Back in 2006, there was one question that was on everyone's minds outside of the Bay Area: What's ghost riding?
Interest in the activity — where someone drives a car at a low speed and then jumps out of the car and dances or "goes dumb" on top of or alongside the car while it's still in motion — was piqued by the song "Tell Me When to Go" by legendary Bay Area rapper E-40.
That song and "Blow the Whistle" by another legendary Bay Area rapper, Too $hort, were spreading the hyphy movement throughout the U.S. Hyphy, for the uninitiated, was a term coined by Oakland rapper Keak da Sneak in the early to mid-2000s and means "hyperactive," which is akin to the more well-known Southern hip-hop term "crunk."
But the roots and hallmarks of the hyphy movement — like sideshows and going dumb — were born in cities like Oakland, Vallejo and Richmond in the late '90s. And because of 40 and $hort's 2006 hit singles, the movement reached a zenith locally and nationally.
While those songs rang out on MTV, BET and urban radio stations all over the country, $hort was in Atlanta, kicking game to Mistah F.A.B., an up-and-coming 24-year-old rapper from Oakland.
"[$hort] said, 'I've been going all around the country, man, and the thing that people are most interested in is the ghost riding thing," F.A.B. recalled. "The first one to do a song about ghost riding is gonna win ... Everybody wants to know, what's ghost riding?"
That's all the convincing that F.A.B. needed from $hort, who he called "the Bay Area's offensive coordinator," to create what became the hit single "Ghost Ride It" and the music video that followed the song's success on Bay Area radio.
"He just called a play from the sidelines, like Bill Walsh, and I was Joe Montana at the time. Or a young Steve Young," F.A.B. said of his proverbial quarterbackin' skills. "He called the play and I was like alright, that's the play we gonna run, and we executed the play, and it was crazy.
"But I didn't expect to be on 'Hannity and Colmes' and things like that, defending the record."
An appearance on a political commentary program on Fox News wasn't the only "crazy" thing to come out of the creation of "Ghost Ride It." The song ended up becoming one of the classics of the hyphy movement, and the music video an early viral YouTube video. The work became a defining moment for F.A.B., now considered a local legend alongside the artist who coached him to do the song in the first place.
Here's how it was created, from the perspective of F.A.B.'s manager Chioke "Stretch" McCoy, "Ghost Ride It" producer Gio Hidalgo and Mistah F.A.B. himself.
The Song: From a Tadpole to Godzilla
Mistah F.A.B. got the play call from Too $hort, then took inspiration from a classic '80s flick for the concept of the song "Ghost Ride It," produced by Bay Area rapper and producer Sean T.
Mistah F.A.B.: I was sitting up watching TV and "Ghostbusters" was on, so then I called Sean T and I was like, "Hey, redo the 'Ghostbusters' beat and I'm gonna call it 'Ghost Ride It.' That's what I'm gonna do." [He] got [the sample], and then I just went over there and I [recorded]. And he was like, "You crazy for this song."
Chioke "Stretch" McCoy: I wasn't quite sure about it, at first. It kind of took me aback, but he was adamant about it. At the time, he was just recently signed to Atlantic Records and it was something that he really wanted to get out there. So we brought it to [Atlantic] and they didn't seem too enthusiastic about it, which I think put a fire in F.A.B.
Mistah F.A.B.: I was 24 years old, man, I didn't care about getting no samples cleared.
McCoy: It's not that I thought it wasn't going to work, it was using the actual ["Ghostbusters" theme] song. I thought it was catchy and it was great, but the sample was more of my concern as his manager.
Mistah F.A.B.: As soon as I did it, I don't think I even got it mixed yet, I sent it to the radio and the story started from there.... It was like, I did the record Monday, I sent it to radio Wednesday, and by Friday it was getting spins all over the Bay ... It had its own life. It started as a tadpole and grew to a Godzilla.
