Every single day of the week you can check a music blog and listen to a new song from a different LA breakout rapper. There’s Greedo, Drakeo and the Stinc Team (free them), AzChike and the Cult, Shoreline and Rucci and 1Take. The list goes on.
L.A. is huge. You know that. If you zoom in on certain areas though, you’ll see their clear rap influences. Santa Monica is different though. If you look hard enough, you’ll find some guys from Santa Monica. There’s Black 9, who released two quintessential g-funk albums back in the 90s, deviating very little from the g-funk formula. Evidence was raised in Venice, which is close but definitely not the same. Santa Monica doesn’t have very much to build off of when it comes to rap.
That means that anyone who steps up to the plate gets to play by their own rules. If you rap, and you’re from Santa Monica, you get to choose what SM sounds like to the rest of the world. Warm Brew’s decided that Santa Monica gets to be the home of what they’ve long called the “Ghetto Beach Boy” mentality.
Ray Wright, Manu Li and Serk Spliff make up Warm Brew, a Santa Monica-based rap group who make whatever kind of music they want. In our interview, they told me what it meant to be a Ghetto Beach Boy. Ghetto Beach Boys aren’t just from SM, they can be from anywhere. Being a Ghetto Beach Boy is about enjoying yourself on the shore, but still getting into trouble.
Or, you could mix a little bit of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Scarface of the Geto Boyz. But you have to add in a little Warren G, because of the group’s clear g-funk influences. The carefree and nostalgic songwriting of Pet Sounds, the realness and depth of Scarface and the smoothness of a Nate Dogg hook. That’s a little bit of what you should expect
At one point in the interview, Manu complained that there were “a lot of geeks” walking around Santa Monica, and that he could see them from his window. Serk talked about how his Irish grandmother always listened to “To Live & Die in L.A.” I later asked them what kind of beer they’d like to make, and they ended up making plans to celebrate the album’s release with some Delirium that Manu had stashed while we were still interviewing.
New Content dropped on October 5, and it’s their second release on Red Bull Records. The group dropped The Diagnosis on Red Bull in 2016. New Content is just as unpredictable as the people who made it. It’s like that variety bag of candy you buy just before Halloween to (hopefully) hand out to kids in costumes.
It has its fun-sized Hershey bars, or Warm Brew staples, tracks like “Zones,” and “Get It Right,” featuring Diamond Ortiz. They shout out LA hoods, the people of the city, good weed and making money.
They somehow managed to sneak an edible into their bag of Halloween treats, “Psychedelic,” one of the singles dropped leading up to this album. They show us how psychedelics are just part of their lives; Manu says he “puts molly on his tacos for artistic purposes.” Ray says that he gets lost in his daydreams, having visions of “pink clouds with orange outlines.”
Dom Kennedy, who serves as a mentor to the trio, is featured on “Full Effect.” There’s also the Machiavellian “The Means,” where they all ask themselves if the ends truly do justify the means. Manu goes through his verse talking about “fighting his whole life” and how he “doesn’t stunt out of spite” because his mom knows exactly how he feels. He sees no way to regret being able to pay your bills and keeping your kids fed.
The album ends in self-reflection though, with “The Roots,” which is one of the best tracks of 2018.All three members talk about how they’re going to be remembered in life. There’s no hook, the only space between their verses is the grandiose beat, produced by Drew Byrd.
Ray’s verse goes through his life talking about how even dry cleaners couldn’t “wash away” his past. He asks his mom if she’s proud of him because he’s about to take his third trip overseas. Manu raps about how everyone’s concerned about how he’ll spend the money he makes off rapping
In our interview, Manu talked about how he “always wanted to be on a beat like this and rap about life.” He told me it felt like being on an episode of Rap City. Serk said that Manu helped him get out all of the emotion he needed to for this song.
If “The Roots” was Warm Brew’s last track ever, I’d have zero complaints. All three of them wear their hearts on their sleeves and tell us how they really feel about their success. Even though the content varies from track-to-track, but it just works. They sound like they’re always having fun and the end result is infectious.
P.S. Serk said I had to say this: GO DODGERS! — Brandon Callender
I’ve sat with the album for a while. The album starts with “Zones,” a song dedicated to LA, surrounding neighborhoods & surrounding areas. How has LA changed since 2009?
