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Miguelito is in the foreign doing 40 in the FasTrak.
In 1957 filmmakers at UCLA released “The Towers”, a documentary on Sabato “Simon” Rodia, the Italian immigrant responsible for the Watts Towers, a collection of structures centered in Watts, California about twelve miles south of Downtown Los Angeles. Following his brother to Pennsylvania in 1893, Sabato worked odd laborer jobs that eventually drifted him West where he drank his way down the Pacific Coast and a couple marriages. He landed in Watts, sober and alone, sometime in 1920. The following year he purchased a lot for nine hundred dollars and in a fit of directed boredom set to building a quasi-gazebo in the yard, which included a tile relief of a fountain.
He wanted to “build something big” though and the gazebo wasn’t that. Rodia intensified construction and spires of steel rebar lunged from the property, growing steadily from one structure to seventeen over the next thirty years, the tallest right at ten stories. They’re decorated with whatever Sabato could find on his walks of greater Los Angeles and ornaments gifted from neighborhood children. Discarded 7 Up bottles, porcelain, seashells, broken mirrors, and unwanted shards of pottery mosaic the frames and most afternoons they give the muted pink and aquamarine shimmer you’d expect. Finally completed in 1954, Rodia’s vision spirals gnarled and ascetic at the east end of 107th. He called it “Nuestro Pueblo”. Tours are offered Thursday through Sunday.
Brief and plainly-titled, “The Towers” film opens with its narrator condescending of Watts, “flat and impoverished…it is the last place on Earth to look for the extraordinary or for the shadow of greatness.” Sixty-one years later rappers Desto Dubb and Pimp Pimp P, native Watts brothers, dance out of a BMW i8 with Rodia’s architecture behind them. Desto was famous for this creative interrogation response and his ability to secure codeine before he logged his juiceman diary in flippant, confessional hustler music almost three years ago. Pimp Pimp P (the ‘p’ stands for ‘pimp’) is more recent. He announced himself ten days before last Christmas with the iconoclastically structured “P Talk”.
As they exit the vehicle before the towers, Pimp P indulges a characteristic spin and Dubb’s MLK zip-up flannel billows showing a tangle of chains. The sunlight complements the eminence or maybe the other way around. Regardless, there are few shadows.
The footage is from Desto’s video for “First Day Back”, released at the end of July after touring Europe for twenty days with Lil Pump. In a later shot Fizzle, the track’s producer and foundational collaborator for Dubb and Pimp P, walks around the car flanked by citizens as he records his monument to the city. Fizzle translates the confidence of Desto’s continued rise—possibly the most benevolent dispensation of clout in the city’s history—with an abrupt introduction.
The melody’s liturgical, but doesn’t resolve before his tag—“thank you fizzle”—cuts in and Desto shoulders into a hook about international flights and narcotic preference (“Ran outta Wok so I had to bring the Xan out”). “[Our confidence] with each other helps me give [him] beats for different parts of his life,” Fizzle tells me a few months back, “We’ve known each other for a minute now.”
Fizzle (real name Josh) has been tucked in Desto’s videos since they’ve existed. His cinematic debut came in the “Born to Sale Juice” video when the camera panned in a nod to his heritage (“Now all I do is sell juice to Jews”). In the canon of recent L.A. rap, he’s been a pillar since the movement’s genesis, producing for 03 Greedo, Drakeo the Ruler, and the Stinc Team, in addition to the Watts brothers.
Originally from a suburb of Oakland, Josh wasn’t raised in a musical family. Still, they supported his interest in guitar, which eventually led to studying music at Purchase College in New York. “It taught me about music theory, production, equipment, and stuff like that,” he says of his collegiate years, “It was kinda cold and miserable to be honest, but I liked it. I have no regrets from it, but you can learn as much as you want on your own.” He moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduating in 2014.
“In college I used to make really weird sounds, like sound design,” he continues, “Today I have sounds I know I like, but I used to spend hours slowing down and making each instrument unique. I had to take a step back and realize how much I was trying to impress myself and beat-makers instead of making songs.”
Los Angeles instigated the shift from minutiae to composition. Before he confessed his love for thots, G Perico was the first rapper to give him a placement in early 2015. He pulled Fizzle’s prismic synths for “Dream About It”, a cut from Tha Innaprize Two on which Perico makes a case for “loving steaks and hating spreads”. Josh is happy with this early production, though he feels it’s incomplete. “You listen and want to hear my tag, “thank you fizzle”, but you won’t,” he explains. That fingerprint came one afternoon in early 2017 when he recorded a friend stringing together phrases with the alias.
The producer lives with Desto in Downtown Los Angeles among the atypically high steel isolated as the city’s nucleus, if only in name. After a few knocks he casually answers the door in a Yeezus t-shirt and apologizes for the limited parking. The door opens into the kitchen and it looks like someone’s moving because of a futon immediately to the right covered with clothes in lawn trash bags. The duo moved in “over two years ago” by Josh’s calculation but tenants haven’t changed. I ask for a more specific date, but he doesn’t usually give time the value of specifics.
Resting against the adjacent wall is a tall, near six feet, flat, wooden rendition of a Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals promethazine hydrochloride and codeine phosphate syrup pint. Panels over the kitchen lights put a dull, bitter red glow on the threshold that betrays the welcome.
