If you didn’t go to high school in the Bay Area in the mid-2000’s I’ll forgive you for assuming that #based philosophy sprang fully-formed from the mind of Lil B. One person who recognizes this is the Based God himself, who often honors the idiosyncrasies of Berkeley, California, where he (and I) grew up: crying in The Vivarium (where I bought my first gecko) for example. The Pack—Lil B, Young L, Lil Uno and Stunnaman—created stunningly strange, influential music. Alongside Soulja Boy, they paved the way for a generation of weirdoes who live on social media. Nothing comes from a vacuum, though.
The Pack emerged from an environment bursting with ideologies based around radical self-expression. They came of age in the golden years of the Hyphy movement. E-40, Keak Da Sneak, and Mac Dre mixed minimal production with MDMA before it was cool. Hyphy allowed a Dionysiac response to an environment of violence and poverty: Going dumb provides total spiritual, sexual, bodily release. This energy is an obvious influence on Pack classics like “Booty Bounce Bopper.” But as Keith Jenkins (FKA Stunnaman) points out over the course of our hour-long phone conversation, The Pack had other things in mind: “The Pack didn’t make Hyphy music, we made Based music. Based is more of an understanding of who you are, nurturing who you are.”
There’s another major influence that set them apart, one that’s just as regionally specific to Berkeley as hyphy: hippies. Berkeley was an important focal point for the free love and civil disobedience movements, and many of the original generation settled there for good. Kids growing up in Berkeley often find their lives impacted by these tie-dye OGs. One particularly influential Berkeley resident is Wavy Gravy. He lived with Bob Dylan, he was an original member of The Grateful Dead and The Merry Pranksters, and as part of the activist and entertainment group The Hog Farm he stood on stage at Woodstock and announced: “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000!" He’s spent the last 30 years running Camp Winnarainbow, a performing arts summer camp that offers lessons in circus arts and theater. Wavy’s mission is to “honor the creative spirit of each child in an atmosphere of approval and mutual encouragement.” I never went, but half the Bay did, including Keith Jenkins. During our interview he describes the blossoming sense of creativity he felt as 13 year old learning trapeze from Wavy Gravy, who he still considers a friend. He transported the feeling back to his friends in The Pack, and based was born. All you pink bandana keyboard warriors around the world, listen up: when Lil B talks about loving yourself and every living thing he’s directly channeling the hippie movement, via Keith Jenkins and Wavy Gravy. Flower Power forever.
Recently, Keith Jenkins dropped Stunnaman in favor of his given name. He's been on a creative tear: last month he released “Quinoa”, and now we’ve got the premiere of his latest, “Money”, featuring Lil B. Stream the track below, and check my enlightening interview with Keith below.
So you and The Pack started rapping together when you were what, 14?
Yeah man. super fucking young, super young. About 14, 15.
And you and Lil Uno were at Berkeley High?
Yeah, I went to Berkeley High for my freshman year and then I got kicked out and then I ended up going to independent study which allowed me to get my job at a Jamba Juice and bought a disc burner and handing my CDs out all day, driving around and shit.
Where would you hand out CDs?
You know how the BART system runs everywhere. We wouldn’t be in school every day and my girlfriend had a car at like 16 and shit so everything was pretty accessible. We would just literally drive around all day and pass CDs out while the dudes were in school and when they would get out they’d come with me and we’d go to Concord Mall, we’d hit up Hilltop Mall, all the spots where kids congregated and we’d just pass them out.
Who was your favorite teacher at Berkeley High?
The only teacher that really stuck with me was Ms. Theodore. I’m pretty sure she taught history. You could really tell she was a Berkeley person. She believed in what she did, that’s the teacher that really stuck with me. I remember when 9/11 happened I didn’t even know what was going on. I would leave my house mad early to go smoke weed and shit, because you’d have to smoke before you got to school. So 9/11 had happened, I was smoking and I was high out of my fucking mind. I walked into class that day and she was just bawling, she was crying her fucking face off and I was like “what’s going on?” Everyone was looking at the TV and I just see the towers. I’m telling you this story because it shows you how much she cared about the world and what was going on, she totally was one of those teachers. The whole day she wrote notes for everyone that wanted to go home and wanted to be with their families. She was talking about what it meant to be an American and what it meant to come together at a time like this. That resonated with me because a lot of teachers don’t give a fuck.
So what led to The Pack ceasing activity for a while?