Serk: There’s a lot more juice bars and dive bars. There’s a lot more yoga studios than actual music studios. I’d say they’re trying to force out the actual humans. When there’s an actual culture in a place, when something is true. Like in the West Side, there’s an actual feeling out here. It’s hard just to get rid of it, but they’re definitely trying to stuff it away as much as they can. But they can’t get rid of it. Not as long as there’s people like us. It’s changing all the time though. Not a fan. As long as there’s people like us who can keep it as true as possible, I can’t really complain.
As a neighborhood Santa Monica isn’t really known for its rap scene, but LA as a city is known for its contributions to rap as a genre. Manu called you all a voice for the voiceless. Do you still feel that way?
Manu: I live in Santa Monica, but I didn’t really know Santa Monica until I moved here. It’s just like LA, but further. It kinda feels the same, you know what I mean? It feels like how la was for me. It was never like ‘oh, I’m from Santa Monica and I’m rapping.’ It’s not that I’m rapping about Santa Monica and for Santa Monica, it’s that I’m rapping for people like [me] that are everywhere.
With that being said, I think that we’ve matured. We don’t rap about the same things we rap about when we began rapping. It’s just maturing, we got older. You kinda figure out how to handle your business.
Before, you do the same things that people from south central do, but there’s just a beach nearby. That’s why you call yourselves Ghetto Beach Boys right?
Serk: Santa Monica’s got its ghettos too, Venice has its ghettos. There’s hood people from both cities, they’re beach cities. Long Beach is the same thing. Long Beach is ghetto as fuck too and it’s a beach city. Ghetto isn’t necessarily a representation of your social status. I guess it’s more of how you’re perceived by people, and you group up with the people you’re perceived with. If motherfuckers gonna treat us like we’re ghetto and act like we don’t belong by the beach then we’re gonna act like that, but it’s still our beach, know what i mean?
Just to hop off of what Manu said we’re just trying to represent the people that are like us. Not everybody from out here is like us. But there’s people in the middle of nowhere. You could be out in Kalamazoo, Michigan and you could be a Ghetto Beach Boy if you think the way we do, feel the way we about life do and attack life with the same vigor. The Ghetto Beach Boy thing is barely geographical. It’s more of a mentality.
What’s the mentality of a Ghetto Beach Boy then?
Serk: You pack up, you get your beach stuff ready. You wanna take your surfboard, then take your surfboard, get your beer, your weed, you take your girl. You’re having a perfect summer day. Then you get in a fight that same day on the beach, during the sunset. That’s what a Ghetto Beach Boy is.
I wanna talk a little bit more about the changing of LA and surrounding areas. Have you guys seen any signs of gentrification?
Manu: Yeah, for sure. It’s closer to my house. There’s signs of gentrification, they just threw a Whole Foods somewhere nearby. Rent has gotten a lot more expensive around where I live; I have a lot of new neighbors. I think it’s still kinda ghetto and dirty near my house. For the most part, it’s fine.
Santa Monica has always been kinda expensive, especially where I live, so it’s not as gentrified as it could be, because it wasn’t gentrified in the first place, you know what I mean? There’s a lot more people from tech companies and stuff. There’s a lot more geeks you know? I’m looking outside right now through my window and I see a lot of geeks. I’m wondering what they got.
There’s a bunch of kids too. It’s become more kid friendly, which is a sign of good things. When kids are out, there’s probably good things for them to do. A lot less people have been dying over here too.
What do you think about the current state of California rap? There’s guys out like Greedo, Drakeo, SOB x RBE, Shoreline and Robbioso. Do y’all think California is in a good spot?
Serk: Yeah, I think California is in a great spot. I think that anything, especially hip-hop, is kinda like the dragon ride at the carnival. It’s all cyclical. It shifts between both coasts and then it goes to the south, then back west and then to the east. Right now, the spotlight is on California.
I think with Greedo, was something different that opened people’s eyes to something we’ve got. To the new California stuff. With the SOB [X RBE] and Shoreline, the things like that, they bring a certain amount of attention. I think it’s cool that theres a group like us that’s still very, very rooted [in California culture]. I think there’s a new California, and i think we fit in that realm, but we also have ties to the old school roots, which is a great thing.
