Fortunately, the rap album he’d impulsively dropped before going away had begun to make noise in the local community by the time he got back. Capitalizing on that buzz, he focused on making music and gradually built the business of his neighborhood T-shirt shop to earn an honest living.
Now, with his first full-fledged LP All Blue being heralded as the second coming of West Coast gangster rap, he’s beginning to taste the perks of success, splitting his time between the old hood and more upscale, secluded accommodations in the Hollywood hills. But rather than gradually distancing himself from the environment that once threatened to be his downfall, he’s committed himself to the community that raised him, seeing his newfound popularity and influence as a means of pulling his fellow bangers up out of their fraught and often all too brief lives of crime.
He spoke with us from LA.
Yeeeah, what’s poppin’ man. My bad for being tardy, I just slid up out the mall.
No worries man. So listen, I think for anybody who’s learning about you for the first time, it’s pretty impossible to distinguish between you and your gang affiliation. A lot of attention is given to the sensationalized violent and criminal aspects of it, but I’m curious, do you feel being a Crip has actually helped you?
That’s a real big question right there, I was just talking to somebody about this. Actually I think that being a Crip, and just being affiliated with the gang shit, of course when I got involved I didn’t think nothing of it, the consequences. But me going through all the stuff, it kind of hurt me a lot, as far as life is concerned, but being a survivor, and still being here after all is said and done—which, I mean, you know life isn’t over, it’s still going, but like, just a lot of the shit that you go through, I survived it, so I exploit it to my advantage. So all the fucked up shit that hurt me, I exploit it to help me now in entertainment. I can speak on a lot of different topics and subjects, and then in the streets I’m respected. Even in the industry, people that want to hear about that crazy lifestyle, I’m respected because of all the fuckups I went through. In the streets, when you fuck up, and you do crazy shit, that’s like a trophy. In a different world, the regular world that everybody else lives in, it’s not good, but for you to be able to make it through it, it helps you a lot. Like, “Damn, he went through all this crazy shit, and he’s still here. He still talks somewhat, with a bit of intelligence.” You know what I mean, I’m still approachable and everything. So it’s like 50-50. It fucked it up but I turned it around to make it help me.
It’s funny, the language you’re using makes me think of war veterans, who come back with such damage done to them by the experience of going to war, but can take pride in it and can turn it into something where they’ve got qualities and behaviors that benefit them, and they’ve got a story to tell as well.
Exactly, so the whole thing is just using it to my benefit, because I got a lot of friends and homies that I grew up with and been around, and they’re survivors too, in some type of aspect, but they don’t know how to turn it into something good, to help them grow. People just stuck in that. And I’m not saying I’m fully, all the way turned around and completely in a good place, but I kind of stepped out of that fuckin revolving door. I’m almost out of it, you know?
Gangster rap as a genre, what makes it real, what makes it good is when it provides a true look at the gangbanging lifestyle. So then when some of these rappers get big and use their success to step out of that life, isn’t that a threat to the authenticity of the music?
That’s a good question, I was thinking about that the other day. I still be around the hood, all my people still stay in the hood, but I was thinking about that. Success, could it steal your authenticity, and your edge. In reality it does, because if you’re anything like me, and talk about experiences or conversations you might have down in the ghetto, or shit that you see on the regular, consistently, of course your outlook and your music will change if you’re fucking rich, and staying in fucking Beverly Hills or some shit every day. A lot of people, when you get introduced to a different lifestyle, that’s anything but the ghetto shit or the gangster shit, you’ll eventually be like “Man, what the fuck am I going back over here for?!” I think it definitely steals from your edge, I been thinking about that a lot. Because I can kinda taste it, you know? I be battling with myself, like I gotta still be in the hood, I gotta still be on the block, but my music gotta evolve. You know, when the time come, right now I’m still runnin around the hood and shit. But as the success come and I step into a different lifestyle, as an artist I gotta speak on that too. I’m living life, but I still got the gangster frame of mind, so it’ll just become next level gangster shit. Putting more people in a position to have shit. The story’ll definitely grow and get bigger. A lot of people, shit do get watered down and they get weak. But that just comes with losing sight of what’s going on.
Getting too comfortable, maybe. So you were talking about the sorts of things you see every day in your neighborhood, in the area where you came up. Everybody loves to ask you about the Jheri curl, and you’re very quick to explain that it’s not just some rap image gimmick, for the album covers and photo shoots, but if that’s the case, then in your neighborhood if you see a local dude rocking the Jheri curl, what does that represent? It’s a bold hairstyle, it says something.
Me growing up, I was always labeled as a pretty boy, because of how I look. Light-skinned dude, cool features I guess, that’s the best way to explain it. So everybody that had curls and shit, when I was growing up, and the homies that still got ‘em, they like consider theyself fly, and a ladies man, somebody that’s having a little money in the ghetto. So it was kind of like a status symbol of being a fly person, you know what I mean? I’m about to get my shit fly, whipped, curled up, the girls are gonna love it. It was something like that. When I stepped off the porch, I was thrown in like a pretty boy, fly guy category. Which, in return, made me act up a whole lot. I come through and the older homies and shit, “Look at this pretty ass nigga right here.” And my cousin, we came around the same time and shit, he came on the scene a few months before me, and he black as a mu’fucka, he a little crazy, you know what I’m sayin? So when we would walk up they’d embrace him, and they’d be on my like I was a pretty boy. So it made me act up and do all the crazy shit. In return I went through a whole lot of shit for it, but naturally I was already in that category, already wore curly hair a shit. It’s pretty much just a symbol of fly shit.
