Keak Da Sneak
In a region that privileges distinct and original voices, Keak is something special. The Bay Area emcee has a voice that's somewhere between a whisper and a growl; it's demonic and desperate, yet somehow manages to be rhythmically nimble and exact. Keak grew up in a musical, Southern household (his mother was a DJ, and both parents are from Alabama). After migrating to Oakland, Calif., as a child, he emerged in that city's vibrant independent hip-hop scene. Keak's earliest hip-hop influences are still evident in his rhymes: you can hear Too $hort's hardboiled ghetto narratives in Keak's lyrics, while E-40's expressive and flexible delivery is also evident. It's this blend of respect and originality that has made Keak one of the most celebrated rappers in a suddenly resurgent Bay, though his career has its roots in that scene's mid-1990s heyday. Along with fellow rappers Agerman and T, Keak formed the seminal Bay Area group 3XCrazy in the early '90s. The mid-'90s were the golden years for Bay Area hip-hop -- Luniz, Tupac, Digital Underground and Souls of Mischief were all at the height of their popularity -- and labels were clamoring to find the next big act. Before they had graduated from high school, Keak and Co. were signed to Virgin Records, though the experience was not entirely positive. Ironically, that would be the last time that Keak would be on a major label. The group released four albums, and though they had little commercial impact, the records made them superstars in the Bay Area and also caused ripples in the South. But by 1998, the group decided to disband. Keak, who was still at teen at the time, released his solo debut, 1999's Sneakacydal. His 2001 follow-up, Hi-Tek, featured not only old-school Bay legends such as E-40, Too $hort and Ant Banks, but also production via new school standout Rick Rock, whose elastic bass lines would later give birth to the slap style. That album cemented Keak's status as a leader of the Bay's new school, which also included such rappers as Frontline, The Team and Turf Talk. Keak's 2005 track "Super Hyphie" proved to be one of the most popular and songs of his career, and provided a fitting anthem for the Bay's emerging hyphy movement, which sonically blends G-Funk's swagger with crunk's bombast.