But California is in a great spot. The bottom and top are clicking up more than ever before, which makes the whole state stronger. Rather than making it NorCal vs. SoCal, it’s just we’re from California and we’re getting together. Shoreline, Stinc Team, they’re representing Cali. Drakeo too, but you mentioned all of them. There’s a bunch of people representing the state in the right way. There’s also a bunch of smaller artists doing the same things. California is so diverse, so i think it’s cool to have different sounds coming from all these places because they’re representing the state in the right way.
What do you think it is about California that allows for all these styles to come out of it now?
Serk: You don’t meet a lot of people that are rooted in California anymore. You get a lot of people who are first-generation Californians, so their families have ties to different parts of the country. Say a family comes from the south and moves to california, they have influences from the south and the West Coast.
Look at Kendrick. I believe Kendrick’s family is from Chicago? Or his dad’s side. You can hear the Chicago rap in his style. It’s also because hip-hop has grown so much, you can be influenced by anybody. It’s not as regional as it used to be.
You guys said earlier that you’re a mix of old California and new California, so what are some of the first songs you remember hearing?
Manu: I remember listening to “Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre. I remember listening to that. I remember electric relaxation too. The rest that i remember is just R&B. Soulful stuff. Any R&B music from like the 60s, and the 80s especially. [laughs] Oh yeah, the 70s too. That’s what I remember hearing most of the time.
Serk: The first hip-hop record that resonated with me was Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. I was intrigued by how he looked and the sounds that were crazy. That translated to the Kenan and Kel theme song that Coolio did. I realized it was the same person and I was like ‘that’s the tightest thing in the world.’ I was a big Kris Kross fan as a kid too. I used to wear my clothes backwards and shit.
My grandma, my Irish grandma, was a big Tupac fan. I remember listening to “To Live and Die in LA,” that was a record she loved and played a lot. That song reminds me of her. It’s a pretty emotional record.
Your grandma played this a lot, and it meant a lot to you. What outside of music inspires you to write?
Serk: I’m a big movie guy. But literature got me into writing. My other grandma teaches, so she got me into reading a lot and shit like that. I was one of those kids that liked reading and writing a lot, and that just translated into music.
Manu: To add to that, what gets me thinking sharper and what gets me writing is moving you know? Whether I’m pacing, or jogging, or seeing something move. Being on the bus for two hours every day in high school, I would just write or listen to instrumentals. What encourages me is movement and seeing my surroundings. The outside world, seeing people move, seeing waves crashing. Just being around all that.
Serk, what are some of your favorite books?
Serk: Right now, Imma have to say But What if We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. The book that i can always go back to… obviously “Fear and Loathing [in Las Vegas]” is one of my favorites. I’d have to say East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I also like Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Marquez.
What interests you about them?
Serk: East of Eden, it’s the panel of California. It tells the story of how California came to be. I really respected how Steinbeck talked about California. When I’m writing about music, I wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to represent my city and talk about where I’m from with so much pride. I wanted to have it just pour out of the words that I’m using. He has so much pride in where he’s from, and I just respected that.
For Fear and Loathing, Hunter S. Thompson is just my favorite writer, it started with the movie and then I went into the books, and then I poured into the lifestyle.
For Chuck Klosterman, I got into him because he’s a football historian as well. I’ve read his work and his articles and then got into his books. The book I read, And What if We’re Wrong, is about turning the world on its ears. Just questioning shit. If theres one way of doing shit, there has to be a second way.
We gotta talk about the music though too. Let’s start from the top. This album is called New Content – where’d this name come from?
Serk: Yo Manu. This is you.
Manu: I’ll be honest with you. I follow John Mayer on Instagram. If you watch his Instagram, he’s hilarious. He was promoting one of his songs and going on and on about angles and saying ‘this is premium content that I’m saying.’ I thought that was funny. It was a long time till we got to the album though. But when the time came around, we didn’t really know how to fit the body of music so I was just like ‘we should just call it new content. It’s just new music.’ A lot of the things and stuff we thought of in the past, we outgrew them, or the music outgrew them.
It’s all about releasing new content every two seconds. That’s just the culture today. I think it’s funny, people don’t care how good it is, they just want new shit because our attention spans are so small. The new content thing is just us being funny. You know, the album cover is funny. It’s just Microsoft XP in crash mode like you downloaded some bad porn.
Manu: It’s like here’s the new content. Have it on your desk. Its straight to the point. It is what it is.
Which song was the most fun for each of you to write for/record?