What’s the current feeling right now in your neighborhood? Communities go through different phases, and I’m curious how socially and politically what’s happening in the country affects your community dynamics.
The feeling in my neighborhood is so much shit just wrapped up in one. It’s a serious disconnect in the ghetto in comparison to the bigger world. It’s like a superdisconnect. Right now it’s just like drugs have been hitting the area. Like meth, meth which was like, not a black drug, or a urban drug, hit the area so fucking hard. I would say it robbed the community of resources, and what I say by resources, like the people that come with those good ideas and help the community function. That shit fucked a lot up. And as far as politics of the world, the area is so disconnected. That’s where I come in at though, to try to bring some good back to the area, and help people be aware of what’s going on outside the area, in order to make the area better. But it’s just so disconnected with these drugs. The only thing that people understand about politics around here is voting for propositions and shit, the three strikes shit which passed, juveniles getting life and shit like that. Pretty much just laws that fuck the community up even worse, that put the community in a worse place. That’s really all people understand. As far as economics, shit that’s necessary for growth, in my community there’s not too many people that’s there—a lot of people that understand it then went crazy trying to help and preach that shit. I’m really like the voice, in my music and shit. Of course I get ignorant, but I got joints like Bacc Forth where I mix it in. I understand what’s going on, but I can’t come through and hit everybody with all this shit at one time, people would get scared. So I’m spoon-feeding it to the area right now. But my area is pretty much like any other area, it’s the east side of LA, low income range, the average income is probably fuckin, 30,000, 40,000 dollars maybe, if that. It’s like an island man, in the middle of one of the places with the best fuckin real estate in the world.
Tell me a little bit about your shop, So Way Out. Does it provide you with a link to the old neighborhood while you’re kind of straddling two worlds at the moment?
Yeah, So Way Out started off as just something for me to do, to stay out of trouble. I got so much energy and a lot of shit to do, and as opposed to me selling drugs and being out just gangbanging and shit full-time, I’ve got the store to put my energy into that, and to help my homies. When I got my store, a lot of different stores popped up in the area, smoke shops, T-shirt shops, markets and shit. A lot of my homies started trying to open their own businesses, even outside of the area. So that was a definite good thing. But I started it as something for me to stay out of trouble. I was fresh out of jail, all my homies just got indicted, street shit got real scary. What I mean by street shit got scary, not me being worried about what the next man from across the bridge or across the tracks would come do to me, or even the police pulling up on me and catching me with something, but people that I considered my friends…you know we call ‘em cross artists. Whether they be working with the police trying to set you up, or they be playing friend and trying to set you up to get robbed and killed. Me, just being a person, my whole thing’s always been just spread love amongst the homies, because at the end of the day the gang is really supposed to be like the community. In order for a community to operate right you gotta spread love and understand each other, and know everybody’s position. So that was my whole thing, and then once all this other shit came into the game, it was like, I know what I’m good at, I was only good at doing street shit, I was only good at hustling, I was only good at gangbanging, fighting and shit. So I had to step away from that, while still being in it. Right now I’m maybe a step away, but I’m still involved. The store helped me to stay away from that, and guide my friends in a different direction, because at the end of the day I know I’mma be alright. It’s just something for the community.
With so many of your friends over the years dying, going to prison, flipping on each other, do you end up feeling more and more isolated?
Yeah, at one point in time, a few of my friends was in prison and shit, and my best friend Corleone had got killed, and then my other close partner that I did everything with kind of stepped away from the scene, so I kind of felt by myself. Even though there was a lot of people around me, but I can’t really trust none of these niggas, I don’t know what they on, I don’t know if they leaving me and talking to the police, I don’t know if they got cameras in they chains and shit, and they just setting me up. So yeah I definitely felt like super isolated. But luckily I had the microphone, and I just put the same energy I put into gangbanging into the music, I think that’s why it’s been a success the way it is. Because I’ve been a super successful street dude, I’m a reputable person in the street even if I don’t rap, I’m fuckin famous in the city. So the isolation, the way shit changed and switched, forced me in a good way to put my energy into the music. And now here we are having a conversation.
What about when you come through New York? Are you getting a reputation out here, and is there a serious Crip presence here that you connect with?
Hell yeah, New York is super love, man. Soon as I hit New York people recognize me, it’s a lot of homies out there, it’s a lot of Crips out there. Outside of the Crip shit it’s just people and individuals I connect with. That’s really my whole thing, just to connect with the people. Because I got a crazy story, so I’m not a person to judge. I understand people. And New York definitely shows major love, from Manhattan all the way to the fuckin ghettos in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, it’s major love.
And as your music career grows, are your aspirations growing with it? Are you trying to do bigger features and collabs, or trying to keep it local?
I definitely want to be the best, and be in the best situation. So yeah, bigger features, bigger production, bigger moves. Why not grow big in this shit? That way I can help more, the bigger I get the more people I can help. The more of my homies that got potential but really don’t have no direction, they might fuck around and get killed or get life. If I can help somebody from going down that road, then that’s what I wanna do. So of course I need to get bigger, I need to do the biggest songs, the best features, the best videos, the biggest shows. Everything that I could do, the biggest. Because when one person gets killed or gets life, that affects an entire family, and families affect the community. It’s like a chain of command. I feel like it’s my duty to be the best and the biggest I can be. So hell yeah, I wanna be the best shit.