It’s a past many of us return to in whatever way we can. I do it by visiting my dad and brother in Mountain View, playing old Hieroglyphics CDs in my Jetta, and occasionally practicing my thizz face on a dance floor. I also do it by staying rooted among those who’ve remained: the homies who haven’t been gentrified or otherwise systematically removed from their homes.
Unfortunately, there are only two people I know who still hold it down in our old 650 neighborhood. Israul Herrera and his brother, Darby, remind me of what it means to be a Baydestrian, a phrase Mistah FAB coined in his 2007 album, “Da Baydestrian,” to describe someone from the bay. Along with my older brother, Aldo, the Herreras are the only faces I still recognize on our block.
We are the lucky families who were able to buy property decades ago and have remained, despite the constant million-dollar home renovations and interchanging incomers who have flocked to work in the Silicon Valley around us.
Though I’ve lived in the East Bay since 2008, I still go back to visit my brother and pops in the Peninsula. It’s disorienting to return to a place you were raised but don’t recognize — a consequence of aging, of course, but also a sign of the aggressive and rapid economic displacement that has impacted every Bay Area community and pushed out nearly everyone we once knew. It hurts, but it’s a reality many of us have had to swallow. And sometimes we chase our pain down with tequila or beer.
But lately, we’ve been doing it with Hyphy Juice.
Since 2005, the hyper-local energy drink has been an iconic beverage that represents the region’s cultural pride, especially at the peak of the Hyphy Movement. The Red Bull-style “juice” was co-created by East Oakland rapper Clyde Carson as a way to capture “the flavor of the streets.” It especially blew up after the song “Hyphy Juice” was released by The Team in 2006.
Unless you grew up drinking it in the Bay Area, it’s not something you’ll casually encounter. But that’s why we love it; it’s also why the Herrera brothers keep a whole mini-fridge of them stocked up — something I haven’t seen since my community college days at house functions, back when we’d mix it in our drinks and pull all-nighters.
I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve never been a fan of sugary beverages, and I don’t mess with sodas or energy drinks. But you also have to understand that, for me, drinking Hyphy Juice feels more like a political decision to reclaim where we’re from. It’s about embracing the legacy of Bay Area culture we were blessed with, which has largely been pushed to the fringes in 2021 — especially in suburbs like Mountain View, where Google has virtually taken over. Here, Hyphy Juice is a reminder of our layered nostalgia. And I’m on a mission to get more.
I quickly learned that only certain liquor stores and gas stations still carry Hyphy Juice — including the one in my current San Pablo neighborhood at the bottom of Richmond’s Hilltop, where the cashier told me the drink quickly sells out after each shipment. You can also find it in areas like Bayview, Hayward, and other surrounding cities that extend as far as Sacramento, though you definitely won’t find it in a Safeway. It’s the sort of thing you need to seek out with loyalty and commitment, but it’s been around since many of us were kids and teenagers.
“The drink existed before the internet was even relevant, but we still here in stores, and we got our core audience who supports us,” says Carson, local rapper and entrepreneur who helped to popularize Hyphy Juice as the co-owner.
The brand is immortalized among those of us who remember it from as far back as ’05, when it was first launched into the market. Carson tells me how the beverage has thrived and evolved over the past decade with additional flavors like Pineapple Pop, while also expanding into Hyphy Soda. The soda, which is a separate product, has been embraced by today’s “youngsters who mob on scraper bikes,” Carson says, who have helped to reintroduce its uniquely bold brand with flavors like Birthday Cake on social media. It’s truly impressive, considering how many things from that era have fizzled away or been priced out.
For many Bayliens — another term that emerged during the Hyphy Movement to describe someone from the Bay Area — Hyphy Juice symbolizes everything we consumed before Instagram or Twitter existed. Before Ubers, there were more scrapers cruising our streets — old Buicks and Chevys sitting on chrome rims — and before online networks there were more rogues and cuddies around — words to describe your nearby kin and neighborhood folks. Hyphy was a platinum era that Carson knows about more than most, and he keeps it relevant for us. In fact, there aren’t many ambassadors who are better qualified to pass it down to the next generation than he is.
“People see something where they’re from and they’re like, ‘I wanna support that,’” he says.