My best friend murdered somebody at Top Dog [a Berkeley hot dog restaurant] on Telegraph. He’s currently incarcerated and he called me today, I put some money in his books. He’s gonna be home soon. There was shit going down in Berkeley all the time but a murder on Telegraph was kind of unprecedented shit. In front of fucking Top Dog too. I moved to Los Angeles because it was just really hot after that, I couldn’t really move around the city like I wanted to. My involvement with the situation was so on the front level, it was my best friend and everyone knew what happened, he had to go turn himself in. I got up out of there. That really killed The Pack because, since I had been going to independent study I was coordinating everything. That shit just made everything die. Lil B just moved out of his house, L just moved to Los Angeles, Uno just moved to Las Vegas, they’re just now getting in the process of being adults. Now that everyone has kinda got the swing of it, we can come back together.
What have you been up to since The Pack stopped making music?
Since The Pack stopped making music on a group level I’ve been doing my solo thing, trying to travel. The Pack thing wasn’t long term, we were super young, I didn’t even know how to fucking pay a light bill. I moved out at 17 years old so I’m more or less being an adult now. Making music always. I just did Black Bart, just doing a lot of hands on shit. I’ve been helping Lil B out with his shit, and learning from the background. B took off, I’ve learned a lot from his career on what I want to do with my solo shit. Helping with him, touring with him and still releasing music. And thugging in these streets bro, thugging in these fucking streets. My mom went through some shit, her husband died, I had a lot of friends that died and just taking care of family. I’m also one of seven kids so it’s not like I went and got a million dollars and then was just chilling by myself, we got little amounts of money and I’ve always been taking care of family so I’m being an adult,. Making music though, just trying to be involved. I do acting a lot as well, just trying to be versatile, keep my palate open. Trying not to get stuck in this rap shit.
What kind of acting have you been doing?
Oh man, I’ve done classical acting for my whole life. I went to performing arts camp, Camp Winnarainbow.
Oh wow, all my friends went there.
Yeah, I still go see Wavy Gravy all the time. It’s actually a big part of my life, that’s what made me who I am to be honest with you. My mom actually has a theatre in West Oakland, she does plays. She’s actually doing the whole Century cycle of August Wilson’s, I’ve helped her with that shit.
For those who don’t know, how would you explain Camp Winnarainbow and Wavy Gravy’s philosophy?
Camp Winnarainbow is a performing arts camp and it’s a place where kids can go and have a different way to see things, especially being a kid in the city. You never really get to go out and see trapeze or unicycle, you never get into improv and juggling. At Winnarainbow sleep in teepees, you walk a labyrinth, it’s really kind of spiritual too. It’s dope, it’s just some real hippie shit, that’s what I would say. True hippie shit, none of that fake. Not fake based, real based.
Everyone says, you know, “Lil B is so crazy” but I feel like in Berkeley that’s what a lot of people are like, that hippie element is still very present.
That’s super intuitive of you to say. People that aren’t from around here don’t understand that. The based thingtook off with him but we all started that shit together, we really internalized it and breathed it. He gave it life. That’s definitely a way of life man.
When you guys were first making music together was that an idea you all shared?
Yeah man, that’s what it came from. When we first started making music together, we were all so self conscious: “Oh you gotta rap about this, you gotta rap about this.” The whole term ‘based’ came from when you would see addicts on the street. They would be in the zone, out of it, not even paying attention. We took that as a philosophy on how you should rap. No matter what it may be, no matter what comes out, you get in the zone and be happy and comfortable. Whatever comes out is whatever comes out, you be happy and comfortable and you keep it. You get in there and you say “Purple shoe, purple goo, purple bitch, purple crew” and you capitalize that shit, based. I just exposed the based secrets.
So Camp Winnarainbow is arguably the foundation for based philosophy?
It played a huge role.
So I understand that The Pack had some real label trouble for a while?
We had too many chefs in the kitchen. We are young kids and what not, but then you had these dick head A&Rs that would come around like, “Oh you guys need to rap like this.” The Pack is post Odd Future, it’s post A$AP. I remember going to labels and they would be like “we don’t know what to do with these wild ass kids, what the fuck is this?” The labels and society had to catch up. We were too progressive, we were just ahead of our time. It’s dope to be the first but the sucky thing about being the first one down the hill is no one remembers you ran down there first. They kinda just remember the person that runs down after. It is what it is, Pack’s definitely back now. You can never take away the young sound. These new records is crazy man, this shit is funner than ever. We definitely know that there’s a space in the game for us. Before we were kind of unsure, people were questioning us and we were rapping about shit that there wasn’t no one rapping about, it was ridiculous. It really forced us to keep going to what we knew was true, what was us.
So you feel like some of the history you made is not being given its proper account?