The Music Video Concept: Knowing F.A.B., We Could Kind of Do Whatever
The song for "Ghost Ride It" almost immediately blew up on Bay Area radio, with so many people requesting it and asking F.A.B. to perform it that he "got kind of tired of it." It was a no-brainer to shoot a music video for the song, especially since it was supposed to be the first single for his major label debut "Da Yellow Bus Rydah" on Atlantic Records. The record label wasn't interested in paying for the music video (and eventually shelved the album), so F.A.B. financed it himself. The investment paid off, as the music video transformed "Ghost Ride It" from a regional hit into a national one.
Gio Hidalgo: [Hearing the song for the first time] was like a two-fold thing. I was questioning like, "Is this your first single?" But then it also had that wow factor because it's such a recognizable and iconic sample. And then especially at that time [when we were] coming up with the concepts visually, it was like knowing F.A.B. we could kind of do whatever. [With] normal hip-hop videos, they just wanna be in the hood, they wanna be with their boys and they want b– and money. So [for "Ghost Ride It"] it was like, "Oh s–, we can do something actually creative."
Mistah F.A.B.: I just was like, let me pull my [yellow school] bus out, so I can ghost ride on my bus. Other than that, [director] Rock Jacobs and Gio, they did the whole concept. That was all their minds. I would never take any credit for creating the video.
McCoy: We brought the idea to Atlantic, and they didn't seem too interested, so we ended up doing it ourselves.
Hidalgo: [After that], the concept of the video never changed, but the main thing was getting that Ghostbusters car for the video. That was the most important thing.
Production Woes: They Took Him to Jail and They Shut Us Down
The concept for the video was simple enough – film Mistah F.A.B. teaching people how to ghost ride it on the Ghostbusters car, partying in front of a theater, and cruising in his signature short yellow bus.
But Murphy's Law seemed to be the rule instead of the exception for the shoot. The wild goose chase Hidalgo went on for the Ghostbusters car should have been an omen. It had to be towed from Nebraska to Los Angeles for the shoot, braving several storms, and it arrived with its windows busted out. Naturally, that wasn't all that went wrong.
Mistah F.A.B.: The behind-the-scenes stuff was crazy because we shut down a real street in Downtown L.A. We had a real police escort driving the streets of L.A. It wasn't no regular video. It was huge.
Hidalgo: We set up the video to shoot one day in L.A. and then F.A.B. and Stretch wanted to shoot in Oakland. So we got a big old box truck and packed it with a bunch of s– and drove it all the way up to Frisco. Literally, this is a huge box truck and it had s– a– brakes. So it was going up the Grapevine, coming down the 5, the whole nine yards. At one point, we went to park it in a parking lot that was on a slope. That box truck — because the brakes didn't work — rolled down the slope and went through a garage door. The crash shattered the whole front window and we had it get it replaced the next day.
After they got to the Bay Area and dealt with not one, but two car accidents involving the box truck, the crew shot in Oakland. They started shooting in East Oakland at Youth UpRising community center, then went to North Oakland and got an equipment assist from an unlikely source.
Mistah F.A.B.: We did a shoot in my neighborhood, on the block, and the police shut it down. They were like, "No, y'all trippin', y'all was doing too much."
Hidalgo: We went over to F.A.B.'s mom's house in North Oakland to film a scene where cars are doing donuts. So then the cops pulled up because we didn't have a permit and they started asking us questions and everything and then one of my buddies who was working as the project manager started talking to the cops. Once the cops saw that he was taking the initiative to try to figure out what was going on and [because] he was using bigger words, they knew he wasn't from the Bay. They checked his ID out and he was from Torrance, and he had a traffic warrant in L.A., so they took him to jail and then they shut us down. He went to jail for the night and we missed the second half of the day and that's why we ended up shooting in Frisco the next day.
Mistah F.A.B.: There was a lot of confusion behind-the-scenes with the police department, but once we got it done I enjoyed it. It was epic. Looking back on it now, it was a movie.
Hidalgo: Even getting a generator was hard in the Bay. The dude who supplied it was the guy from "Mythbusters" [Jamie Hyneman]; they had a generator on the back of a truck and it was just sitting there. They were the only ones who had a mobile generator, [so] we picked up from them.
