This article was written for and originally published by Oakland Voices, a nine-month program led by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education that trains Oakland residents to tell the stories of their neighborhoods.
The Bay Area was given a gift of musical recognition on Saturday by E-40 and Too Short with their contribution to the musical landscape via Verzuz. Saturday’s event was a Bay Area love letter to those who are, in the words of E-40, “loyal to the soil.” It was the first battle where the two artists are from the Bay Area: Earl Stevens (better known as E-40, from Vallejo) “Verzuz” Todd Shaw (better known as Too Short, who represents Oakland).
After watching several months of battles and seeing how they have shaped the culture with memes and phrases (i.e “Throw in the tile”), the days leading up to the event were filled with anticipation and excitement that our artists would finally get a moment of reckoning. There was also anxiety that something we hold sacred would be mocked or dismissed if anything went wrong.
Verzuz, an online musical event, started by hip hop producers Timbaland and Swizz Beats in April 2020, as a way to keep people entertained during the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine. Two artists appear in an online battle with their own songs. There are no scorecards or prizes. Part performance showcase, Verzuz is also part history lesson on each musician’s catalog of songs popularized because of the online interactive experience including a stream of celebrities in the comments and Twitter memes that are created along the way.
Saturday’s Verzuz lasted nearly three hours, covering songs spanning the past 30 years from Bay Area legends. In previous battles prior to the 2020 presidential election, political officials, such as Oakland native and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, have made an appearance on screen and in the comments sections of the performance.
But what does this mean to the people who grew up and have history listening to E-40 and Too Short?
In the days leading up to the online battle, there was much discussion. There have been promotional videos with some well known Bay Area celebrities such as comedian Mark Curry, Las Vegas Raiders player Marshawn Lynch, and Stephen Curry from the Golden State Warriors.
There are some reflective pieces, addressing the impact of misogyny in hip hop culture and nostalgic pieces written about how people have experienced the culture of Bay Area music.
For Bay Area locals who have witnessed the confusion of people unfamiliar with the local music scene or watch the atmosphere change when “Blow The Whistle” or “Tell Me When To Go” come on, this Verzuz battle means something more than just entertainment. “Being a part of the community means a whole lot more than just moving here for some tech job or because your privileged life needed a change of scenery,” Nazshonnii Brown-Almaweri said.
Brown-Almaweri was born on a reservation and moved to Oakland at a young age. It’s for that reason she said she doesn’t call herself an Oakland native, but said that Oakland is the only place that “held people” she calls home. “The music from the greater Oakland/Yay Area tells a story with roots deeper than it’ll show,” Brown-Almaweri said. “It means a whole lot to see someone that looks like you, talks like you or lived where you live, build their platform, and put Oakland on the map.”
KMEL DJ Big Von and Too Short’s long-term DJ Slowpoke opened playing 30 minutes of songs from artists from throughout the Bay Area including Mistah F.A.B, Kamaiyah, Keak Da Sneak, The Jacka, Mac Dre, Goapele, and many others. The three-hour set comprised over 60 songs collectively spanning their 30 years in the music industry.
While known for explicit song lyrics of hypermasculinity and misogyny, Too Short’s fan base of women from Oakland addressed the conflicting emotions they have for enjoying the music. Women online have been acknowledging their relationship to the music they grew up with is a complicated one.
Loving the music and hearing women being called degrading names, during a time when women are saying we need to be protected, goes against our better judgement. Much like using of the word “female” instead of “woman” and other words that are not culturally acceptable, it’s a learning and an unlearning we don’t ignore. Yet, on this night, Bay Area women sang the B word to every gender and to no one in particular.
Both E-40 and Too Short told stories about their history and upbringing, at one time speaking directly to the audience with lessons they learned. “Food don’t slap,” E-40 said, referring to the use of the slang word “slap” and its use in social media when referring to food being delicious (see: “smack” versus “slap”).
“I just appreciate the respect and the work they have both put in as our local musicians,” Misha Karigaca, an Oakland native, said. Karigaca has been an educator for over 20 years in Oakland. In 2018, the former principal of Westlake Middle School was honored with a mural and awards for his service to the community during the redesign of Westlake Middle School’s gym in partnership with The Warriors Community, Good Tidings and PG&E. “Music tells the story or part of the story of a community and culture. These two dudes tell an incredible story of what life is like or thought of in Oakland and the Bay for many folks. They have been telling stories about our town for decades!”
Both E-40 and Too Short started as independent artists and have spanned careers for four decades. While E-40 has been nominated for a Grammy, neither he nor Too Short has an award on their shelf. Long before Master P was touted for starting his own record label No Limit Records, E-40 had Sic Wit It Records. Each has worked with new and old artists they’ve influenced. Seeing them take an international stage serves as a reminder to everyone in the Bay Area, in the words of E-40, “You don’t have to like me, but you gotta respect me.” The Bay Area doesn’t need everyone else’s approval, but they will always take notice of what we’re doing.
This Verzuz battle held a special place in the hearts of those that grew up with the music. The winners are the audience members who watch through the Instagram Live Video feed. Viewers can watch on VerzuzTV YouTube. Closing out the year, the winner is the Bay Area. Yee!