Besides being involved with Hyphy Juice, Carson records music as one of the Bay Area’s premier rappers. His songs are soundtracks for many, and his lyrics played a major role in creating cultural trends like “High Speed” — a cocktail that originated in San Francisco’s streets by mixing Grapple-flavored Hyphy Juice with Bacardi and gin. It’s something that organically originated from communities that Carson identifies with.
More recently, he has helped push the Bay Area’s popularity with tracks like “Slidin” and “Slow Down.” In August, he released a new EP, “Summer Wave II.” Like those of us who haven’t been pushed out, he cares about where he’s from, and represents that in his work and lifestyle.
“I just know people feel like they’re being pushed out. I know people who had jobs and careers and literally can’t afford to live in Oakland and feel some type of way,” Carson says. “It’s hella frustrating, but we have to adapt and find a way.”
It may seem like an overstatement, but for some, going to the corner and picking up a can of Hyphy Juice, a bottle of Hyphy Soda, or a cutty bang, is a small but essential way of coping and adapting to a lifetime of rapid changes. It’s a way of seeing your neighborhood people still around, still present.
Another of Hyphy Juice’s co-owners, Koab, illuminates the context of how the drink has survived the massive economic and social shifts since its debut, while continuing to serve the same community.
“While gentrification has been happening on a wider level, the same thing has taken place in the beverage industry,” he says. “They’ve pushed out the small guy. It happened with real estate, and since stores are a part of real estate, lots of places couldn’t afford to stay open or always keep our drinks. It’s been a fight.”
According to Koab, niche products like Hyphy Juice have “lost some visibility” over the years because they were often carried by independent businesses that have closed since the 2000s, often unable to keep their doors open when competing against a Whole Foods or other high-bidding mega company with its sights on prime Bay Area real estate. On top of that, the Bay Area’s residential demographics have largely transformed, and with many transplants arriving from other regions, the demand for something like Hyphy Juice has diminished in neighborhoods that might have traditionally had a connection with its history.
Still, the drink has endured — like many longtime residents — and maintains relevance while staying true to the original flavor that made it appealing in the first place. It’s a drinkable metaphor for this region’s fluctuations.
Although the drink has roots here, Carson says it’s adapted and mixed from other influences, too. He gives credit to Crunk Juice and Pimp Juice from cities like Atlanta and St. Louis — beverages that were also popularized in the mid ’00s by rappers like Lil Jon and Nelly — for providing a blueprint on how to flip that business into the Bay with our own language.
“We want to be like ourselves,” Carson says. “The drink is from here. And the most important thing is that it’s hella good. It’s one thing to have something that brings you back and is from here but it also actually tastes hella good, and it gives you that nostalgic feeling. It’s what enables us to survive and thrive.”
He’s not just trapped in a static past, either. In thinking about future flavors and remixes, Carson and Koab reveal that they are always cooking up fresh recipes. Carson makes it a point to sit in on taste tests for their latest products when he’s not recording music or touring. He even refers to his Hyphyest peers like Mistah FAB and E-40 to get their opinions on flavoring and branding. That’s what makes the drink special to locals, because we know it’s made with the realness and attention of someone who lives it, rather than a corporate outsider trying to capitalize on something they have no connection to. I know when I pick up a can of Hyphy Juice at the People’s Market on Broadway that my money is going back into the pockets of Bay Area hustlers, rather than imported CEOs.
“These are making a huge comeback, bro,” Yusuf, the cashier at my nearest liquor store, tells me. I grab one of the only remaining cans of Grapple, while a Honduran mom and her kids wait in line next to the neighborhood folks who linger and crack jokes before dispersing home.
It almost feels like being back in the past. When taco trucks would pull up to where we lived in Mountain View on a street with a majority of Latino and mixed immigrants; when our Samoan neighbors rode their bikes around the block, eight heads deep; when our Vietnamese and Filipino homies would invite us over for meals and to spend the night, since we all knew each other’s families. Sadly, none of these exist in my neighborhood anymore. Only Hyphy Juice remains.
The Hyphy Movement might be over, but the vibrant spirit — and literal flavors — of those years are still here to remind us who we are. You just have to know where to get it.
Alan Chazaro is a Bay Area writer and teacher. His books, “This Is Not a Frank Ocean Cover Album” and “Piñata Theory,” are available through Black Lawrence Press. Follow his updates on Twitter and Instagram @alan_chazaro.