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
Walk into Club Kiss, Club Anonymous or any of the other underground clubs and you’ll hear YG bumping. Ask anyone in the lowlands lying adjacent to the 710, 105 and 110 freeways — most have heard about the 19-year-old rapper with the domesticated Mohawk and concentric whirls carved into the side of his scalp. Hell, when YG returned to prison, his new cellmate’s ring tone was his hit single, “Pussy Killer.”
“The streets talk — if you’re doing your thing, they’ll hear about you.” YG squints into the blindingly bright summer sun, freshly dipped in purple penguin shirt, red Phillies fitted cap, Vans and, of course, skinny jeans. “I’m a Vans freak.” YG has an uncanny facial resemblance to a young Michael Jordan. Unlike Jordan, he’s obsessed with tattoos, his skin inked up with Polynesian intricacy: tribal designs, to footlong crucifixes, to the names of the fallen. While jerkin’ has certainly emerged as an alternative to gang life, it’s impossible to ignore the gap between the middle-class kids north of the 10 and the subgenre’s hood roots.
“Whenever my mom would try to move us away, I’d go back. I’m from Compton, that’s what it is,” YG shrugs. “Shit’s still crazy in Compton, you’ve got to watch yourself. It’s worse than it used to be. People still get killed every night over small stuff.”
YG used to bang in Tree Top Piru Bloods, but claims to have swapped gang life for music — smart move, considering his success sans radio play or mainstream attention. His MySpace page approaches 1.3 million profile views, with two songs above one million plays and two more nearing seven digits.
While everyone from Interscope to Def Jam has expressed interest in the unsigned people’s champ, YG claims he’s waiting for the right offer. In the interim, he’s grateful for the movement that he helped to birth.
“I never thought I’d be successful, I always used to get in trouble,” YG says, still slightly stunned. “My 15-year-old brother and his homies used to do badly in school. Then jerkin’ came along and kids could jerk at the parties and girls liked it. You didn’t need to fight when you could make YouTube videos. Kids that wore baggy pants with a rag hanging out began wearing skinny jeans and jerkin’ and having fun. It’s saved lives.”
If YG has competition for the nod as jerkin’ music’s progenitor, it’s 19-year-old Long Beach rapper Tay 3rd, whose manager likens him to Hyphy godfather Mac Dre. While the analogy might be a stretch, it’s not unfounded. Even before Power 106 spun “I” on New @ 2, the half-Korean, half–African-American rapper drew crowds throughout the LBC, his trademark two braids always betraying his identity.
But had he not been arrested for “sales,” his rap career might never have occurred, as a chance encounter with Goldie Loc of the Eastsidaz prodded him to take his craft seriously.
“Everything changed when Goldie heard me in jail. He was, like, ‘You need to do this for real.’ Since then, it’s just been rapping, rapping, rapping,” Tay says, wearing a “Jerkin’ Is Not a Crime” T-shirt that barely conceals his byzantine network of tattoos.
Recording his first songs with an Xbox microphone in his bedroom, Tay was penning hood anthems before long, dominating the club scene and racking up MySpace plays into the high six figures. A year ago, his parents disowned him when he dropped out of Long Beach Community College and refused to get a job, but when they heard him on the radio they finally understood.
“The West was stuck on the ’90s look of baggy jeans, khakis and Chucks,” says the unsigned but sought-after Tay. “The New West is skinny jeans, Vans, colorful shirts and jerkin’. We’re trying to bring a new vibe.”
Next to the New Boyz, the most commercially viable act is Long Beach’s Cold Flamez, whose “Miss Me, Kiss Me” has earned 6.5 million MySpace plays and cracked the regular Power 106 playlist. Sporting streaks of bleached hair, eyebrow piercings, labyrinthine tattoos and the prerequisite skinnys, Cold Flamez’ Dash, D-Real and Mic 3rd are progeny of a post–Tha Carter III and 808s & Heartbreak landscape, unafraid to incorporate rock and autotune into their self-described “cold-hearted music.”
As with most of the other jerkin’-affiliated artists, Cold Flamez’ success story could unthaw Rupert Murdoch’s icy scowl.
“When jerkin’ came around, we decided to make a club banger because everyone was fixated on that,” 20-year-old Dash says. “We dropped out of school and stopped everything to promote ourselves on MySpace. We spent two weeks with no sleep, commenting on people’s pages, sending our player out, anything we could think of.”
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