The Eight Most Obscure Rap Songs From LA
In the mid-’80s, while New Yorkers were dirtying their fingers in crates of under-appreciated soul, funk, and disco records, kids in Los Angeles County were more attuned to the Afro-Futuristic stylings of Parliament/Funkadelic and Roger Troutman’s talk box mastery. The differences, which wouldn’t truly come to the fore until G-funk, perhaps reflect some characteristics about our country: the East, old and history-burdened, fomented rap’s creators-turned-conservative guardians and the West, theoretically untamed, broke the rules. Still, the West’s promise of sunshiny, easy living don’t stand up to fact-checking–the struggles of Los Angeles’ underclass often mirrored the struggles of New York’s Rap, music born from oppression and struggle, had to take hold in L.A., because Zapp wouldn’t be enough for the teens mean-mugging in Skateland U.S.A. and World on Wheels.
S.O.S. Band ft. Kurupt, “Someone I Can Love”
Unlike The D.O.C., who moved to Los Angeles to further his rap career, Kurupt was just a 16-year-old from Philadelphia when he landed in Hawthorne, a smallish city in the southwest of Los Angeles County. He quickly acclimated, and in the following years his reputation as a uniquely skilled rapper grew, albeit without the plaudits or exposure he desired. Eager to kickstart his career, and with a manager unsure of how to do it, Kurupt landed three guest spots on the S.O.S. Band’s One of Many Nights. If it seems strange–the S.O.S. Band were outside their prime, and Kurupt sounds odd on New Jack Swing instrumentals–it is.
Crooked I Gang, “Ride Til We Die”
There’s precious little information available about Crooked I Gang (not allied with, or to be mistaken for, the rapper Crooked I). The internet has it that the group was from South Central, or the Bay Area, but they were likely from Venice, historically more a haven for jam bands and punk rockers than rappers. The group’s self-titled debut is low-fi and raw, with vocals that are occasionally buried in the mix and tinny, unpolished instrumentals. It’s truly outsider art: only a single copy has ever been sold on Discogs.
Foesum, “Lil’ Somethin’ Somethin’”
Originally, the members of Foesum (DJ Glaze, MNMsta, and T-Dubb) were part of a larger group, Perfection, alongside Domino, Wayniac, and Trip Locc. Slowly, the group peeled off; Domino went solo, releasing a Gold album on Def Jam, and real-life twins Wayniac and Trip Locc appropriately became a duo (The Twinz) and worked with Warren G. With three living members (the fourth, manager Travvy Trav, died of a heart condition and honorarily remained in the group), Foesum signed an ill-fated deal with Big Beat/Atlantic Records. After their debut, Perfection, was released, the relationship with their label went sour and, according to an interview the group did with DubCNN, ultimately sunk their chances of success. It’s possible: the video for “Lil’ Somethin’ Somethin’” was filmed in and around San Francisco despite the group hailing from Long Beach.
C.I.A., “My Posse”
The C.I.A. isn’t just a bunch of Georgetown alumni in flat-bottomed shoes—it was also the acronym for “Cru’ In Action,” Ice Cube, Sir Jinx, and K-Dee’s first group. C.I.A.’s existence was brief–the group only released a four-song EP, Cru In Action!–and it’s strange to hear Cube shout-rapping like a lost member of Run-DMC. (Funnily, his high-pitched voice sounds more akin to a member of the Beastie Boys.) What probably seemed like a novelty, or worse, a liability in 1987–an entire project produced by Dr. Dre–has since become an extreme rarity.
Brownside, “Gang Related”
After Dr. Dre and Ice Cube’s departure from Ruthless Records, Eazy-E set about trying to recreate his former group’s magic–or at least salvaging the label’s staggering profits. In an attempt to cater to Los Angeles’ massive Latino population, he signed Brownside, a group of Eastside Trece gang members. They, like many others, had their careers derailed by Eazy’s premature death in 1995; only a handful of songs from their stint on Ruthless have been released, with “Gang Related” the only one to receive a video. It’s a font of ’90s gangster rap tropes: lowriders, loose-fitting Ben Davis and Dickies, and enough plaid to fit in at a Soundgarden concert.
Jimmy Z ft. Dr. Dre, “Funky Flute”
Even before Dr. Dre’s abdication, though, Ruthless had a vision of multifaceted dominance, and that vision included Jimmy Z. His album, Musical Madness, is both musical and madness-inducing; according to Colin Wolfe, a member of Ruthless’ production team, “We weren’t trying to do what we were doing with the NWA stuff. [We were] trying to be a little more musical with it. More instrumental, even jazzy in a way.” Musical? Yes. Jazzy? Sure. Palatable? Maybe. Jimmy Z’s multi-instrumental talent may have been considerable, but its cruel fusion with rap probably robbed it of its effect. “Funky Flute” is a rap song with flute solos–or, wait, is it a flute song with rap solos? It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
Mr. X ft. Chattabox, “Lowrider”
Before he made G-funk as Mr. X, Xavier Thomas was first a mobile DJ for Lonzo Williams’ World Class Wreckin’ Cru and, with his brother, a member of Rappinstine. (Rappinstine’s Dr. Dre-produced “Scream” was included on N.W.A. & The Posse, nominally N.W.A.’s first album.) It appears that, despite Dre’s involvement, Rappinstine’s career stalled after Qwest Records shelved their 1991 debut, and four years later Thomas reemerged with his high-top fade shorn and Dayton’s on his Chevy. His self-titled debut is, if not a G-funk classic, an admirable inclusion into the canon.
LSD, “Brown Pride”
Okay, LSD (“Lyrical Sound Dealers”) weren’t technically from Los Angeles County, but Riverside and San Bernardino is close enough, physically and culturally. The group’s sole album, Fully Strapped, was released on Murray Brumfield’s Familia Records, whose Mexican flag logo made no mystery of its artists’ shared heritage (although it seems improbable every artist on the label was of Mexican descent) and their intended clientele. “Brown Pride,” which samples George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” was made as the Southland’s Mexican population was swelling; with an eye to their homeland, teens coming of age in the United States were putting their own spin on black music, rapping in Spanglish about their struggles with poverty, disenfranchisement, and rival gangs.