No matter what your friends in New York might say, mainstream hip-hop today is indelibly tied to what a small group of rappers and producers were doing on the streets of Long Beach in the early 1990s. The success of Death Row Records albums like The Chronic and Doggystyle proved that Compton and South Central weren’t the only places in L.A. contributing to the West Coast sound, and Snoop Dogg’s entire posse (see: Nate Dogg, Warren G, Tha Twins and more) repped The International City so hard and with so much pride, it couldn’t help but put Long Beach on the map forever as a musical city unlike any other.
But aside from Snoop Dogg and his now-global notoriety, it seems that everyone outside of the LBC sees Long Beach hip-hop as frozen in this golden era, when the famously laid-back G-funk sound came out of the mean streets of Eastside LBC.
No longer is this the case.
Today, Long Beach’s hip-hop potential is more rich and thriving than ever, propelled by backyard parties, living room cyphers and live shows being hosted almost weekly at open-minded venues like Que Sera, Harvelle’s and the Federal Underground. Some of these talented emcees are active on YouTube, Soundcloud and Facebook, but full albums and even mixtapes are the exception not the norm. In order to hear what’s really going on, you need to find the shows, hit the venues and see it all for yourself.
Call it a renaissance if you must, but Long Beach is experiencing a critical mass of rap talent—some gangsters, some not—that won’t be going ignored for much longer. Below are 10 young, up-and-coming Long Beach rappers who are currently out there promoting themselves and their new songs. (If you haven’t done anything yet this year, get on it!) Get to know them now before another mainstream invasion puts the most slept on city in music on the hip-hop map yet again.
Follow on Twitter: @TAYF3RD
As the first artist to be signed to Power 106FM DJ Big Boy’s new record label The Neighborhood, Tayf3rd (pronounced “Tay-eff-the-third”) released his Welcome Home mixtape in January as a 17-track testament to his party-music songwriting style. Gritty production and grinding beats—think: a raw mix of Bay Area Hyphy and dirty Southern rap—root Tay’s lyrics about skateboarding, broke bitches, ratchet bitches, and basic bitches. Rappers Dizzy Wright and E-40 also make appearances on the album, channeling Bay Area and Vegas connections to this pocket of Long Beach sound.
Follow on Twitter: @JoeyFatts
Already a Long Beach streets-to-the-stage success story, Joey Fatts is a conscious street emcee more than just on-the-rise. Just a few years ago, the 22-year-old (who along with Vince Staples [below] and A$ton Matthews makes up the impressive group Cutthroat Boyz) was homeless, sleeping in his car, and making his own haunting beats, teaching himself to rap over them in a slow, rugged style that embodies the sad realities of the gangbanging lifestyle he fell into. Now, however, he is being managed by A$AP Yam, has collaborated with Action Bronson and Freddie Gibbs and just moved into a house in Laguna Niguel. While radio waits for his forthcoming iLL Street Blues to drop (supposed release date was in March), fans continue to dig into his two Chipper Jones EPs—heavy hip-hop mixtapes that crawl into your gut and rumble in your ears—and newly released teaser songs like “Tookie.”
Solo Tha Secret
Visit webpage: Solo Tha Secret
Known as one of the hardest freestylers to beat in Long Beach, Solo Tha Secret uses his words like a sword, cutting his enemies on the emcee battleground and not on the streets. Rejecting the bling-and-bitches aspect of rap, Solo focuses on the words and writes his lyrics down like poetry before putting it to a self-produced beat. At One Moon Studios—his full service recording studio in Downtown Long Beach—Solo and his crew of like-minded engineers not only commit their own tracks to tape, but also hope to make the place a Mecca for other freestylers in the community who lack a creative hub to call their own.
Of all the second-generation Cambodian rappers coming up in Eastside Long Beach right now, Yung Tee is the one making the most noise. Most of his songs might be about partying, doing drugs, and the cooler parts of gangster living, but he’s also a proud Cambodian who last year set out to write an anthem that all Khmer-Americans can rally behind. The result, “I’m A Cambo”—recorded with fellow Cambodian rapper CS [below]—was released in May and already has nearly 40,000 views, bringing a new style to Khmer pride and a fresh Asian voice to Long Beach hip-hop.
