When it comes to the Bay Area rap, Oakland reigns supreme. From Too $hort to AllBlack, the footprint The Town has left on local and national rap history is undeniable. However, over the years, artists from smaller cities, like Vallejo and Richmond, have contributed to the genre and pushed the Bay Area rap narrative forward.
Not to be left out, Berkeley has carved out its own lane in Bay Area rap history with artists like Lil B and DJ Fuze of Digital Underground. More recently, rappers G-Eazy and Rexx Life Raj have garnered critical acclaim nationally by releasing a flurry of quality projects and out-of-the-box music video concepts.
But how are local Bay Area rap artists faring during the pandemic? Some of the region’s favorite major rap artists have been able to maintain fan engagement through live stream performances on social media, Verzuz webcast battles — the live online competitions where artists go head to head playing popular music from their discography — and unique album rollouts. But, just as with any musician who relies on live performances to grow their following and career, COVID-19 has hit rappers hard.
To learn more, we talked with South Berkeley native Clyde Shankle. We asked him how he’s holding up during the pandemic, his Berkeley rap influences and about any music he has on the horizon. Clyde, a 28-year-old father of two who attended Berkeley public schools, last released a project in 2019 with his solo EP, Gumbo, and has also released music with the group Down 2 Earth and the Bay Area collective The Shankles.
Tell us a little bit about your Berkeley roots and how you started making music?
I started doing poetry in middle school at Martin Luther King Middle School on Rose Street. My seventh-grade teacher shared that my poetry was good and then my patna had a studio in Pittsburg, and, in eighth or ninth grade, that’s when I started to put my raps down in the studio. After that it was just on from there.
I saw a group named Hard Nocks, who I knew and are from Berkeley too. They had a music video on BET called Swagga Right. They also opened up for G-Eazy at La Peña. That’s when I realized you could really get money from doing music.
During that time I also bought two CDs — “Kingdom Come” by Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco’s “Food & Liquor;” that’s when I decided I wanted to rap.
“Oakland is a little more free-er with their raps, Berkeley is a little more cerebral.”
In terms of Berkeley rap, there was Team Knock and The Pack was still doing their thing. This was all when I was coming up in middle school, and I remember seeing them around the hood, and seeing people in their videos who I know; it was all familiar to me. The Bay was moving at that time, and made me want to rap from an underground standpoint.
When I was at Berkeley High I did an internship at Youth Movement Records inside Oakland School of the Arts. That’s how I met rappers and producers like Chose and Drew Banga. That was cool because I got to see a different kind of style. Oakland is a little more free-er with their raps, Berkeley is a little more cerebral.
Nationally, Bay Area rap tends to get lumped into one genre, but for those who follow the local scene well, they can tell the difference between an Oakland artist, or a San Francisco artist, or a Vallejo artist. How would you describe Berkeley rap artists?
I think a lot of Berkeley artists just say whatever they want. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense — they just really say what they want on a record. The whole song can go from talking about love to being political, to talking about the hood all in the same song.
I saw an old tweet of yours from 2015 where you declared that you were one of the top five rappers from Berkeley. Who are the other four for you and where do you rank?
I’ll say MBK Gang, Lil B, Caleborate, myself — and Rexx Life Raj is number one.
How has the closure of music venues and other Bay Area nightlife locations impacted the local hip-hop scene?
I feel like if you’re in Oakland it affects you, or San Francisco artists, or a city that has more than 500,000 people, then it affects you. They shoot videos downtown, they shoot videos at sideshows. But for us, we really just hang out by ourselves for video shoots.
At first it impacted my ability to get studio time. Our studio was shut down for like six months, but they recently opened up. At first it was a struggle. I just wrote and tried to find beats. I would meet with producers and still try to write in a room even if we couldn’t record.
What’s it like being an independent artist while also raising two children during these challenging times? How have you balanced the parental and artistic responsibilities?
Some days it’s more fun being a dad than being an artist so it balances out. I’ve had a good support system, and we’ve just banded together. I’ve just really been relying on my family, and vice versa. Just to keep each other going, and to be there for each other when we need each other.
Your last project was in 2019 with your EP Gumbo — do you have any new projects on the horizon?
A project called The Shankle Project, with the group Shankle Mob, which will be a full-length project. It’s going to have 13 or 14 songs.
We have two videos now, and we are going to shoot our last video soon. We are trying to be inclusive and supportive in what we are trying to do with each other. Making sure we are in the loop on when we are all dropping individual projects. We’ve all had enough time to grow with each.
D’Andre Ball is a Bay Area native and South Berkeley resident who enjoys interviewing Bay Area hip hop artists. You can follow him on Twitter to find out what he’s listening to, reading and watching.