At last, a hip-hop group that’s unashamed to say they still live at home with their parents. Three-quarters of Bay Area rap sensations The Pack are still in their teens, but they’ve already been enshrined into pop-culture immortality.
Their debut single, “Vans,” took over MTV and earned a Top 5 mention in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 of 2006. Not bad for a song that producer Young L made in just 15 minutes about $35 canvas sneakers.
Recorded in 2005, “Vans” piggybacked on the hyphy scene’s popularity, yet clearly established its own momentum (as of November 2007, it had clocked over 4.7 million hits on MySpace). Once the song was added to commercial radio playlists, request lines quickly flooded. Just like that, The Pack’s fab four–Young L, Stunna, Uno, and Lil B–had a hit on their hands. “We didn’t have to promote it,” marvels Young L (at 20, the group’s elder statesman). “I really didn’t think ‘Vans’ was gonna be that big,” says Stunna. “We put it on MySpace and it took off, started running like it had legs.”
“A lot of people said, ‘How you gonna wear Vans and then be a rapper? You talking about thug shit. You can’t play both sides. You need to pick and choose,’” says Stunna, 19. “We were like, ‘Fuck that.’ We ran through adversity and embraced it. And I think that’s the whole reason it took off like that. We embraced the fact that we were different. Instead of running from it, instead of trying to hide our differences, we wore ’em on our shoulders. People accepted it.”
“’Vans’ was a perfect song. I don’t know if we can ever do that again,” Young L says. The song’s phenomenal success is a “difficult standard” to maintain, he adds. “It’s gonna take a lot of creative energy.”
Certainly, expectations have been raised now that The Pack has released its major-label debut, Based Boys. But then, the group has much energy to spare. “I’m coming at the game like I want to take everything over,” says Lil B, at 17, the youngest of the bunch. “I speak for myself but I can [also] speak for The Pack. We want to move the whole rap game… flood [it] with mixtapes, videos, shows, as much stuff as we can do. We be working. We’re young, energetic, and really ready to take over.”
Based Boys’ 17 tracks (all but four produced by YoungL) establish The Pack as a charismatic, somewhat naughty hip-hop boy band with a wide-ranging appeal. Unlike most boy bands, though, they have street cred, mixed with a party-friendly, uptempo flavor that draws from both crunk and hyphy but isn’t beholden to either.
“When we started out, we were a hyphy group. But we kinda grew outta that,” Young L explains. “When hyphy first started, everybody in the Bay jumped on it,” he recalls. “People thought it was gonna be the next big thing.”
A major knock on hyphy was that its biggest, most nationally known artists–E-40 and Too $hort–weren’t exactly new faces. Meanwhile The Pack are not only from the young generation, they rep it to the fullest, staying dipped in fresh gear and possessing large amounts of what Young L calls “swagg” (swagger).
Young L describes The Pack’s style as “fly, flashy, somewhat hood, trendy, and creative.” He explains that the term “based,” like “hyphy,” used to have negative connotations–derived from “basehead” or dope fiend. But The Pack flipped the phrase: It now means “being creative to the point of acting high,” Young L says, as well as being “leftfield, original, free-willed.”
To its credit, Based Boys doesn’t drown listeners with predictable beats. Instead, it relies on a minimal, often sparse, bass-driven, and nearly sample-free aesthetic reminiscent of ghetto-tech and electro-funk. Young L ambitiously states his goal is to be a “super-producer,” and there’s no denying his knack for crafting fresh-sounding tracks like “I Look Good,” the silly but raucous new single “In My Car,” and the cheeky, audacious “My Girl Gotta Gurl Too.” Many of the album’s tracks extol the virtues of “boppers,” which Uno, 19, defines as “a girl who loves penis and is not afraid of it.”
Bounce, Rock, Skate
Despite their hood-star status, as evidenced by their penchant for grills and tats, The Pack aren’t your garden-variety turf cats. Young L, Stunna, and Uno are all avid skateboarders, and while the hip-hop-skater demographic has boomed since “Vans” and Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick, Push,” Young L is quick to point out that skateboarding has long been part of their lifestyle.
As a little kid, Young L remembers watching pioneering African American rider Stevie Williams do his thing at San Francisco’s Pier 7. Before becoming a musician, Young L was a competitive boarder in Pro-Am events throughout California. Nowadays, he still finds time to get on his stick. Matter of fact, he reports, “I saw Stunna at the skate park today.”
“People have always been into skateboarding, that’s how I look at it,” says Stunna, who took up the sport in the sixth grade. “The day I hopped on a board, I learned to ollie,” he boasts. Back then, “People looked at me weird ’cause I was a black dude.” In high school, Young L says, “The black people would think we were trying to be like white people.” Even so, he says, “We embraced that lifestyle.”
They’ve also embraced the “urban punk rock” image. “It’s like, flashy colors, ’80s style… the whole rock-star look,” explains Young L of the style, which mixes studded belts and Slayer belt buckles with all-over print hoodies and fitted caps. “Vans”’ success helped popularize that look, but Young L is careful to give props to underground Bay Area rappers The Diligentz, who went one step further by coming out with a song called “Punk Rock” in 2006 (its remix features The Pack).
Youngest in Charge
For his part, Young L says, “I feel we are the voice of the young generation,” echoing the words of Too $hort (who took the young rappers under his wing and helped them get their record deal). $hort calls The Pack “the prime example of young kids taking advantage of the new Bay Area hip-hop sound… They’re the new kids on the block, literally.”
Despite their youthful antics, The Pack dudes show a maturity beyond their years. Fame, says Lil B, “really doesn’t faze me. I don’t even got a (drivers) license, so, some people, they might even see me on the bus… I don’t try to act like anything that I’m not. I’m not a star until I go platinum. Until then, I’m just somebody with a hot record.”