Last week the Bay Area Hip Hop community was saddened to see the unintended departure of long time producer DJ Paul Nice. He had become the latest casualty in an increasingly long line of talented musicians and artists who have been forced out of the Bay Area due to astronomical housing costs. With the average price of a medium size two bedroom house going for $435 thousand dollars, rents in Bay Area cities like San Francisco, San Jose and now Oakland have skyrocketed to the point that it is now cheaper to move out and rent an apartment in Manhattan. Bay Area Hip Hop hot spots like Oakland, Vallejo and East Palo Alto are changing by the minute as longtime residents are getting evicted left and right. Paul Nice was a victim of a landlord saying he wanted to move into his pot .. so he could kick Paul out and then go on raise the rents..
In San Francisco the housing situation is all but a lost cause. Hip Hop strong holds like the Filmore have literally changed face over night thanks to the dot com invasion. You will now show up to a gig in the Filmore and be made to feel totally unwelcome and out of place in what was once your neighborhood prior to the new economy suddenly exploding. The historic colorful Mission District is currently dealing with this onslaught and next on the list is Bayview Hunters Point. The South of Market club district is now dotted with ‘live work lofts and newly arrived cranky residents who have used their economic and political clout to shut down night clubs which they say are making too much noise.. It was just a few years ago that many of these now occupied buildings once played host to raves and after hours Hip Hop parties..
Adding fuel to the fire in the nation’s dot com capital is a 1% vacancy rate and ruthless landlords who are now starting to put rental units on auction sites like EBAY. It is now a situation where the highest bidder wins. This is complicated by big businesses that are now buying up and renting apartments for key executives and employees which has driven up rental prices even more. Can you imagine competing for an apartment with a big company that has deep pockets and is determined to fly in workers from overseas or across country? They simply outbid you by offering crazy rent prices. Its not unusual to see 1 bedroom apartments for $2500 and up. Its totally ridiculous and we haven’t even begun to address the drama surrounding commercial properties. About a month and half ago there was a highly publicized situation where a dot com came into the Mission District and displaced a popular rehearsal and studio spot that was home to more than 500 musicians. The Bay Area’s Hip Hop community has definitely been feeling the strain.
Last year Boots of the Coup along with the San Francisco Bay Guardian which has been chronicling this entire mess did a series controversial radio ads on Bay Area radio stations about the Bay Area housing crunch. In the commercial Boots talks about how he was forced to move out of his house in Oakland because of high rents and gentrification. He placed the blame on Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and warned long time Oakland residents that the new economy and the new face of Oakland would most likely not include them if they didn’t step up their efforts. Boot’s concerns were realized not too long ago when Oakland City Council members voted down an ordinance that would’ve protected residents from unfair evictions.
Another longtime Bay Area Hip Hop fixture was producer DJ Fear of the group No Concept. Earlier this year he was forced to move out of Oakland due to high housing costs. Well established Hip Hop outfits like the Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition and the Hieroglyphics Crew were forced out of their downtown office space which they had for years due to rent increases. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the past year and a half I’ve counted more than 30 Bay Area Hip Hop artists, promoters DJs etc have moved out of the San Francisco/Oakland area to the far outskirts of the Bay or down to LA because of the high housing costs. Its now gotten to the point that when out of town cats say they’d like to get a taste of the local Hip Hop scene, you have to send them to neighboring cities like Sacramento, Antioch, Stockton or Los Angeles which is 400 miles away so they can get a feel. It’s in these places that you will now find Bay Area artists like; Mac Mall, The Luniz, Mac Dre, Mystic Journeyman, Money B, and Rappin’ 4Tay to name a few. More and more Bay Area folks have also been relocating to New York, Atlanta or Texas where housing costs are cheaper when compared to the Bay..Even sadder is the fact that some Bay Area Hip Hoppers went away to school and found they can’t afford to move back..
In an attempt to bring attention to this housing problem, long time Bay Area DJ Billy Jam and Amoeba Music has put together a compilation album featuring 19 independent artists called ‘Just Paying The Rent’. The album is a who’s who of Bay Area underground artists like Clever Jeff, Crack Emcee, Superstar Qu’am Allah, BLACK, DJ Fear Slumlordz and DJ Zeph. to name a few cover the entire music spectrum from Hip Hop to folk music.
“Just payin’ the rent” is pretty much the battle cry for each of the nineteen indie artists on this compilation who, despite their radical range in musical styles, all share the struggle to just pay the rent and be able to create their art. The San Francisco Bay Area, where most of them reside, has felt the seemingly-overnight effects of the new dot-com economy which has escalated housing costs, changed demographics, and had a drastic effect on the local arts community.
“Living in San Francisco is like living in a computer: everything is about the Internet,” said the pre-teens’ Laura Davis. “People are been forced out because of the skyrocketing rents. Clubs are closing down and practice spaces are rare.” Indeed a major blow was dealt when on October 1st, San Francisco’s Downtown Rehearsal building, where 500 bands of all types of music had rented rehearsal spaces, were all evicted after the building was sold for a huge profit. “I call them the Dotzies,” laughed the Crack Emcee. “They’re blowing the smoke of the new economy up your ass… and all they want to do is sell you sh&*…..everyone’s selling banner space.”
There’s no telling where all this will end and what the final lay of the land will be..I guess I’ll have to move down to LA or back to New York with DJ Paul Nice to get a taste of the Bay Area’s Hip Hop scene. For more info on ‘Just Paying The Rent Project’ drop an email to Billy Jam at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org