A web of plumbing on the far wall and ceiling of their cabana says the space once served some function of industry. After a trip to The Roadium swap meet in Torrance, the walls assumed their current form, haphazardly checkerboarded with whatever image amused them that day: a framed t-shirt from a Misfits’ tour, the ‘91-’92 season Chicago Bulls Skyman Jordan poster, not one or two but three framed duck images—perhaps mallards—with matching postage stamps, an antique pair of crutches, a picture of what appear to be Stanford football team captains posing after their 1993 victory against San Jose State, and an advertisement for Winston Salem cigarettes that for sure once loomed over chicken-fried chicken at a Cracker Barrel.
For most of the conversation he’s at a workstation nook in the corner, answering questions while strumming a Gibson SG into Ableton and twisting the results. He plays a soft, colorful riff that sounds like a diversion into flamenco. After saving the hashes he says he has “some pretty shit to fuck up later”. Josh adds a little more—playing the Gibson like a bass guitar at one point—and, once he’s satisfied, walks over to the kitchen and returns eating cereal from a wine glass. He says I can make a bowl if I like after clarifying they have unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is on the living room television blasted to a volume that fills the loft without affecting his focus. He maintains relaxed, even subdued, but attentive responses. He’ll often make beats with movies in the background and leans toward anime these days.
Besides interior decorating, minimal is his modus operandi. He uses “like six sounds” he’s perfected and suggests that’s a course preferable to spending hours on a snare. “You can get lost. People have thousands of songs they make, never release, and people never hear them. And they’ll say to me, ‘ugh you used a drum’. I don’t even know what they’re thinking anymore man. They think they’re better than you, but nobody listens to their shit.” It’s advice that undermines the #process, like a zen master that’s over this meditation stuff so he strings the prayer rope over fretboards and smokes stunner blunts. This bleeds into the texture of his beats. Like he says, there aren’t dozens of instruments, but the ones present are saturated to fill the song.
It’s most pronounced in his work for the younger Dub, Pimp Pimp P, or as he self-canonized on Soundcloud:
“MR. Regular boppp kill
Lil Dubb Kill
10 4 Kill
The Regularest Nigga alive”
Ballooning a few sounds instead of tweaking many allows Pimp P’s music to be free associative and uncluttered. He’ll link scenarios (“Do the dash in your whip”) to maxims (“I don’t need these diamonds to know I’m shining”) to directives (“Don’t snitch on me”) then anchor the track with a sliding hook, often the song’s title or something related to it. He calls it playing on the beat. “Time I$ Money” may be their most underrated chemistry, mixing Pimp P’s improvisation with a braid of relaxing guitar and bass melodies. Often Pimp P will repeat a phrase with a microscopic change—like adding an ‘m’ when he spells ‘pimp’ in the hook’s second couplet or extending a line’s last syllable—keeping tracks nimble and tethered to Fizzle’s production.
Syllabi and convention didn’t direct Fizzle as much as the San Francisco Bay Area. Now twenty-six years old, he developed through phases of Too Short, Andre Nickatina, Mac Dre, E-40, B-Legit, and Keak Da Sneak. “In high school we thought [Bay music] was tight just because we loved it. Even if the rest of the world doesn’t know this shit exists.” Historical connection and influence are fuzzy with respect to rap producers. Both usually exist and can be skewed to fit whatever apostolic succession narrative you’re pushing. For example, it’s interesting to note Fizzle’s percussive keys on “Lay Up” have echoes of Khayree’s work for Mac Dre, but it’s more essential to consider how the area’s rhythmic lawlessness and fluid songwriting shaped him.
Fizzle should be considered a prime mover in the careers of both Pimp P and Desto, but that alone doesn’t cover his scope and recent history. He gave Stinc Team member SaySoTheMac his first verse, a feature on KetchyTheGreat’s “Just Listen”, making it possible for the line “on a bitch bumper like a honor roll sticker” to exist. His electric 03 Greedo-led posse cut “Bankteller” is approaching a million views. Josh, along with Navin Upamaka, was essential in honing Drakeo the Ruler’s sound and mixing levels for I Am Mr. Moseley 2.
Fizzle’s “Roll Bounce” is Drakeo’s favorite beat from his Cold Devil masterpiece, as well as Pete Weber’s motivation when he’s questioning the ontology of fellow professional bowlers. Josh saw firsthand how difficult it is to get that praise. “One of the pickiest dudes without articulating ‘why’,” Fizzle says of Drakeo, ““No, no, no, no” to all of them. And from big producers, I’ve seen his email. He’ll just say “this one’s hard” or mumble “trash” to himself. People second guess the one he picks too but he’ll make it a hit. I guess I got whatever he likes.”
His cascading, “whatever” attitude to creating and tendency to bend guitar chords places his originality in the same stock as Hit Mob and Rob Two in recent L.A. rap history. Where the others lean macabre or anxious, Fizzle’s beats are effervescent and give marauding a groove. Outside of these and others who have his respect, he’s not impressed with contemporaries. In his own koan, to no one in particular, “Y’all have no funk inside you, your beats are all quantized #fizzms” Send tweet.