Samiyam's Gritty New Album Is the Soundtrack to a Vanishing Venice

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Samiyam
Photo by Theo Jemison

Before it became the epicenter for $12 watermelon juices infused with moondust, Venice was a locus of left-coast culture. In the ’90s, it rivaled Melrose for the city’s most eclectic vortex, a grimy warren overrun by skate rats and graffiti writers, bohemian artists, bootleg-mixtape hawkers, homeless prophets and fake Rastas selling faker weed.

It was where overprotective parents forbade their teenagers to take the bus to — where the Shoreline Crips warred against the Latino V13s, where Muscle Beach bodybuilders bought whey protein by the metric ton, where the acid-riddled corpse of Jim Morrison haunted murals and rooftops. No one searched for the perfect truffle frittata; they were too busy trying to avoid catching the fade.

Somewhere along the way, Silicon Beach bros copping “active fermented burdock” replaced the ferment of eccentricity. But vestiges of Venice’s native filth still skulk in odd corners.

Take Samiyam, the hip-hop producer, whom you might find in a one-bedroom apartment a block from the boardwalk. It doubles as his home studio, a video games–and-vinyl–cluttered lab where he boiled his latest album, Animals Have Feelings. It’s a record that captures those dirty corners that gentrification can’t sweep away: boom-bap hovercraft converted for a post–Low End Theory world, featuring cameos from Earl Sweatshirt and Action Bronson.

“Shit … have you looked closely at that beach anytime recently?” quips the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native, born Sam Baker. “I could get some inspiration to make the sounds even grimier if I walk around there long enough.”

Even though his sounds create cognitive dissonance with the mild climate, he’s dressed fittingly: orange Polo hat, a tropical shirt covered in boats, blue slippers. Exceedingly comfy.

He’s lived west of the 405 for the last few years. Before that, he lived in Northridge, where he shared a house with Flying Lotus, the Brainfeeder boss who released the first few Samiyam records. Another appeared on Hyperdub, the vaunted imprint of bass music visionary Kode9. Animals Have Feelings has a Stones Throw barcode, giving Samiyam the stamp of approval from three of the best labels of the last decade.

“When I first started making beats, I couldn’t get out the exact ideas that I had,” Baker says between spliff hits. “Lately, I’ve been loading up sounds off old zip discs and making new beats out of stuff that I’d previously saved and didn’t know how to approach. Now I know how to make those original ideas actually happen.”

Baker is a product of the beat scene, though he blanches slightly at the label. He’d rather mention Dr. Dre and Alchemist, who started long before the Airliner became the go-to hangar to hear the hardest beats in town. But he’s also proud of what the Low End Theory constellation of artists has accomplished.

“It’s all been proven,” Baker says, alluding to the influence he and his cohorts have had on contemporary beat production.

If there is a closest local comparison to Baker, it might be his frequent collaborator Alchemist, whose Santa Monica studio sits just a couple miles east. The pair shares a predilection for esoteric samples and reimagining the blueprint of DJ Premier. Few can cook up winter in the summer with such ease.

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Baker cites M.O.P. as his Platonic ideal for punch-you-in-the-face rap. That’s the lawless energy he’s trying to replicate in an apartment adjacent to the domain of the roller-skating electric guitarist in the turban. Stranger things have happened.

“I’ve always loved gritty, sample-based music that has its own style,” Baker says, distilling his aesthetic down to a sentence.

That could double as a declaration for his neighborhood, seeking to retain its original character in the face of Ellis Act evictions, fighting not to turn into the world’s largest moon-juice stand.

An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.


More from Jeff Weiss:
O.C. Rapper Phora Has Nearly Been Murdered Twice, But His Music Stays Positive
L.A. Is in the Midst of a Funk Renaissance

How Filipino DJs Came to Dominate West Coast Turntablism

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