Folks attribute many adjectives to E-40 and his guest Keak Da Sneak and "beautiful" probably isn't one of them but it's hard to sit through the flashing scenes of abandoned warehouses, flying dreads and smoking tires and not be drawn in by this distinct and alluring vision of "The Town."
Like the portrayal of Brooklyn and Chicago's Southside in recent videos for Jay-Z's "99 Problems" and Common's "The Corner" respectively, director Bernard Gourley's decision to shoot in B&W captures Oakland in a gritty, yet romantic light.
Like a series of old photos you find in a garage box, the B&W imagery simultaneously nods to the realism of a documentary yet also invokes a kind of timeless classiness and charm. Meanwhile, the hyperactive editing is used to full effect as a parade of shots flashes by in rhythm to Lil' Jon's minimalist track.
Each beat brings a new postcard: snarling pitbulls, a smiling child's face behind chain-link, a car doing donuts in slo-mo, etc. It's like a whirlwind tour of Oakland in a pert four minutes.
As many others have already noted including E-40 himself in the video the song serves as a "hyphy primer," an introduction into the world of Bay Area hip-hop that probably seems as strange and bewildering as an alien planet.
After all, it's tough to keep up with "Yay Area" lingo: An intuitive person might guess what "put your stunna shades on" means but try deciphering "thizz face" without a slanguage dictionary. "Tell Me When to Go" serves as both a distillation of and ambassador for the complex and sprawling Bay scene(s).
The song is the first single from E-40's new album, "My Ghetto Report Card," which hit stores March 14. Most expect it to have a strong debut when chart numbers are released later this week.
The $64,000 question is: Will "Tell Me When to Go" (or any other song) be able to break the Bay out nationally?
Sure, there's been a loyal following among hipster bloggers and other underground fans strewn outside Northern California. But it's not often that Bay Area groups have had national success the same way as L.A. rappers in the'80s and early'90s or Southern rap in the last 10 years.
While "regional rap" used to be a patronizing description of everything outside of New York, it's very clear that the center of the American hip-hop universe has splintered, with poles now rising from cities like Houston, Atlanta and Memphis.
As it was, the MTV2 show "My Block" which profiles local hip-hop scenes recently came to the Bay and interviewed everyone from Vallejo-native E-40 to S.F.'s hustler-prince J.T. the Bigga Figga to indie underground favorites Zion I to the godfather of the whole Bay rap scene: Oakland's Too $hort. MTV's presence seemed to validate at least to some extent that there's an interest in what's happening here by other corners of the country.
Ironically, it might be the Bay's unique character and culture that prevents the scene from expanding beyond its current borders. As enjoyable as getting hyphy might be for those at ground zero, for the uninitiated, the whole "goin' dumb" concept might seem too crazy and intense. Likewise, thizz dancing and music is hard to explain to outsiders and like Houston's fascination with sizzurp, it's hard to mainstream a subculture built on intoxication (as much fun as that may also sound to others).
That's the thing: The gift and the curse of the Bay's isolation is that it has developed such a rich, uncompromised sense of itself.
Much is said about the Bay's "independent" spirit and it's not just a cute phrase this is where rappers learned how to dirt hustle tapes out of car trunks, where the independent label movement of the 1990s partially got its start, where artists for decades have learned to rely on themselves and their local fans because they knew they couldn't rely on New York snobs or Wal-Mart America to take notice or give a damn.
Whether or not the Bay is ready for prime time still depends on a variety of forces: the right single to blow up on radio across the country, the right artist(s) to help knock the door open, and a momentum to keep things rolling past the 15-minutes-of-fame moment.
These next few months should be telling. Regardless of what happens, the Bay's artists, regardless their type of flavor or fan base, will have made their music the only and best way they know how: no regrets and no compromises.
Oliver Wang is a Bay Area-based hip-hop writer and the co-author of the book, "Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide." Look for his column on hip-hop in Preview. To contact Wang, visit his Web site http://www.o-dub.com.