In late March, R&B artist Kehlani was caught in the midst of a supposed sex scandal – one that resulted in an apparent suicide attempt that left the Oakland singer hospitalized. Thankfully, she’s made a full recovery since then, and will be releasing her debut album in the near future.
I’m especially thankful, because if this series of awful events resulted in Kehlani not being here today, HBK would be left with a grand total of zero talented musicians.
HBK, or The Heartbreak Gang, is a San Francisco-based hip hop collective, composed of Bay Area notables like high school prom soundtrack Sage the Gemini and Iamsu!, a somewhat Hyphy rapper and producer who is as underserving of extra punctuation in his name as Panic! At The Disco is. I’d mention the rest of the thousand-strong crew, but that would be a waste of your computer screen and of my time.
I suppose there’s no point complaining about Sage the Gemini’s lyrical attributes – I’m not so pretentious that I discard artists based on their Scrabble scores. Consequently, however, it should be expected that Sage’s production makes up for his copy & paste hooks or monotone Kristen Stewart cadence, but it just doesn’t. Throw a dart at the man’s discography, pick out an instrumental, and I’ll tell you what it sounds like: Baby’s First Synth Line on top of free trial Ableton bass turned up to 11. Can you call it minimalist production? If you want to insult Clams Casino’s métier, sure, but I’d say Sage’s beatmaking rides closer to “amateur” rather than “stripped-down”.
I don’t want to write Iamsu! and allow him a special punctuation mark more than a couple times, so I won’t, and will vaguely refer to him throughout the rest of this piece. Debut album Sincerely Yours dropped in 2014, and (like the rest of his work) is useful in identifying every aspect of a mediocre album: contrived, stale, and generally all over the place. Think of Waka Flocka Flame, 2 Chainz, and Sage the Gemini for that matter – they make music meant for clubs, bedrooms, and subwoofers, and clearly have no interest in attempting to complicate their sound with flowery lyricism or sophomoric attempts at profundity, because that’s not who they are. Captain Exclamation Point, on the other hand, tries his best to bridge the gap between being real and having fun, which leaves him in the middle of nowhere in particular. Lazy squad anthems (Read: “I Love My Squad”) lie next to dull struggle laments, not being sonically impressive, confident, or fluid in any aspect, leaving behind an indistinct and forgettable rapper. It’s not like the dude has done anything incredibly ‘bad’ either; he’s just so plain and unfocused that there’s little reason to spend time listening to him.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like HBK is offensively awful, but their position as the Bay’s principal modern collective is a hard pill to swallow when compared to the East Coast’s Pro Era and A$AP Mob, the Midwest’s Rhymesayers, and even SoCal’s Odd Future. While sometimes judged by the popularity of their leader, collectives are an important and defining part of hip-hop scenes, building storylines through collaboration and organized quality. It’s like being loyal to a sports team – it’s awesome having something you can be proud to represent, something that can compete with those away from home and receive grudging appraisal from rivals across the country. I’m looking forward to seeing who this generation’s Hieroglyphics will be, but for now, our crew status is lacking at best, corny at worst, and boring all of the time.