“Shit was crazy,” says Dominique Purdy, better known as The Koreatown Oddity. Cops were obsessively pulling him over for driving while black. And after his ride got towed, he was borrowing friends’ cars to keep his pizza-delivery job. The drama birthed a screenplay that he co-wrote called Driving While Black. “All that stuff in the movie is based on my reality.”
When he wasn't writing his screenplay and delivering pizzas, Purdy maintained his reign as L.A.'s “King of Tapes,” releasing self-produced, limited-run cassette tapes, recording collaborative projects and rocking impromptu rap shows that attempt to push back the digital world’s ever-encroaching presence.
But he's not strictly DIY. On Jan. 13, Stones Throw Records released TKO’s latest venture, Finna Be Past Tense. Punk artist Vex Ruffin produced the album. In the monochrome visual for the single “Yesterday's News,” Purdy stands between his parents, who look like black pillars supporting their creation. Wearing a black bandana over his eyes that reads “FAITH” in white, he raps the track’s hook like a mission statement, “Get your paper, meet your maker before they take ya. … Don’t think it can’t happen to you, it’s gonna happen to me and all y‘all, the inevitable curtain call.”
Purdy grew up in Koreatown with his mother, who introduced him to hip-hop. His parents never married and his father lived in Compton, so they didn’t see each other that often, which made their infrequent meetings all the more important. “Since I was younger, every single time we link up and hang, he reminds me that this is the only day right now,” says Purdy. “After today you might not see me again. I might not see you again.”
Purdy’s pops taught him to honor the infinite now, because as the future becomes the past, it gets smaller with distance, until it sets into history’s horizon. “Technology is stealing your time,” The Koreatown Oddity says on “Technology After Time,” featuring Joyce Wrice. “Put that fucking phone down, I’m talking to you.” He sounds like a salivating predator telling his prey to eat its vegetables.
To get a sense of what a Koreatown Oddity performance is like, go to his YouTube channel and look for the 2012 clip called “Koreatown Oddity @ Wendy's.” Stepping onto a table at Wendy's wearing his wolf mask, TKO rises toward the ceiling. Holding a mic inside his growling jaws, he raps, “No insurance, no dental plan or college degree, it’s The Koreatown Oddity, obviously.”
The camera swings over to people waiting in line. Faces laugh, smile, stare, hide from the camera. Looking up at the roaring wolf pointing at customers, a female Wendy’s employee talks on the phone. It’s not clear whether she’s calling the police, but TKO soon finishes his performance. Calmly grabbing his radio and karaoke machine, he dips outside like he just slow-danced with a stranger’s heart in his mouth.
“I don’t need to get booked on a show,” Purdy declares. “I’ll make a show right now. That’s hip-hop. That’s raw. It’s not like I’m going to Hollywood Boulevard or Venice where everybody’s a performer. I’m going to a spot where people don’t see performances and ain’t expecting to see shit.”
To promote Finna, he took his boom box and mask and howled on the subway. But his impromptu shows aren’t pranks for viral videos. Before people started recording and posting their own videos of him rapping, “I was doing a lot of those performances with no camera and no person with me. I’d just show up, rock and go home.” For a while, his spontaneous concerts were real-world exclusives that lived on through the crowd’s memory. “It’s about whoever’s there. If there’s four people there, that’s just what it is.”
When the wolf-masked rapper and producer last talked to L.A. Weekly three years ago, filming for Purdy’s dark comedy Driving While Black was weeks away. It's since been released, and despite the fact that few audiences have seen it, it’s racked up awards from film festivals around the country. Although DWB has a cult following, it still needs distribution.
“People keep asking, ‘So what’s up with the movie?’ And after a while you be like, ‘Sorry,'” says the film's co-writer and star, laughing. He hopes to find it a home this year.
Meanwhile, the vinyl version of Finna drops Feb. 24 via Stones Throw. Last year Purdy ditched pizzas for a fresher gig at a record store — and he’s still going hard without a car.