Fifteen months ago, CS was in a jail cell in Massachusetts writing songs on a keyboard, dreaming of coming home to Long Beach. Now, the 36-year-old rapper is making up for time he lost behind bars, opening for acts like T-Pain and preparing to push his already-recorded debut album, On My Way. CS has lived through the hardest parts of street life in Eastside Long Beach and has paid the price for it, coming out the other end a better person with a positive message of self-reliance, motivation and, of course, Cambodian pride. In May, he and Yung Tee’s song, “I’m A Cambo,” was released on YouTube and the two are turning the catchy anthem into a movement for other Khmer like themselves.
Follow on Soundcloud: @the-natives
Though they’re the only hip-hop group on rock-centric 4th Street record label Porch Party Records, The Natives are a group firmly rooted in old-school rap aesthetics. Fronted by MC Nativethoughts—who fancies himself a descendent of the original Native Tongue Posse—The Natives’ songs are full of pop culture references, astute socio-political observations, and a deliberate flow influenced by everything from jazz records to De La Soul. The groups debut album, Last of the Natives, was released on Porch Party this month and trades choruses for punchlines over production from Josh Jetson.
Rillo Wright (aka Rillo$ aka $pitta Rillo) came out of hibernation late last year, uploading random rhymes to YouTube and showing up at local hip-hop shows to perform sets of his new high-energy songs. Rillo’s talent comes from his ability to take any beat given to him (some of which producers like infameezy, Skinny MooXe, Derrick Thomas Jr. have provided) and find the right flow to top it. He recently opened for YG and Soulja Boy Tell Em and also filmed a music video for “Long Beach Native,” the catchy single from his forthcoming debut album that has the potential to go big and get the whole world screaming the chorus.
Follow on Twitter: @diasound
Melziah Dia is the creator and biggest advocate for a musical movement the emcee is calling “neotone,” a new approach to hip-hop that combines a lifetime of musical influences, from D’Angelo to Snoop Dogg, with emotionally driven beats that force the audience to not only hear something but feel something. Dia has found his flow in earworm songs like “3AM” and “Love Below” thanks to producer NiceGuyxVinny, a solo beatmaker in his own right. Vinny’s delicate, head-bobbing beats float perfectly alongside Dia’s rhymes, reflective of a chemistry that is only magnified when the two share the stage.
Follow on Twitter: @blkryangosling
Dez Yusuf calls himself the Black Ryan Gosling—he even owns the web domain—but he’s more like the Long Beach Danny Brown: a high-energy speed-demon of a rapper whose live performances outshine his contemporaries with intense facial expressions and body movements that refuse to let you look away. A punk rocker at heart, Dez bridges Long Beach’s rock and rap worlds by rapping about pop culture figures, sporting Descendents (or as he says, “DEZcendents”) shirts, and drinking enough Fiji Water to affect the company’s stock. A regular on the local live hip-hop circuit, this emcee may still be finding his voice, but he at least knows where he’s going and has the talent and energy to get there.
Follow on Twitter: @vincestaples
Vince Staples may be the best proof ever that Long Beach is birthing hip-hop perspectives that are needed in today’s music scene. Originally rapping accompaniment on tracks by friends from L.A. collective Odd Future, Staples’ show-stealing flow and self-aware perspective of life in North Long Beach earned him praise from urban media tastemakers and music industry executives. Sometime last year, he was signed to Def Jam Records (a first since the ’90s!) and he has since released a mixtape with Mac Miller and, in March of this year, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, an album of melodic beats and gritty lyrics that talk of gang life, drug-addicted parents, loneliness and regret in a plain, incisive style that cuts through the heart of mainstrema hip hip today.
Know of anyone else who should be on this list? Shout out in the comments below!