The first time I saw Linafornia, she was mercilessly slaughtering her competition. Last November at the Beat Cinema Beat Battle, the Leimert Park producer artfully incinerated all those vying for the $300 grand prize. The other entrants had talent, but many imitated the Low End Theory vanguards a little too faithfully.
Linafornia stood out immediately. It wasn’t that she was one of the few female beat-makers but that she possessed all those intangibles that make the difference: presence, poise, swag, swing.
Wearing a head wrap over her braids and a brightly colored, flowing dress, she manipulated her SP-404 sampler with a philharmonic conductor’s mastery, unspooling her life story through jazzy sample flips and snatches of stray dialogue.
You could spot traces of her influences (Ras G, Madlib, Dibiase, FlyLo), but she’d sublimated them into her own style. I was a judge that night, alongside Daedelus and Astronautica (two legitimate scene stars in their own right), and Linafornia made our deliberations easy. She brought home the cash, as she had a few months prior at another Beat Cinema tête-à-tête — victorious in the only two she entered.
“I stopped doing the beat battles because I felt like I’d proven myself,” Linafornia tells me at an Echo Park coffee shop. “I didn’t want to be boxed into one thing and wanted to place the focus on my live show and albums.”
More specifically, she’s referring to Yung, her sterling, Erykah Badu–approved debut, which came out in January on Dome of Doom. A few months earlier, Linafornia tweeted out “Rookie of the Year.” The boast lacked context, but its message was clear and accurate.
During a time when the parameters of the beat scene are looser than ever, Linafornia delivered its best rookie album — an achievement that earned her a spot at this weekend’s Low End Theory Festival at the Shrine.
“People don’t understand how much effort was put into this — they see the product and it looks official, but I don’t disclose the walls hit trying to create,” Linafornia says. “I like the mystery of making it seem like I came magically out of thin air with something dope. But this took two years to make and a lot of energy. Now I’m searching again for new old music to fall in love with and sample.”
The child of Belizean immigrants grew up in Leimert Park listening to the music in her home: her parents’ punta rock and dancehall and the experimental hip-hop bumped by her brother, a Project Blowed veteran. In the same Crenshaw High class as Odd Future’s Left Brain and Mike G, she first discovered Madlib through a gift package that Stones Throw had lavished on Left Brain.
Linafornia first made a name for herself under a different name — one she’d rather keep undisclosed — rapping at the celebrated Leimert Park hip-hop night Bananas. It was only while recovering from a severe car accident that she turned to production, creating beats as a form of catharsis and a way of healing, emerging fully formed sometime last year. You can hear this in Yung, the sort of record that crackles with iridian warmth, suffused with soulful, chopped samples and disembodied voices that range from Lauryn Hill to Jayo Felony to a palm-reading friend.
“It’s crucial for me to do things my own way and never compromise my style,” Linafornia says. “It’s so easy for people to succumb to whatever wave everybody else is on, but waves change. I want to just do my own thing and stay true to myself. At the end of the day, that’s all you have.”
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LOW END THEORY FESTIVAL | Shrine Expo Hall & Grounds | 665 W. Jefferson Blvd., University Park | Sat., July 23, 2 p.m. | $35-$60 | All ages | shrineauditorium.com
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.