Given Name: Sudan Ahmeer Williams
Occupations: Rapper, Producer
Releases: Su! The Right Thing, debut mixtape, July 2010; Young California, mixtape, May 2011; The Miseducation of Iamsu!, mixtape, December 2011; Kilt, mixtape, May 2012; Stoopid, mixtape with Jay Ant, October 2012; $uzy 6 $peed, mixtape, November 2012; Million Dollar Afro, mixtape with Problem, April 2013; Kilt II, mixtape, June 2013; Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013; Camo, EP, February 2014; Sincerely Yours, debut album, May 13, 2014.
Career Highlights: Su's first hit came in 2011 in the form of Loverance's 50 Cent-assisted song "Up!," which he produced, co-wrote and rapped on. Early the next year, he would live out the Bay Area rapper fantasy of being featured on an E-40 song, rapping on his track "Function." He later hooked up with Problem (who also appeared on "Function") for the Million Dollar Afro tape in 2013, which would show up on year-end lists by SPIN and Stereogum. Later that year, Iamsu! would appear on Sage The Gemini's "Gas Pedal," which ended up being both artists' first Top 40 song.
Sound: Su seems to have built his sound from the bass up, starting with the Bay's signature bone-rattling style of bass, and adding varying elements on top of it. That can include early Cash Money-style bounce, more modern trap fare, and even some breezier stoner rap fare (the like of which punctuated the middle of the Kilt II tape). Originally accused of ripping off Keak da Sneak's rapping style, Su has since developed a more distinctive, conversational style.
Strengths: Versatility, for sure. Whereas it would be difficult to mistake any other HBK Gang member's music as a product of somewhere other than The Bay, Su varies sounds enough on his tapes that it begins to encompass the West Coast as a whole. He's had success in this regard with guest spots too -- playing host to artists as diverse as Tank, 2 Chainz and 50 Cent, Su shows his rolodex extends far beyond his neighborhood. Sincerely Yours seems like it will continue down this path of questing for wide appeal, so we'll just have to see where it takes Iamsu!
Given Name: Dominic Wynn Woods
Occupations: Rapper, Producer
Releases: Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013; Gas Pedal EP, debut EP, September 2013; Remember Me, debut album, March 2014.
Career Highlights: In 2008, Sage released the song "You Should Know" on MySpace, where it received over three million plays. Joining HBK Gang in 2012, he quickly released the singles "Red Nose" and "Gas Pedal" in March 2013, and both ended up breaking into the Top 20 on the US R&B chart and going Platinum. In March, his debut album peaked at number five on the US Rap chart.
Sound: Of all the members of HBK Gang, Sage has the sound that's most indebted to the Bay. Mostly composed of synths, 808 bass, snaps and claps, his music thrives on its minimalism and club-ready sound. Even if "Gas Pedal" and "Red Nose" hadn't blown up, Remember Me still sounds as though it'd be perfectly acceptable to throw on at any party. What's crazy is that Sage produces most of his own music in his house -- it's not that surprising that Su does all his own beats, but as Sage is younger and known mostly for his radio and Vine hits, you may not expect him to have so much control over his own work.
Strengths: Sage is currently thriving on how hot his singles sound, with them blending into the DJ Mustard sound much more easily than most other HBK material. This (along with the fact that his whole album sounds similar to its singles) may currently make Sage seem like a one trick pony, but as he controls most of his own creative process, he makes himself out to be more than a buzz-seeking youngster. He'll definitely want to expand his sound in the future, but for now, let's just be happy he's given us an album full of bangers to bump.
Career Highlights: Along with Kool John and Jay Ant, Skipper was part of the second wave of artists to join HBK in 2008. He mostly did his own thing on the first Wet release, but was featured on over half the songs on Gang Forever, and got some help from Iamsu!, Kool John and The Invasion on Wet 2.
Sound: Like Iamsu!, but a little more smoked-out. Though he can still crank out a banger here and there, Skipper usually lets his hyped-up voice be the driving energy in his music, selecting beats that are a bit chiller than those of his crewmates. Wet 2 has a nice mix of Bay club music, jazzy tracks, and slow-paced songs that border on cloud rap.
Strengths: At this stage in the game, it's nice that Skipper seems like he can do his own thing, and doesn't seem self-conscious about being overshadowed by Su and Sage. You couldn't mistake Wet 2 as the work of either of those artists, and that's saying something in a group largely dominated by same-y Bay Area sounds. Lyrically, Skip hasn't carved out that much of a comfort zone for himself yet, but he's no chump on the mic either.
Occupations: Producer, Rapper
Sound: One of the most accomplished producers in HBK Gang, Ant brought an interesting palette of sounds to Blue Money, his latest solo tape. Mixing classic 808s with strings, synth, jazzy samples, classy piano and brisk hi-hats, the tape added a baroque feel to the established HBK sound.
