives at the roots of the cities, both provincial (when I was young Fairfield was a farm town) and gritty as you can imagine (I went to church on a boulevard that, to this day, remains rife with prostitution and street drug sales).
It's nice to come back to the soil in which you took root, even if life brought you elsewhere. And hell, it's also nice to know there's still nuance to hip-hop.