Serk: It’s more of a session, but when we did get it right, produced by Polyester. The session was just crazy. Me and Manu did a little bit of shrooms, so we were just a little lifted. Feeling real nice. We were drinking a mixture of good wine and bad wine, good beer and bad beer, some liq. It was just a fun session.
It was packed full of musicians. There’s something special when there’s a room full of people who make music with the same goals. And when there’s no egos, everyone’s just having a good time making music. Obviously with the shrooms and all the other extra shit, it makes it a little more fun. That’s mine for sure.
Manu: My favorite session was the last song, when I recorded The Roots. I got in the booth and I had the rhythm and everything. I felt like i was one of these 90s New York rappers, and I was just rapping at the mic. My mannerisms were so Rap City. It felt like Rap City.
Let’s talk more about “The Roots.” It’s a hard, serious song where y’all are talking about how you wanna be remembered. What inspired this?
Manu: It started with the beat. I remember hearing it and I like ‘I love this beat.’ I’ve always wanted to be on a beat like this and rap about life. That’s how I felt inside. It immediately brought memories. It felt like a letter, you know what I mean? Just to talk about feelings. I talked about my mom, not taking advantage of things. It reminds me of moments of my life where I felt low, where I felt bad for myself. It gave me an outlet to rap a little upset. It just brought up some moments of my life, a couple of moments, that were hard. I don’t know what the sample is, but it was the sample.
You want to say anything about “Roots,” Serk?
Serk: I think I went through two or three different versions. I ended up with the one I had. Manu was instrumental in how I performed it and getting the pain out. One of the things I can really fault myself on, I think i’m a really good writer, cause I grew up writing, but sometimes the vigor doesn’t come out. Manu really helped me get the vigor out of that verse and myself.
When I wrote that verse, I treated it as an extension of my verse on ‘The Mission,’ which was on our prior project.
Yeah, I’ve listened to that song a few times.
Serk: I was thanking Manu and Ray on The Mission. That was my thank you to them. With this verse, I wanted to thank myself with everything that I’ve gone through. And just to realize that everything that I’ve gone through is what got me to this point here. We have an album dropping in a few hours, and to appreciate the journey, and the whole story of who I am. To appreciate the downs, because the downs get you to your peaks.
That’s big facts. I can tell that was a hard song to write, and even harder to rap about. Appreciate y’all being open about that.
Serk: Jumping off the pier when you’re wasted isn’t the best thing to talk about. I don’t know how my mom’s gonna feel finding out that her kid gets blackout drunk and decides to jump off piers. [laughs]
“Butane” was another standout track to me. It dropped as a single, and you talk about the importance of patience. Tell me a little more.
Serk: Ray and Al B Smoove started that record. When me and Manu heard it, it was one of those things that fit where we were at that point of our lives. I think it’s always going to fit. It’s the patience.
Just saying it’s okay. Things take time to build. What’s the old adage, Rome wasn’t built in a day? I don’t know. I think of that song as more of a reminder that we’ve accomplished a lot, and there’s more to accomplish. Just stay steady. It’s something we can safely say, people have always told us we’ve gotten better every single time we’ve released something. If we just continue with that trajectory, we’re never gonna fail ourselves or our efforts.
Ultimately, we’re not gonna fail our dreams. We’ve sacrificed a lot to get here. The people around us have sacrificed for us to be here. The patience that they’ve exuded and we’ve exuded to really just follow our dreams. To use a line from the song, “to blow up.” It takes a lot of patience. People think it’s a lot of glitz and glamour. Especially in this day and age of hip-hop, where people are always flexing. No one really talks about how long it really took. All those late nights it took just to take that one photo. I think we appreciate the fact that we put in all this work.
This is your second release on Red Bull Records, right?
Serk: Yeah, first album, second release.
Tell me a little bit about the Road to Red Bull.
Serk: I think like anything that is Warm Brew, it was organic. It was nothing forced. It’s a relationship that’s been forming for years. Our A&R Tick was heavily involved in getting us over there, he works for Red Bull, but he was also involved in us getting our first shows. He comes from an era where hip-hop groups are prevalent, and he understood what we are trying to attack and conquer. The fact that you can remain a group and shine individually.
