IAmSu! revitalizes Bay Area rap

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IAmSu! is a star. The 23-year-old stands tall, towering over every student walking on Sproul. He looks like a big kid with his skateboard, basketball shorts and a snapback that barely fits over his afro. It may not be obvious by his demeanor, but IAmSu! of Richmond, Calif., is one of rap’s brightest young standouts and the biggest thing to happen to Bay Area rap in years.

Rap in the Bay Area is notorious for keeping out of the national spotlight. Although the region has been active for almost 30 years, the only names synonymous with the area today, E-40 and Too Short, are the two that essentially started it all. There is so little support from radio or other mainstream outlets that music from the area tends to get trapped within it. Those who previously teetered on the edge of widespread success – Mistah F.A.B. or Lil B, for example – have all fallen back into obscurity. IAmSu! has successfully defied this notion.

He earned his first big break appearing on fellow Bay Area rapper LoveRance’s “UP!.” The song peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart, a feat practically unheard of for a Bay Area rap single. Then came IAmSu!’s appearance on another national hit, E-40’s “Function.” This year, he has features on singer Jonn Hart’s Top-40 song “Who Booty” and Wiz Khalifa’s latest single, “Bout Me.” As his resume continues to grow, it is clear: People are paying attention.

IAmSu! is a tremendously gifted rapper. Words just flow effortlessly off his tongue. Stylistically, he stretches rap’s boundaries, incorporating many melodic elements and even singing on songs, but much of his music, which he produces with his production team, The Invasion, follows a similar structure — minimalist and uptempo. It combines the trunk-rattling aspects of the Bay’s mob music and the energetic qualities of the region’s hyphy movement. “We’re just a partying-ass group of people,” IAmSu! said, noting that making music to get played at parties was the way to gain recognition. “I couldn’t make a song about going back to Africa (and) get played at a party.”

It is with this type of music that IAmSu! has been able to gain notice. His Southern California counterparts have all found success building upon this same post-hyphy aesthetic. Los Angeles producer DJ Mustard, responsible for Tyga’s “Rack City” and Young Jeezy’s “R.I.P.,” has brought the sound to rap’s forefront. Compton rappers YG and Problem have both built nationwide fanbases with similar musical styles. Even Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” includes comparable sonic elements to much of IAmSu!’s catalog. The acceptance of this type of sound by rap on a larger scale has allowed success for a talented rapper like IAmSu!, who has so few resources from his own home region, to break through now. “If you go to L.A., you’ll hear hella local acts (on the radio),” he mentioned.

He is quick to silence critics that box him into a single style, though. “I don’t want to be defined by any certain thing,” IAmSu! said. “I bring so many different sounds to the table, and I think (those) people don’t really listen to my music in depth.” He plans to showcase that variety more on his upcoming Kilt 2 mixtape. “It’s a lot more personal songs, showing my upbringing and how I’m feeling about everything that’s going on right now,” he said.

There is a charisma to IAmSu! that separates him from his peers. He has an energy to him that is captivating. The San Francisco stop of his and Problem’s Million Dollar Afro Tour showcased a packed house of fans — aged 14 to 45 — all present to support their hometown hero. He was confident and commandeering of his audience, and fans sang along word for word. He really has no single song that identifies him at this point, so it is especially interesting how people are drawn to him and not a gimmick of a radio single. “I think that (it’s about) being original and being different,” IAmSu! said of his success. “People gravitate towards something genuine.”

Life has changed for IAmSu!, but he doesn’t feel like he has made it yet. “I don’t think I’m going to ever have that feeling,” he said. He plans to continue to take advantage of the opportunity given, pushing his crew, the Heartbreak Gang and fellow Bay Area rappers into the national spotlight. He understands that he carries the Bay on his back and that this doesn’t happen to everybody. “That’s what I always wanted — to be the face of this music scene,” IAmSu! said. “I’m proud that people even say that — to put me in a category with legends like E-40 and Too Short.”

Even now, his ambitions are nothing short of extraordinary. IAmSu! hopes to become a rap icon alongside the likes of Jay-Z and Nas. “(This entails) pushing myself to the limit to see how far I can go lyrically and conceptually and how deep I can get into my music,” he said. The talent is there. The drive is there. IAmSu! is on his way to making his mark on the world, and this is the start of something special.

Click here to see an interview with IAmSu!

Contact Rahul Pandya at [email protected].

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