Torii MacAdams is arguably a gentrifier
G Perico – Nothin’ But Love
Here’s a dystopic vision of Los Angeles: a sea of pristine, neutral-toned Craftsman houses with horizontal, wooden-slatted fences chilled to 72 degrees by an overworked grid, each with a Tesla in the driveway, and, in every breakfast nook, two slices of inviting avocado toast plated with balletic delicacy. This will never happen–the city doesn’t have that many Craftsman homes–but pockets of Los Angeles have transformed into upper-middle class playgrounds at an alarming rate. The effects of gentrification on housing are easily identified: renters are displaced, those who sell their homes can’t afford to buy in their previous neighborhoods, and available stock is priced at rates that prevent economic diversity. We can quantify the cost of a home or a neighborhood’s average rent. What’s impossible to quantify, though, is creative “brain drain.” More specifically, what happens to Los Angeles rap when poor and working class black communities cease to exist within the city?
It’s undeniable: Los Angeles City’s black population has declined precipitously since 1980. Once about 18% of the population, black people now constitute just under 10% of the city. (Compton, part of Los Angeles County, is only about 35% black, another dramatic shift.) Median income for black households ($35,481 per year) in the city lags behind whites ($57,355), and much, much, much further behind the median cost of a home ($585,100). The effect is obvious: black people can’t afford to buy homes in Los Angeles, so they don’t. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have seen their black populations skyrocket since 1990. These sun-baked hinterlands, full of cheap land and cheaper drugs, have been hard-hit by the 2008 recession and a loss of industry. Many fled Los Angeles for suburban comforts in the low-slung desert expanse, only to see ghettoization hot on their tails.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what further decentralization and displacement would do to Los Angeles rap–I’d conservatively guess that fewer black Angelenos would mean fewer rappers. Maybe the outlying counties will develop their own regional styles, but that’s yet to happen, and seems an unlikelihood given the lack of musical pedigree and sprawling geography. The sub-regional characteristics we’ve come to know–Leimert Park leftfield eccentrics, Odd Future running amuck on Fairfax, South Central gangster rap, chilled out Westsiders–were fomented by relative stasis in a dynamic metropolis that’s now re-urbanizing. Expectations for Los Angeles rap will have to change as neighborhoods do.
And, to be clear, without black people there is no Los Angeles rap. Yes, there are notable–even pretty great–Chicano and Latino rappers and producers (and a semi-popular Korean group and one fantastic Jewish producer), but the region’s greatest talents are almost uniformly black. Jazz begat soul and funk, which in turn begat electro and rap. The intergenerational throughlines and thoroughfares (Central Avenue, Crenshaw Boulevard, Washington Boulevard) are unmistakable, and rap is just the latest genre in a continuity of black musical expression that began in the 20th century. A major city needs artists of all kinds to clarify and transmit its infinite, infinitesimal complexities. Rap does that.
On a personal level, I’m torn between easy nostalgia for the outwardly simple, deeply troubled Los Angeles of my childhood (Nostalgia is a dumb impulse.), disdain for the inequalities that created it, and worry over the coming wave of inequalities that is poised to sweep the city and leave in its wake a sterile, grit-free place that’s safe for investment. Poverty is not worth exoticizing or championing. Economic and ethnic diversity are. Some solutions for maintaining a diverse city (increased public housing, the expansion of public transit, higher minimum wage, rent control enforcement) are being enacted to varying degrees, though it’s too early to know what effect, if any, they’ll have.
It would be too utopianist, too watery-eyed and mealy-mouthed, to wish for a city free of inequality and its attendant, dehumanizing effects. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for commonplace legislation which nurtures some of the discrete characteristics of Los Angeles. Discrimination and redlining forced black people into specific enclaves, and from undue urban blight came timeless art. More complex–if arguably no-less-racist–factors are again putting black people on the move, this time further from their cultural centers. Widely, the loss of diversity is saddening; artistically, the pending losses could be immense. Black artists have long helped express Los Angeles’ deuling beauty and brutality, and in turn have helped define the city. Rap is essential to that expression, and essential to Los Angeles.
Andre Martel – Remember
The flip side of South Central being less black is that much of it has become Latino. It’s hard to find reliable numbers–what is and is not South Central, or “South L.A.,” as the City Council tried dubbing it in 2003, is partially a matter of opinion–but estimates put it as being around two-thirds Latino. In the mid-1980’s, Andre Martel’s parents, poor immigrants from Michoacán, settled in South Central, two small parts of a massive influx of Mexicans and Salvadorans that’d permanently alter the city’s dynamics. The success of his family in Los Angeles is relatively commonplace, but their story (and stories like theirs) is just as important to the city as those discussed above. Martel’s rap helps bridge the gap between these Spanish-language experiences and English-only Gringos like me.
Zeds Dead ft. Rivers Cuomo & Pusha T – Too Young
(Yes, you read that correctly.)
Note: This song apparently can’t be embedded, so you’re going to have to Google it if you’re into self-flagellation.
Pusha T is rap’s biggest mercenary. Here’s a partial list of people to whom he’s provided guest verses, presumably for unholy amounts of lucre (“dirty money,” if you’re a Clipse fan): the Teriyaki Boyz (with Fam-Lay!), FeFe Dobson, Iggy Azalea, Fred the Godson, Troy Ave, Machine Gun Kelly, Kelly Rowland, Linkin Park, Major Lazer, Axwell & Ingrosso, Tiga, and former American Idol contest HeeJun Han. “Too Young” isn’t even that bad–it’s just obviously forced and cynical. It’s bubble gum pop, and like bubble gum chewed for too long, it’s insipid, a simulation of substance and flavor. Still, it’s hard to begrudge Pusha T his hustles–rap money is fickle, and if today’s cynicism prevents future, mistaken comeback albums, then that’s okay. The guy who helped make Hell Hath No Fury and Lord Willin’ deserves a retirement fund, too.
Ray Vicks – Pray To God
Ray Vicks is almost more folklore than rapper. Aside from forum-based scuttlebutt, there’s little information on the Baton Rouge native. Most revealing is an interview with his mother, in which she discusses the then-simultaneous incarceration of her sons and grandson, a number so cinematic that it beggars belief. As of July 2013, sons Wendell (murder), Brandon (illegal use of a firearm), Tyrique (spelling unknown, felony drug charges), and Ray Vicks (real name Patrick, drug charges) and grandson Cedric (armed robbery) were all in prison. Some time after that video, Vicks was released, put out a little more music, then again returned to the cold embrace of Louisiana’s penal system, from which he seems to have been released this summer.
Vicks’ biggest moments hardly shed more light. According to Jeff, prior to Under Investigation, Vicks’ mixtape with Lil Boosie, he was little known, even within Baton Rouge. Shortly after its release he went to prison. On Kevin Gates’ “IDGAF,” he raps
Young Troll just hit the phone/
But he don’t keep it a thousand/
Ray Vicks just jacked him, and he ain’t even see bout that.
Whatever Vicks’ preferred crimes–drug dealing, armed robbing–his myth has continued to grow despite his too-frequent prison stints. Last year’s “NO 2 BR” with Calliope Var (who recently began serving five years for racketeering) was very, very quietly one of the year’s best rap songs–no, that’s not an exaggeration–and “Pray To God” is an admirable addition to the story of BR’s most enigmatic rapper.