The Bay Area has an incredible wealth of hip-hop talent, but out of the hundreds of artists from the Bay that release music each year only a handful manage to make a major impact on a national level. One artist that, over the past few years, has built quite a rep in his native Bay Area, but now looks set to take over the rest of the country (and beyond) is Richmond rapper/producer Erk Tha Jerk, whose official debut album, Nerd's Eye View, drops today on Red Planet/SMC.
I recently caught up with the artist to talk about his career to date and the new album. We met in New York, a "completely different" experience for him compared to being back in the Bay, where walking down the street everyone knows who he is, thanks in large part to the fact that KMEL radio has helped make him a high profile star. For several weeks last year his song "Right Here" was the Bay Area's leading urban radio station's most played (and requested) track on their playlist. He fully understands and accepts that to duplicate that kind of success outside the Bay in places like New York, where, so far, he has not gotten major airplay it's a matter of "starting all over with ground work. You've got to humble yourself and get back out there on the grind and start all over again," he laughed.
Based on his track record, Erk Tha Jerk should have no problem taking over the rest of the country since he is both an incredibly gifted artist (producer, rapper, singer, writer, video director, etc) and a talented, hard-working business mind. Unlike so many artists, Erk knows how to focus on his music and work hard on getting it out into the right channels. "I've been making music and producing and doing features for the past five years," he noted. He has worked with numerous other Bay artists including Richie Rich, Balance, San Quinn, Big Rich, & Too $hort. He connected with the Godfather of Bay Area rap when he shared offices in the same building as $hort down by Jack London Square. There they literally crossed paths and that accidental meeting led to Erk producing the "Red Bull & Vodka" single for Too $hort's & Dwayne Wiggins' Town Bizness project. In return, $hort did a cameo on Erk Tha Jerk's 2009 track "Plane In The Air." "And now when I go to Atlanta I call up $hort and say, 'Yo, what's going on?' It's great. He's like a mentor to me," beamed Erk Tha Jerk.
Erk Tha Jerk "Plane In The Air (feat. Too $hort)"
Getting that constant airplay on KMEL is quite an accomplishment for a local independent artist. Erk Tha Jerk says, "I had a song called 'Im So Dumb' during the hyphy movement that got played on KMEL, the one featuring Too $hort was getting played, the  song called 'Dont Need Em' was getting played. I had about 7 or 8 songs that I had something to do with that were out in 08 and 09 that got played." But it was 2009's smooth RnB flavored "Right Here" that was most played on the radio station. "When I did that song, I put it up on Twitter and I think a lot of females called up the radio station for the song so the DJs were asking me about [it]. They asked me to send it to them and I sent it to them. And I think people started requesting it the more they heard it and then it just took off from there," he said of the runaway hit that appears on the new album.
Erk Tha Jerk "Right Here"
An all round artist who believes in taking control of his own destiny, Erk Tha Jerk also oversees his many music videos. He directed the video for "Perfect Mistake" featuring Netta B (from his recent free The Prelude EP, a promo item for Nerd's Eye View) which is styled like a James Bond movie, and he co-directed the video for "Plane In The Air" with Too $hort. That one, he says, is based on his favorite movie, Pulp Fiction, and in the video he does his own stunts including jumping onto a moving car. "I take it all very seriously and like to try different things and get into the directing of videos and all that. It's not like me trying to take control of everything but more of trying to let my vision come through and not some other person['s] who doesn't know me. It makes more sense if it is coming from the artist than from somebody else," he said. But for the glossy high budget looking video for "Right Here" he enlisted national star music video maker Taj (the Oakland director who has created videos for the likes of Young Jeezy, Rhianna, Nas, LL Cool J, Ludacris, Usher, and Ne-Yo). In the case of hooking up with this high demand director, Erk was fortunate enough to have Taj approach him to see if he could work with the up and coming Bay artist.
Erk Tha Jerk feat. Netta B "Perfect Mistake"
Knowing how Erk Tha Jerk's song "I'm So Dumb" (off his 2007 Hood Nerd mixtape) was making fun of the hyphy movement, I wondered if he had gotten much or any flak for it. "I didn't get too much flak," he laughed. "But a lot of bloggers had a problem with it. But as far as hip-hop artists in the Bay [go], they knew who I was and we still did songs together. Even if people thought I was talking about certain artists, they still respected what I did and I still respect what they do. It wasn't really towards any mainstream Bay Area artists or popular Bay Area artists. It was more towards the clones who kind of made the music twice as bad as it already was."
An equally gifted rapper and producer, Erk Tha Jerk says that he became a producer out of necessity initially. "On my album I did half of the production but in the past I've done a 100% of my production. And that was only because it was so hard to outsource when everybody charges something like $2500 a beat. I just figured I'll buy the equipment for that price and try and figure it out myself," he said, adding that his favorite production programs are Reason and ProTools. As an artist who has come up in the digital age, Erk Tha Jerk says that he embraces digital culture but still believes in the power of the human touch. "I feel MySpace, FaceBook, and Twitter do play a big part in an artist's getting some shine and getting some praise. And being on YouTube also helps, of course. But I also think that doing shows and meeting people still plays a big part in it all because then they can go home and Google you some more. So I think it's a combination of both." And as for the future? "I would like to see success for a lot of Bay Area artists," he said, quickly adding with a smile, "and for myself."