By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Whereas most people from the West Coast are stuck rapping about gangbanging and lowriders, Bishop’s diverse and eclectic,” says Garrett Williams, who works in national and urban promotion for Interscope. “He’s a unique breath of fresh air to the game. A lot of rappers only want to talk about how much bling they have. Bishop doesn’t even wear jewelry.”
Of course, having Dr. Dre’s imprimatur is invaluable locally, but to attribute the success of “Grow Up” solely to Lamont’s mentor discounts the four impressive mixtapes he’s released over the past 18 months, including last November’s stellar Caltroit collaboration with J Dilla heir Black Milk.
Lamont partially attributes the prolificacy to a desire to satisfy fans patiently waiting for his (predictably and constantly) pushed-back debut, The Reformation, featuring beats from a rap nerd’s production dream team of Pete Rock, DJ Premier, J Dilla, Dre and 9th Wonder.
“I don’t want to make people lose faith in me as a new artist,” Lamont says. “I love to put music out and feed the masses on whatever level keeps the movement correct and the momentum going. We’re trying to bring stuff to give the West Coast a resurgence. There’s lyricism and banging beats and, most importantly, it’s honest.”
When you talk with Lamont and listen to his mixtapes, his unabashed sincerity quickly reveals itself as one of his cardinal virtues, with no question he won’t answer, nor any topic too raw for him to rhyme about. In fact, it’s little surprise that Dr. “Fuck tha Police” Dre once declared that Lamont and Eminem were the only two rappers whose lyrics had ever made him feel uncomfortable.
“I just like to write, always have since I got into Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost when I was young,” Lamont reflects. “It got the ghost out of my skull and kept me stress-free. If you’re being PC about things, you’re just being corny. What I feel might not be the truth for everyone, but I firmly believe that if it’s your truth, you have to say it. It’s about what you’re in it for; do you want to express yourself and try to inspire people or do you just want the check?”
In truth, if “mainstream” West Coast hip-hop is ever going to get its style out of ’94, it’s abundantly clear that it’ll need iconoclastic rappers like Bishop Lamont. So buy a clue, Interscope — stop being mice.
Blu: Catching Fire From Word of Mouth and Word of Blog
The first verse on Blu’s official debut, Below the Heavens,aptly summarizes his situation at the time: “I don’t pack stadiums yet/I still rock ’em/and they still spell my name fucked up on their fliers, it’s B-L-U/and if you see the ‘E,’ drop it.”
Released last August on tiny and now essentially defunct local indie Sound in Color, the record received a meager initial pressing of 3,500. It ultimately sold twice that. Not bad, considering Below the Heavens,Blu’s collaboration with local producer Exile, received little to no promotion. Even more impressive when you consider that Blu was practically unknown at the time, and had never even thought about the prospect of making hip-hop for a living until the record dropped.
“I never thought I was going to rap professionally,” Blu says, woolen knit cap pulled low over his eyes, goofy stoner’s grin pasted on his face. “I just got signed to Sound in Color to do the one record with Exile. They were just a bunch of young dudes putting stuff out, mostly DJ scratch records. It wasn’t a big deal. I’d done four or five ones before that. I didn’t even get serious about rapping until 2004.”
Unlike many of his peers, Blu arrived relatively late to hip-hop, after spending an itinerant childhood bouncing across the Southland, with stops in Vernon, Claremont, Montclair, Inglewood, Long Beach, Azusa and Hawthorne. He was banned from listening to rap by his hotheaded pastor stepfather; it was only after moving to San Pedro to live with his biological dad that Blu got his first exposure to the genre.
“My pops used to bang Too Short and 2Pac all the time. At first, I was more into DMX, Mase and Will Smith. Big Willie Style was my first hip-hop album,” the wiry 25-year-old admits sheepishly. “Then I got into older hip-hop, like De La, old Busta Rhymes, Tribe Called Quest, Common, the Roots, Redman, Ghostface, Planet Asia.”
Denied a spot on the San Pedro High basketball team due to poor grades, Blu began to write lyrics and rhyme, describing his early attempts as “baby DMX” imitations. Despite his rapid improvement, the only label to show interest until Sound in Color came along was Suge Knight’s Death Row.