Strengths: Ant is unquestionably a producer first and MC second, but he's shown promise on his solo material to date. He lets his beats set the tone perfectly so he doesn't have to do as much work lyrically, but his best songs are still usually songs he produced for others. He's the only member of The Invasion who's stepped outside HBK for collaborations, linking up with Fly Street Gang for a pair of tracks over the past year, and that outside connection could help him in the future.
Occupations: Rapper, Producer
Releases: MBMGC, debut mixtape, July 2012; Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013; MBMGC 2, mixtape, January 2014.
Sound: After Sage, P-Lo has the most club-ready sound, with songs like "Live It Up" from MBMGC 2 even adding elements of EDM to make a more determined effort to reach dancefloors everywhere. He can slow it down too, but it's usually less in a stoner rap fashion than Su or Skip, opting for lady-centric slow jams that also sound like they could soundtrack (probably more private) dance parties.
Strengths: As a producer, P-Lo has a great ear for weird sounds, incorporating their strangeness into songs that come off seeming normal despite it. This is an approach that works great with the Bay Area style, as sonic elements of songs are usually used in minimal fashion, and Lo's tracks like "Player For Life" and "The Vibe" get away with some awesome weirdness. Lyrically, P-Lo doesn't do much for me, seeming more interested in relaying stories about partying than crafting interesting verses, but on posse tracks, he's a nice change-up from everyone else in HBK.
Alias: Clarence J
Releases: CJ 2.0, mixtape, March 2013; Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013; State Of Mind, mixtpe, August 2013; Dark Zero, mixtape, August 2013.
Sound: Stepping outside of The Invasion when looking for many of his beats, CJ makes music that isn't very in line with the rest of his HBK crewmates. His tape State Of Mind incorporates elements of chipmunk soul, piano-driven R&B, and G-Funk, making for a diverse listen.
Strengths: Outside of Su, CJ may be the most versatile member of HBK. His tapes show an ability to command a variety of beats, with his elastic flow making up for a lack of consistency in sound. State Of Mind and Dark Zero aren't the most memorable of tapes, but they're a nice addition to the already-expansive HBK discography.
Releases: Peace, Love & Shmoplife, mixtape, March 2013; ChillDrinkFuckSmoke, mixtape, April 2013; Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013;
Sound: Kool John is HBK's resident weirdo, splitting the difference between the crew and fellow Bay Area denizen Lil B, with a dash of Seattle's Nacho Picasso thrown in. John's got a relaxed flow that's libel to drop WTF-ready lines and hilarious punchlines, which usually occur over blunted production that isn't very club-ready. The fact that John and Sage are in the same group is pretty strange.
Strengths: Lyrically, John crafts some of the most interesting bars in HBK, seeming to idolize the Mac Dres and Lil Bs of the Bay rather than the E-40s and Keak da Sneaks. He's a nice conversational yin to the rest of HBK's hyped-up yang, offering some much-needed character to the group.
Occupations: Rapper, Producer
Releases: $homplife, mixtape, July 2013; Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013;
Sound: Steezy uses more samples than anyone else in HBK, beginning his $homplife tape with one from Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft." Along with Kool John, he represents HBK's weirder side, coming across like a hyphy Mac Miller at times.
Strengths: Steezy is clearly comfortable with being himself, which plays a huge role in his rapping and production. He takes Su's ability to blend styles of music and blends it with Kool John's chill approach to rapping, leading to the very enjoyable $homplife tape. It's good that HBK has interesting guys like this in their ranks rather than carbon copies of Su and Sage.
Releases: Gang Forever, collaborative mixtape, August 2013.
Sound: Amongst a group of rappers, Rossi is the obligatory R&B singer who hops on tracks for the ladies. He hasn't had a chance to do much solo work, but Rossi's got a smooth voice that is capable of providing perfectly enjoyable hooks.
Familiarize yourself with the Bay Area clique known as HBK Gang.
HBK (Heart Break Kids) are a crew from the San Francisco Bay Are who count rapper/producer Iamsu! as their de facto leader. Formed in 2008 by Su and producers Chief and P-Lo, the crew went on to add Sage The Gemini, Skipper, CJ, Rossi, Dave Steezy, Jay Ant, Kool John and the production team The Invasion (consisting of Iamsu!, P-Lo, Kuya Beats, Jay Ant, and Chief).
HBK Gang carry on the legacy of Bay Area hyphy while adding some new bells and whistles -- Su cites Kanye West as a huge influence -- and are often talked about in the same context of the L.A. movement that has spawned DJ Mustard, YG and Ty Dolla $ign. But whereas those guys have started reaching out for bigger collaborations and crossover appeal, HBK has stayed fairly insular, collaborating with some big names but keeping most of their material in-house and independent.
Meet the group's nine core members in this week's Crew Love (Note: as Kuya Beats and Chief have only produced for HBK artists, they aren't included in this list).