The word "hyphy" is associated with the Bay Area. It reflects the music and urban culture of the area in a movement that began to emerge in the late 1990s and early 2000s. "Hyphy" music usually features gritty, pounding rhythms and a fast-paced style. Coined by Bay Area rapper Charles Toby Williams, aka Keak da Sneak, the word applies to his music as well as that of Earl Stevens, better known as E-40.
"Hyphy" is also the genre claimed by Scoot and Band-Aide, two Midpeninsula rappers who go by their group name: the Hoodstarz.
Now 35 years old, the Hoodstarz came of age musically when the Bay Area hyphy scene was flourishing. But before they made their presence felt through their music, they spent their early years as grade school friends in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Scoot attended Willow Oaks School, and Band-Aide attended Belle Haven Elementary. They grew up in neighborhoods they described as "rough, difficult and violent."
Band-Aide and Scoot got into hip-hop by hanging around other young people who spent their time rhyming and practicing the art of rapping.
"We grew up on the street. ... We (were) always just rapping," Scoot explained during a recent interview at Jonathan's Fish & Chips in Menlo Park.
When the Hoodstarz first started out in the music industry, Band-Aide said, they felt like "small fish in a small pond."
"With our music, we had to grow out of that small bowl," he added, referring to the communities where they were raised.
Growing up, they listened to rappers and groups such as Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, 415, Mobb Deep, 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G.
2Pac's music resonated with Scoot in particular, because he felt like the artist was expressing the adversity he knew well. Scoot's mother battled with a drug addiction and his father died when he was 12 years old. As a young man listening to 2Pac rap about life on the streets, Scoot heard his own experiences reflected in the lyrics.
"2Pac used to make me feel like I was from the same block that he was from," Scoot said.
Both Scoot and Band-Aide said that growing up, there were few job opportunities or outlets for youth like Boys & Girls Clubs. Without positive activities or role models to learn from, their lives were influenced more by what they witnessed on the streets.
Before they became professional rappers, both Scoot and Band-Aide spent time locked up behind bars. Scoot spent 18 months in a juvenile correctional facility. In 1999, Band-Aide began what would be a five-year stint in San Quentin State Prison for a federal drug bust and gang involvement.
"We live everyday lives. We're not perfect," Scoot said.
Yet serious life changes brought about a new seriousness toward their profession. After serving time, both artists altered the path they were on and renewed their commitment to music. Reunited, they began working full-time to refine their sound and pull together tracks.
The Hoodstarz released their first full-length album, "Hood Reality," in 2006, with tracks that told the story of their journeys, such as "Can't Leave Rap Alone" (featuring Keak da Sneak), "In Da Streets" and "Memories of My Life." The album earned them a series of regional live shows, commercial radio play and underground mixtape sales. Most recently, they put out an album with DJ Drama, titled "56 Months," which was released last November and is available on iTunes and Spotify.
"Anytime we put out an album ... we gave it our all," Band-Aide said.
In addition to their music, the Hoodstarz have always believed in giving back to the community. They have spent the last five years taking part in activities such as building homes and taking care of elderly people, mostly in the Bay Area. Scoot said they "don't do charity in the name of charity."
It feels right to do good community deeds out of "the pureness of our hearts," said Band-Aide.
"For us not to do it, it wouldn't feel natural," he added.
Sometimes, the Hoodstarz said, they feel their community contributions go unacknowledged by those who are more interested in their crime-filled past. In some circles, they said, serving and helping others are not seen as noteworthy activities.
"A lot of people like to dwell on the negativity. ... We don't get any press for the positive," Scoot said.
Yet the Hoodstarz are eager to show that they've broken out of a rough past that trapped them. They have worked hard to provide a better future for themselves.
Band-Aide even went to culinary school, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. For a time, he held an internship with the Los Altos Golf and Country Club, where he enjoyed preparing gourmet dishes.
"I'm an official chef," Band-Aide said. "Put me in anybody's kitchen!"
Their latest joint venture is neither in the music nor the food industries, but in fashion. Together, the Hoodstarz are now launching a clothing line called Groovy Ink, which will specialize in hats and shirts.
"It's a fun brand. It's a universal brand," Scoot said of the project.
Band-Aide and Scoot said they are proud of each other for how far they have come, both in music and in life.
Today, Band-Aide resides in San Jose, while Scoot lives in the East Bay. Yet East Palo Alto and Menlo Park will always be the place where they got their start.
Band-Aide offered a personal message to the young people in East Palo Alto who are dealing with their own issues growing up there: Do good things.
"Follow your dreams," Band-Aide said. "Stay in school, listen to your parents and stay out of those streets."
Scoot echoed the sentiments of his musical partner and friend: "Dream big, and don't give up."
Jamauri Bowles is an editorial intern at Palo Alto Weekly.