Peter Brandt

Here is a dialectical movement in the history of hiphop. It begins in 1986 with Run-D.M.C.'s "My Adidas," which met its opposite in 2002 in Nelly's "Air Force Ones," and which resolves in 2006 with the Pack's "Vans." How did this lively quartet from Berkeley, California, resolve the opposing sneaker anthems in this funky dialectic? By preserving both the pre-bling spirit of "My Adidas" (this was not an endorsement, but the expression of real love for the product) and the crass commercialism of "Air Force Ones." "Vans" is brilliant because it is at once "My Adidas" and "Air Force Ones."

This resolution defines, I think, the Pack's musical project. Their music is a sublation (two things becoming one) of old-school and bling-school principles, which is why initially it was not surprising that none other than Too $hort (a hiphop granddaddy) discovered them and got them a record deal with Jive. This deal, however, proved to be not so good for the Pack. According to one of the crew's rappers, Young L, Jive did not know how to promote their first album, Based Boys, and the excitement from "Vans" fizzled by the end of 2008. Jive could understand the old-school side of the Pack (which is essentially party/bad-boy rap), but not their new side, which had much to do with the cultural and economic openness of a postracial hiphop.

For years, the skateboard world had appropriated elements of rap culture. The Pack, on the other hand, were one of the first black hiphop crews to openly appropriate elements of (white) skateboard culture. They could do this without a sense of shame because we live in a period that is witnessing the thawing of the black identity. The emerging generation is less concerned with keeping it real—meaning, keeping it black—and more with blending cultural codes.

Tied to this emergence is the fact that the Pack also represent cyberspace more than an actual geographic place. With this generation's postracial hiphop, place or hood is also dissolving. For example, the fact that the Cool Kids come from Chicago has as much or as little commercial value as the fact that the Pack come from Berkeley. The real home for both acts is the World Wide Web; it is there that their fame began and there that it will most likely die.recommended