Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: Herm Lewis's Influential Early '90s SF Rap Compilations on His Black Power Productions Label

Posted by Billyjam, September 1, 2015 04:24pm | Post a Comment

Back in 1993, an unknown in the music business named Herm Lewis would have a major impact on San Francisco Bay Area indie street rap with the release of his pioneering San Francisco rap compilation Herm: Trying to Survive In The Ghetto. Featuring such hometown artists as RBL Posse, I.M.P., JT Tha Bigga Figga, Rappin' 4-Tay, Cold World Hustlers, G.R.P., Young Cellski (aka 2Took), and Fly Nate, the compilation was a virtual blueprint of the SF rap music that defined that period in Bay Area hip-hop history. (Scroll down to see the original "one-sheet" for the local Bay rap record that was produced via Oakland's now defunct Music People and distributed via San Rafael's City Hall Records.)

The San Francisco community activist's compilation was bookended by his positive powerful messages of peace and unity, which garnered a lot of attention and resulted in him being invited to give talks at countless community events. The compilation had a slow but major build selling all over the country and had two major effects. Firstly it introduced audiences in faraway places like Detroit and Kansas to an entire unknown subgenre of hip-hop, one that had been mostly a regional sound 'til then. Secondly, its success kick-started the whole Bay Area rap compilation movement that lasted many years.

The compilation  also launched the career of this former inmate-turned-street-activist who got the idea for his project while locked down serving a 13-month stretch in jail for selling drugs. "When I got out, I decided to go legit…[and] rap seemed like an option, and it was also a way for me to pass on a little knowledge to kids coming up…My goal is to do something positive from a ghetto perspective. Brothers really need to hear a positive message," he said in the mid-90s in an interview with BAM magazine. That "knowledge" and "positive message" was in Herm's intro and outro to the hardcore rap compilation. He came across as genuine and real so he got people to listen. And a lot did! The T.C.-produced album, that he only pressed up 3,000 copies of, would go on to sell 60,000 over the year after its release.

"I never thought the record would do as well as it did," he said.  But it did and continued to sell for sometime, with demand leading to a sequel (Still Tryin To Survive In The Ghetto) two years later in 1995 that included Dre Dog, 3-Deep, N.O.H., Female Fonk, and U.D.I. Half a decade after that he would release another in the series entitled Herm Trying to Survive in the Ghetto 2000.  Herm's Black Power Productions label, which stopped releasing in the early '00s, would also release many other albums too, including solo albums from T-LowePrimo, and Herm himself.

Today I reconnected with the man born Andre Lewis to ask him what the greatest accomplishment of his music career was and what kind of impact he feels his compilations had. "Bringing unity to the community and stopping a riot at an Ice Cube show in Sacramento among the Crips and Bloods, and then performing on stage with Ice Cube and Mack 10 along with RBL Posse. The impact I had was powerful [because] it made others jump into the music business and establish artists and labels, plus inspire many other compilations." And what is Herm up to nowadays? "I'm working and running my janitorial cleaning business," he told the Amoeblog adding that, "I'm still about the music if the right opportunity presented itself NFS and financial benefits."


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Hip-hop History Tuesdays (44), Hip-hop History 1993 (1), Herm Lewis (4)