What the hell is turf hop?
The founder of the movement explains
“Turf hop’s a movement, man,” says its founder, Blee, a Sacramento emcee who, first of all, well, the guy just looks like a rapper.
His style—the glasses with red frames, matching shirt, perfectly crooked baseball cap, freshly ironed jeans, spotless tennis shoes—says, like an animated name tag: Hello, I am a professional emcee and I would like to spit a little rap to you.
But anyway, “Turf hop’s a fucking movement, man,” Blee explains. “Turf hop is the monster that I have devised; I’m a backpack rapper from the streets of south Sacramento, Meadowview, but why do [I] have to just be a backpacker?”
In case you were wondering, a “backpack rapper” is usually a person who enjoys hip-hop culture but takes a particular disinterest in mainstream rap, or the rap music you might hear on the radio. For instance, a backpack rapper’s soundtrack might include A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots, Nas (from Illmatic, not the newer, fatter Nas) and, curiously enough, maybe Coldplay or other bland rock bands. A backpack rapper might also reject rappers such as Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy, citing played-out lyrical themes—guns, money, bitches—as grounds for dismissal.
So, basically, turf hop is a way for Blee to harmonize the music from the streets he grew up on with the music of the diverse hip-hop culture. “Nobody really wants to be boxed in, bro. I should be able to open up for a show anywhere in any genre of music. [Turf hop] allows us to step in and let hardcore, B-boy backpackers really represent,” says the proud Dominican/black emcee, whose live show is something like watching a mash-up of Wild Style, Colors and Saturday Night Fever.
From just a brief conversation it becomes blindingly obvious that seamlessly blending culture and style is very important to Blee. And he feels that Sacramento musicians have a certain responsibility to represent each other, no matter how different in style or outlook they might be. Sometimes at shows, Blee wears a Neighborhood Watch shirt, even though he’s not officially in the crew. “I definitely hold down all factions of creative sources here in Sacramento that are legitimate to me. We should represent each other; if you’re cut from the same cloth, why not represent, you know?” In Blee’s eyes, to keep the scene unified means to celebrate Sacramento’s diversity.
This dedication to diversity—along with his natural energy—are factors that help Blee’s music pop right out of your speakers. His new LP, The Full Course Meal (which should hit the streets in late April or May), represents the emcee’s animated, energetic, outspoken and dynamic personality. Take, for instance, “Guns Go,” in which Blee declares: “It’s Meadowview mind state / gold chain music” over an ’80s rock track. It’s not just brilliant because it sounds nice, but Blee achieves exactly what an emcee should: He accurately conveys a clear message through words and sounds. In this case, the message is that that turf hop is a new medium through which hip-hop is manifesting itself. Blee’s words ring as clear as a fire alarm in the middle of the night—the boundaries of man are no match for the unfettered nature of hip-hop.
Another song (and highlight) from The Full Course Meal, “Where U From?” begins with an ominous piano and scratched hook, and then it unfolds into a banger that listens like a new brand of street anthem, with Neighborhood Watch’s Plush Lush delivering one of the best, most politically incorrect lines of the decade: “On the mic I’m eating cats like I’m Vietnamese.”
In short, the album is something different. It’s new in a way that is surprising, and it’s traditional in a way that respects the culture of hip-hop. And it’s brought to you by Blee, the first platoon general of the turf-hop movement, which just might be the new direction of Sacramento hip-hop.