Oh I don’t feel that, I know that. Come on, we can just sit here and simply look at this shit. Straight up, it’s cold facts. But it’s all good, The Pack’s never been the one to cry over spilled milk or worry about us getting credit. We never did this for credit, we did it to actually do it. We do it because we love it, we skipped school for this shit. Everything was self-contained, there was no label, no old guys in our heads, it was literally “what do we want to do today.” We’ve got the disc burners, we’ve got the CDs. We was back there yelling, cussing midday, and Lloyd’s mom would come home from work and hear “bitches on my dick, Wolfpack with it…” and she’d just be like ‘you guys want some cookies?’ Without Lynn, the pack never would have happened. She was the OG Wolfpack.
What kind of music were you listening to growing up?
My mom was real prolific, she has a crazy story: seven kids, used to do crack, a Black Panther. Now she’s got a PhD, she’s got a theatre. She’s had so much transition from point A to point B, so my musical background was always really diverse. She went out of her way to keep me away from rap and shit like that. I didn’t even listen to rap until I started rapping, until high school. I’m growing up listening to Gorillaz, Nirvana, old shit. I was a punker bro, I was a punk kid. I was at the Gilman.
How would you describe the atmosphere at the Gilman [a Berkeley all-ages punk venue] for people who haven’t been there? What was it like to be 13 at the Gilman?
When you wanted to punch someone and get away with it, that was where you would go. You would take all your rage and everything you hated and get it out in a space where you wouldn’t be looked down upon. You could just get it out of you, you could really go in there and scream and someone would scream with you instead of against you. You would scream together, it was one big ass fight but it was the type of fight you wanted to have. You wanted to get it out of you, you got a chip on your shoulder. It was rebel shit too, to the core. I miss that shit. That shit was crazy, that was a place where you’d leave and you’d fucking be thrashed and you’d be happy though. It was one of the illest things ever, that shit’s jerking me right now, I want to go back to the Gilman so bad.
What was your relationship with Hyphy music as an artist?
Man it’s so hard to put it this, but if I have to, hyphy is more of the gritty. The sideshow, the struggle, the pain, the craziness that is the Bay. It’s aggressive. The Pack didn’t make hyphy music, we made based music. Based is more of a understanding of who you are, nurturing who you are. Hyphyt was more of a group thing, based is more individuality. You could be who you are, and that’s what it was. Hyphy and Based are cousins, they’re definitely family, but Based is the smarter younger brother that watches the older brother get locked up. Based comes from a crazy history but it’s definitely more refined than hyphy, has more of an opportunity to grow. When hyphy was around there wasn’t internet like that, you couldn’t catch any sideshows online. You’d just have to hear stories about it, ‘Oh man, did you see that sideshow? Some kid got dragged,’ you would hear about shit, you couldn’t go on the ‘gram right now and find that shit.
Growing up on the internet definitely allows for a lot of self-exploration.
Totally. Before, these kids were told what was cool on TV, now you have kids with Internet who are going and seeking this information. That’s what made us so amazing was we were internet kids. Kids rap about doing what they’re doing. We would go skateboarding and then go inside and watch skateboard videos and these skateboard videos you’d hear soundtracks and we’d go through and find them. I come from 411, I come from buying Thrashers, I still got my subscription to Thrasher, to this day I’m still paying that and I don’t even have to pay it because I know but I’m still paying. We come from that, we seek that shit. We’d travel, we’d go on BART. We were from Berkeley but we’d go to Martinez, at the Martinez high school football game and getting that. We had to go seek that. It wasn’t running up on us.
So why did you change your name from Stunnaman?
Man, I just kind of felt like when I did it when I was younger I never picked that name, it was given to me. It was super out there, I went to camp Winnarainbow, I did improv, I’m stunning mothafuckers, that’s what I did, so I got the name. Getting older, I feel like whatever happened to just being me? I just wanted to go back to being in love with myself. That’s what that was about. That wasn’t for anyone else, that was for when I see my name on paper, that’s Keith. When I make music, it’s me.
Any last advice for the kids?
Man, fuck it. Embrace that weird shit because without that weird shit, who are you? You gonna be a carbon copy? That shit is who you are, unless you want to be a cookie cutter white picket houses, you might want to go add that cobble road to your fence, do your driveway. That gives you character. That might be different but that’s you. Accept that shit. Get over it bro, you’re weird! That’s what I would say to kids, accept that shit because as soon as I did that, my life changed. I got to do it at a very young age, I got to do it at eight, I got to do it at nine years old with Wavy Gravy, sage burning everywhere, walking through the labyrinth to pick myself a crystal. I got given that advantage and I came about like that. The sooner you realize that you’re a weirdo, the better your life will be.
Ezra Marcus is The Pack's "fifth Beatle"—@Ezra_marc