McCoy: There's actually a pretty funny video through Thrasher or something where F.A.B. jumped out the bus and fell and rolled. But ghost riding wasn't just something that was done for a video. It's literally a part of the culture and a way of life in the Bay Area at the time, so it's not like something I had to think twice about [as his manager]. It's something he would be doing even if he wasn't filming the video.
Hidalgo: I think everyone was just cracking up. I don't think anybody was like, "Oh, s–, he fell." I think he did a tuck-and-roll.
Mistah F.A.B.: Aww man, we were just having fun at the time. I was high as hell and jumped out a little too soon. The bus was going a little faster than expected. I had to hit the ground running and I hit the ground walking. And then I was tumbling and then I rolled over and jumped up like nothing happened.
The Music Video: One of the First Viral Videos
After Mistah F.A.B. survived his tumble from his yellow bus and the rest of the crew wrapped the video shoot, they sent it out to MTV. It did get airtime, and even became a Jam of the Week, but much of the success actually came from online plays, back when YouTube was only a year old. Soon after the video blew up, copyright issues caught up with it.
McCoy: People don't realize that it ended up being one of the first viral videos on YouTube. It was a new platform at the time and it was nothing like it is today. We wanted to try to be ahead of what was going on and we were trying to make a video that could make an impact online. We wanted something that people all over the world would be able to see and not just on MTV Jams.
Mistah F.A.B.: We went viral before we even knew what going viral was. Like when you think about it, that's one of the first records to go viral as far people doing parodies and it being talked about on all kinds of news coverage ... "Ghost Ride It" was one of the first records to go viral that wasn't a Weird Al Yankovic parody.
Hidalgo: Everybody was like, "YouTube? What the f– is this?" To us, it was like, if it's not on TV, then who gives a s–. And then all of the sudden we saw the view count going up and thought, "This has legs." People were paying attention to it. Then people I was working with who weren't on the shoot, like casting directors and other producers, they were hearing about the video and they would call me up. They were geeking off of it because it had that much of a buzz.
McCoy: [But then] we got a cease and desist because of the Ghostbusters car. The video was up for a while. It was everywhere. But the car ended up being a problem because the person we got the car from owned the car, but not the intellectual property of the car. So that became the issue and was why the video was ultimately pulled down.
Gio Hidalgo: That was more important to us than the YouTube thing. Because if Columbia took time out to send us the letter, then that meant we were making some type of noise ... We were like, make them make us take it down. We never took it down.
Mistah F.A.B.: I was like, "Man, they trippin'. What they trippin' off of?" We felt like they were trying to stop our shine. I didn't really understand it at the time. I just knew they were banning us. But it only made it bigger, because in life, anything you can't get, you want more.
The Legacy: Another Portrait in My Memory's Museum
Nearly 15 years after "Ghost Ride It" made waves on Bay Area radio, cable TV and YouTube, it's seen by many as one of the anthems of the hyphy movement. It also cemented Mistah F.A.B. as a staple of the Bay Area hip-hop scene and helped usher in a new era of creativity and artistic innovation scene from Bay Area musicians like G-Eazy, The HBK Gang, SOB X RBE, Kehlani and Kamaiyah.
Hidalgo: I think that people look at videos like "Tell Me When to Go" and "Ghost Ride It" and it was setting the bar for what was to come 10 years after that. To see all of the dope filmmakers that came after that, like Mike Ho, Colin Tilley, Taj [Stansberry], to see those guys blossom and pop, it was good for the Bay Area as a collective.
McCoy: I think the legacy of the song is deeper than people realize as far as the YouTube stuff and the video itself.... That video and that whole thing was completely independent. We financed and paid for it ourselves. And for the Bay Area at the time, it was a huge look, especially from the perspective of how it was done. It wasn't just a video that was shot in the neighborhood. It was pretty creative and it there was definitely some production value put into it.
Mistah F.A.B.: It was a fun record. A good, fun record that described the times that we were living in at the time. It portrayed the culture of what was going on. There was a lot of positive energy behind it. Other than that, it's just another portrait in my memory's museum. That's just another painting on the wall of my Louvre-like career.
Drew Costley is a Bay Area-based writer.