Serk: It’s cool for a group to take the credit. But everyone wants to be a superstar in certain situations. It’s cool when you’re doing something with your friends, and you’re all being praised together, it’s an awesome feeling. It’s like winning a championship as an NBA team versus winning Wimbledon as a tennis player.
Its doper to celebrate with your teammates rather than going to your hotel room and celebrating with your fucking trophy. I wanna celebrate my victories with my teammates, my friends and my loved ones. I feel like Red Bull understood that.
Being in a rap group isn’t about one person shining, it’s about all of you shining at the same time.
You compared being in a rap group and being successful to being part of an NBA team. What role do you all play?
Serk: Great question. How about this Manu, I answer for you and you for me. Let’s make this interesting.
Manu: Uh… I was just gonna answer and compare myself to a basketball player.
Serk: Alright, then I’ll say this. Manu Li got some D Wade to him, you know what you’re gonna get, but sometimes he’s gonna pull something out his ass that’s completely magical. His consistency is great, hes gonna give you some fire verses.
But sometimes he comes through with the ’06 Wade playoff run where he’s the best player in the league, and you can’t tell him anything. Pound-for-pound, Manu Li is the best rapper in the game. And his ability to finish around the rim.
Manu: Aye, pause my guy. That’s good though.
Serk: And he’s gonna pull him a Gabrielle Union type chick too!
Manu: In the words of everyone. That part. I like the last part a lot. I would compare ourselves to the 2008 Celtics, with the Big Three. Even though we hate the Celtics, their Big Three was incredible. I’d compare myself to one of those players.
Serk: If we’re going with the Celtics, Ray Wright is definitely Kevin Garnett.
Manu: Ray Wright can be KG. But I don’t know. Which one would I be?
Serk: Fuck Ray Allen. We’re kicking him off the team. One of us can be Rondo and the other one can be Paul.
Manu: I like Rajon Rondo though.
Serk: Alright, Ray Wright’s KG. I’m Tony Allen and Paul Pierce. Manu Li is Rajon Rondo. But sometimes Manu Li is Big Baby Davis.
Alright, enough jokes for now. We can get back to that. What’s Dom Kennedy’s mentorship been like?
Serk: It’s been great. It’s been awesome. When we first came into this, we only had each other and we could only lean on each other. We had to navigate through this hip-hop game, especially in LA. There are so many places you can try to fit into. Once we got with Dom and OPM, we found a home. We understood where we belonged in the scheme of hip hop. I think Dom understands we are different from everything else going on, and he was comfortable with that. He understands the culture because he went to the same high school we did, so he understands the story we’re trying to tell.
We have someone we can look at who can help us navigate through the bullshit. His newest album is amazing too. Dom represents the city in the right way. It’s cool to have someone like that, that people revere in such a way, that we can just say ‘oh that’s the homie.’ It’s an awesome thing to have in your pocket.
What are y’all planning to do after this album drops?
Manu: We’re probably just gonna keep going. We can’t really take a break. This whole thing is fun, so we’ll just keep doing it. It’s like being on summer vacation all the time. We’re just gonna watch some tv.
Serk: Watch some LeBron games.
Manu: Yup. Watch some LeBron games. Make some more music. Smoke some weed. Drink some beer. Go overseas. Women. Buy houses. Helicopters. Cable television. All that. We’re gonna run it up.
Good plans. But, we can’t leave without talking about beer. What does a Warm Brew-branded beer look and taste like?
Serk: I’ve actually thought about this. My summer beer would be cool. It’d be a nice light lager and there’d be two acid tablets in each one. My winter beers would be molly beers and a little darker so you could warm up. My regular beers would be whiskey.
Whiskey? I don’t think that’s beer.
Manu: It turns into water the more you drink it. So, its technically water as well. But I’d just have whatever the long island iced tea of beers is though.
Serk: We’ll call it Burning Man Beer.
Manu: No rules. No restrictions. No breaks.
Serk: We only give you a bottle, and you pour whatever you want in the bottle, and we’ll charge you like it’s a beer.
Anything you want me to ask?
Manu: Ask about something about us that no one knows.
You got it. What’s something no one else knows about you?
Manu: Ok, most people see me as a nice guy. A kind person. But I’m known in the city for cutting the breaks off people’s cars.
Serk: Ok. That was dark. What no one knows about me is that I had sex before I had my first kid. And that’s a fact!
Manu: By the way, for my favorite book can you put Hustler magazine?