Steel Sharpens Steel: Flawliss, the Last Guy I Could Freestyle With

Photo by Amanda Lopez

[Editor's Note: James “Nocando” McCall is a critically acclaimed rapper, co-founder of the Low End Theory and founder of indie rap label Hellfyre Club. This is the second in a series of essays called "Unrivaled Under the Sun," about his inspirations. Part one appeared in our Twin Cities sister publication, City Pages, and was about the late St. Paul rapper Eyedea. Look for part three later this week.]

The year was 2004 and the general consensus was that I was the best freestyle rapper in Los Angeles.

That was popular opinion, but I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn't totally true. There was another guy.

My nemesis was damn near almost my polar opposite. I was from the mean streets of South Central; he was from the Valley. I rapped staccato and used a lot of collegiate words; he rapped fluidly and used a lot of street slang. I, intense and heady; he, lighthearted and funny. I was in early 2000s blipster attire; he was in an oversized white tee and baggy jeans. Lastly but not leastly, he was fat and I was skinny.

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This guy went by the nom de improv Flawliss.

Our rivalry went in four stages from my perspective:

Stage 1: The "ay bro, you got bars" stage. In this stage, which was the first three or four rap sessions, we both seemed excited to be challenged by each other. (At least I was.)

Stage 2: The "I'm better than you and I want you to know it" stage. In this stage we would try our best to out-rap each other without looking like we were trying. (Or at least I would.)

Stage 3: The "this motherfucker again" stage. In this stage we would probably start battling within three minutes or one verse each in a circle that had about five to eight people rapping in it. It was obvious that both of us couldn't co-exist on the fucking planet.

Stage 4: The "two gods stage." This is when we stopped battling each other. We just out-rapped everyone else and managed to keep each other sharp without putting each other down.

Earlier I made mention that he wore oversized white tee shirts (Pro Clubs to be exact) and baggy jeans. This was gang attire at the time.

Being from South Central, I learned years ago that if I wore more slim-fitting jeans and random logo tees, I wouldn't get mistaken for a gang member by non-gang members, be they black or Mexican or cops. (This doesn't work anymore.) This may or may not have any bearing on what happened to Flawliss. It was a necessary evil in the midst of racial tensions between Mexican and black gangs in the city at that time.

One day Flawliss just stopped showing up at our local rap watering hole. I got a chance to talk to him somehow; I probably got his number via MySpace. I found out that he got shot a few times by some Mexican gangbangers in the Valley in the middle of the night.

He was on his porch smoking a cigarette. The kids asked him if he banged or where was he from.

He said, "I don't bang." One of the kids said, "I shoot niggers," and let shots fly.

Flawliss lived with some brain damage, a colostomy bag and a few other organs damaged. This sounds like a nightmare, and for him I'm sure it was, but he never showed it. The type of guy he is, he made it sound like another funny story.

Greg was one of the quickest and wittiest people that I have met to this day. A chubby street kid whose career was impeded by the chaos that spilled out of the prisons or from a drug deal gone bad (not totally sure how all the racial tension started).

I didn't write this to bring up those old tensions. I wrote this for the same reason I wrote the first piece in this little series I got going on. Most freestyle rap goes undocumented; the rappers are never mentioned in the press. But their stories are just as authentic as any mid-2000s PR spin of a rapper getting shot.

In the case of Flawliss, he wasn't some gangster or drug dealer. He was just a good kid in a racially divided and truly mad city (pun intended).

Getting shot did slow him down a bit. It stopped him from coming out to our scene — or any other scene.

It seemed that his absence made way for the next wave of young street rappers. The difference was that these guys would use only written raps and recycle them week after week.

He was the last guy I could freestyle with fair and square. He was the last guy that could rap circles around me even if I prepared and practiced well enough.

He was my rival. He was Flawliss.

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