Known throughout his long career for slick, drawling, and hard gangsta rhymes backed by funky productions — sometimes his own — Celly Cel has been a vital part of the Bay Area scene since the early '90s. He achieved his commercial peak with the low-key slow jam "It's Goin' Down" and its parent album, Killa Kali (1996), his second of three Jive-distributed LPs for E-40's Sick wid' It label. The rapper has remained active throughout the ensuing decades with solo albums on his own Realside label and full-length collaborations with Spice 1 and Jayo Felony (as Criminalz), and D Enemy, Protajay, and Mac Reese (as Hillside Stranglaz).
Born Marcellus McCarver, Celly Cel grew up in the waterfront Bay Area city of Vallejo. He got his start with the "Lifestyle of a Mack" single (1991) and the Funk 4 Life EP (1993), both of which he produced and issued on cassette. Signed to fellow Vallejo native E-40's Sick wid' It Records, Celly went nationwide with Heat 4 Yo Azz (1994). Featuring the single and 2Pac favorite "Bailin' Thru My Hood," the album reached number 34 on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart. More ground was gained two years later with Killa Kali (1996), which entered the R&B/hip-hop chart at number four and cracked the Top 30 of the all-genre Billboard 200. After Celly left more dents on multiple charts with The G Filez (1998), he left Sick wid' It on good terms — the label anthologized their association with The Best of Celly Cel — and reactivated Realside. Deep Conversation (2000) soon became Celly's fourth charting solo LP, and was quickly followed by Criminal Activity, credited to Criminalz, a one-off group with Spice 1 and Jayo Felony.