Sometimes its hard to be a hip-hop boy in the city. When Vlad Radovanov (nom de rap: V) left Chicago for L.A. in 1995, he had a very specific to-do list -- find fame and fortune as an MC, and find the porn stars, not necessarily in that order. At 24, he figured hed give the rap racket one last shot before settling into a life of white-collar dronehood.
V had gotten a taste back in the Windy City as a member of a traditional hip-hop combo called East of the Rock, which had gigged at the Metro and the Double Door and was endowed with the SubNation magazine seal of approval as a band to watch. Yet just as East of the Rock got its groove on, the scene dried up. It got all stagnant, V, now 28, explains. Theres no record labels there. And theres no real fans going out and supporting it, because no ones putting out singles for anyone, no ones getting it done. Chicago started to reflect the music coming out of the other cities, so it was sounding old. And so I was like, man, I gotta get out of here. Its just, like, over.
Surprise, surprise -- when he came west, L.A. wasnt much better. For rappers, there is no Spaceland, no Viper Room in which to showcase, there are no A&R weasels sniffing around to lap you up. Without a stable infrastructure, MCs and DJs have to work on the fly, always digging around for the underground, throwing down wherever.
V found himself chilling at the Galaxy Gallery on Melrose, which, for an instant three summers ago, was an unlikely underground hip-hop hub. A bong emporium par excellence frequented by the likes of Fiona Apple, the Galaxy also offers coffee, art and incense, with a bit of a stage on which to jam.
V began hanging at the Galaxy during Saturday-night free-for-alls, when MCs stretched out their skills freestyle to an acid-jazz band. Not really battling, V says, it was more going off the top of your head as crazy as you can. Hungry hip-hop heads ate it up. Two, three hundred people would start coming through and pissing on lawns and smoking bud in the back, V remembers. They had to basically chill out for the last year and a half. Before the Galaxy turned down the volume, V met David Legacy, a teenager from South-Central with beats on the brain and a musical appreciation for both N.W.A and Gershwin. They dug each others styles and quickly became partners in rhyme, united in their dislike of the gangsta vibe that permeated SoCali at the time.
We got tired of what was really popular, we didnt identify with all the MCs over here, Legacy, 21, says from the sofa of the duos shared Miracle Mile apartment, uneventful save for the Roland Virtual Studio and combo samplerdrum machine nearby. Legacy mostly defers to his more expressive partner, who wildly flails his skinny arms to punctuate each point.
Instead, their tastes leaned toward the Pharcyde, whose debut CD, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, they both speak of in reverential tones, and the Freestyle Fellowship, a crew whose time had seemingly come and gone. All those MCs are still there, still doing shows on the underground, so its always bubbling, but theyre not putting anything out, Legacy says.
The radio was dominated with Dre and everything else. Which was some cool stuff at the time, adds V. After Dre had all that success, it was like nothing but gangsta shit after that. Gangsta song after gangsta song. It just smothered everything.
After three years grinding it out, V & Legacy are finally marking their turf with 2000 MG, a slice of post-gangsta new old-school craziness on X Ray Records. Like others of their ilk, such as Styles of Beyond, Dilated Peoples and Ugly Duckling, V & Legacy arent eager to cap bitches or bag on hos; instead, they playfully comment on silicone-inflated porno queens (Lunatik Derelikt), self-absorbed rock stars (Superstar), national pastimes (Baseball) and partying, lots of partying. The tracks are dominated by phat, slinked-out Cali grooves, with cold cutting from DJ Rhettmatic and a dollop of madness piled on top from their friends in the Pharcyde, Limp Bizkits DJ Lethal and the grand pooh-bah of all things funky, George Clinton.
While the guns and bitches are absent, 2000 MG has more than its fill of controlled substances. Hey, we report whats going on in the street, V laughs. Guns arent that big right now, but everyones doing drugs. Everyones on something. Were hanging out with a lot of trippy, freaky people. Its just a great vibe.
Legacy translates: People who listen understand. They know exactly what were talking about, the vibe and just chillin and having a good time. Thats all its about, really.
As for the porn stars, the two make it abundantly clear where they stand. Im an originals man, says V, who fancies himself an aficionado. I used to see [X-rated films] back in the day, like Behind the Green Door and Devil in Miss Jones, Debbie Does Dallas. That was the heyday, thats when they were artistic about the camera work, and the flesh tones were real fleshy and you really got the steaminess of what porn is about.
Vs X-rated aspirations may have preceded his hip-hop goals, but his Midwestern-boy fantasies were ruined after a peep at the industry up close. Since I was a little kid Ive always seen it, read it, looked at it, he says. I always wanted to be around porno actresses and the directors and the actors. I got to L.A., met a few of them, got invited on the sets, hung out, and its not cool now. It seemed like they were having more fun back then. Now its like, um, you want to do an ass fuck for $250 real quick? Okay. Boom.
Illusion shattering, though, has been part of the V & Legacy experience from day one. Soon after meeting, the pair began writing songs together, eventually maxing out their credit cards to make a demo. After the Galaxy tightened its live policy, the duo took what they could get -- post-midnight Tuesdays at the Kibitz Room or the Room to spin instrumentals or the Opium Den to freestyle. We would do that just to keep warm and loose with our live flow, V says. We were more concerned with making demos. Keep making new music and getting it out there, keeping the flow going.
For a while, though, the flow slowed to ketchup-oozing speed. As they shopped their music, Legacy worked as a bank teller in Century City while V shilled for Camel, handing out free packs of cigarettes at Hollywood bars. Eventually, the quest for a deal began messing with their heads.
Dude, you make a demo and all you do is constantly play it for people and watch them react to it, V says. Every time, its like a fucking shot to the nerves. Everyone has so many comments, and then if theres any success, usually nine out of 10 leads turn to shit. Theyre lies. Big words. On top of that, were spending credit constantly to make more shit. We could pay for rent and make the minimum payments on the credit cards, but we were just getting deeper, deeper, deeper. It was tons of depression and hill climbing and stuff like that.
They finally signed with Flip Records early this year, but were put on the back burner as the label threw its resources behind Limp Bizkits Nookie. Although DJ Lethal gave them a lovely parting gift (he helped produce Lunatik Derelikt), V & Legacy left Flip and went to X-RayCleopatra, which oversaw 2000 MG, recorded in three weeks last summer.
The record-industry shuffles over, but V & Legacy arent shopping for real estate in Ice-Ts neighborhood just yet. Twenty grand in the hole, you know what I mean? V says. But it doesnt matter. Every big corporation is in this huge debt, so why cant we think of ourselves as a little corporation? As long as we can manage our minimum payments and keep working, well just keep chugging along.