Traxamillion’s Legacy: Believe the Hyphy

The term hyphy may be attributed to rapper Keak da Sneak; he did, after all, score the first hit single in that hip-hop style with 2005’s “Super Hyphy.” But that record’s producer – and the first person to create hyphy music – was San Jose’s own Traxamillion. A passionate and dedicated advocate of the Bay Area music scene, Trax (born Sultan Banks) produced dozens of singles and a half dozen albums, all built upon the mission of promoting local artists. But in 2022 Traxamillion’s life and career were tragically cut short when he was struck down by nasopharyngeal cancer.

In celebration of Traxamillion’s life, work and dedication to Bay Area culture, fans and friends have organized the Traxamillion Legacy Showcase and Benefit Concert. The event happens Saturday, Feb. 24 at Jackie’s Place, and proceeds will benefit community initiatives and cancer charities.

Alex Jimenez is one of the event’s organizers, and he knew Traxamillion well. “I was there with him when he transitioned from being a radio/club-type producer,” he recalls. “Music you would play in the club: that was his sound.” Jimenez says that when Traxamillion met Keak, “he already had a new beat in mind for him.” That beat would come to be known as hyphy, and Trax’s production of “Super Hyphy” would eventually earn a place in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest West Coast Hip-Hop Songs of All Time.

Jimenez explains what he believes set hyphy apart from other hip-hop styles. “No rules, and less structure,” he says. “And the singles didn’t have to be pop-sounding.” It wasn’t East Coast, and it wasn’t exactly West Coast. It was emblematic of a very specific region. Jimenez says that the energetic hyphy style “allowed the Bay Area guys to have their own lane, one where they could be themselves.”

Everything about hyphy encouraged listeners to do more than just listen. “I grew up in the hyphy movement,” says Kiana Jackson, another organizer of the upcoming Traxamillion event. She recalls the trademark reaction to the music: “Shaking of the locks, ‘going dumb,’ and side-show-type dance moves.” Jackson says that hyphy “bridged the gap between the sound, music and energy of the Bay Area. Once that beat dropped, you knew, ‘Okay, that’s coming from the Bay.’”

Jimenez agrees: “The whole point of hyphy is to lose yourself in the music,” he says. “Going dumb is losing inhibitions, literally not caring what other people are thinking, and just having fun.” And Traxamillion was at the forefront of the burgeoning scene. Jimenez emphasizes just how much hyphy was a product of the Bay Area: “The three pioneers were Traxamillion, Rick Rock and E-40’s son Droop-E,” he says. “But the thing is, they weren’t working together.” Each artist arrived at a similar destination by capturing what was in the zeitgeist locally.

A high point of Traxamillion’s work was his 2016 release The Tech Boom. That album was specifically curated to showcase the creative scene in San Jose. “Everything about it – from the design work to the videographers – was by San Jose artists,” Jimenez says.

Some around Trax had their doubts that the project was even viable. “Me and PK [Trax’s manager Prashant Kumar] were like, ‘This is not going to make any money,’” Jimenez admits. “But that wasn’t the point for Traxamillion. His idea was, ‘Let me prove to you that there are good artists here who make records just as good as those other guys nationwide.’”

But while Traxamillion made a point of promoting his hometown scene, Jimenez says that the man himself never got the recognition he so richly deserved. “I’ll be singing this until the day I die,” he says. “He never got the credit. Too often it’s not until someone’s passed away that we celebrate them.” Jimenez believes that Traxamillion wasn’t celebrated enough during his life. “And that’s the reason this event is happening,” he says.

Acclaimed local visual artist Tyler Gordon has painted images of iconic figures, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris among them. Still in his teens, Gordon presented paintings of Traxamillion to local restaurateur Ms. Jackie Jackson for the memorial shortly after Trax’s passing. Organizers of the Traxamillion Legacy Showcase and Benefit Concert asked Gordon to paint another portrait of Trax, and as part of the celebration it will be presented to the Seven Trees Community Center. “Traxamillion taught classes on music there,” Jimenez points out.

The showcase portion of the event will feature local talent. “We’re trying to give something to up-and-coming artists in Traxamillion’s name,” says Kiana Jackson. “San Jose and Bay Area artists: rappers, singers, poets, producers.” The winner of the talent show will take home $500. “We wanted to offer a grand prize to help them continue their artistry,” she says. “We want to make sure that Traxamillion’s legacy continues with the next generation of artists. If you’re from the Bay Area and you have something to say, we’re up for it.”

The gala event will conclude with a live concert featuring tracks from The Tech Boom. “We’ll have some of the artists who created that album perform their individual songs,” Jimenez says. Proceeds from the event will benefit both the Seven Trees Community Center and the American Cancer Society.

Traxamillion’s 45th birthday would have been February 26. And though he’s gone, his influence endures, helped along just a bit by an event celebrating his life and work. “Sometimes we forget our heroes,” says Alex Jimenez. “But I’ve seen people from so many walks of life enjoy the music that Traxamillion made. And he gave so much game to so many artists. Hopefully this event will embody his selflessness, because it’s all about uplifting the young artists.”