Dope as fuck! says some homeboy, boogying his baggy khakis and house shoes to the bumping bass.
Its February, 10 years since the release of Dr. Dres The Chronic, and in the same warehouse where Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg shot the video Fuck Wit Dre Day, a new generation of Gs gather to watch a current West Coast cat shoot his own. Crooked I (pronounced Crooked Eye) is a laid-back lyricist with a harsh attitude; the selection is Still Tha Row, the opening cut off the Dysfunktional Family soundtrack, which features new music from Suge Knights freshly renamed label, Tha Row.
Knight logged a history of hits with Death Row Records: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, 2Pac all multiplatinum. But thats in the past. After Knights five years in prison, the label couldnt help but suffer. Dr. Dre left Death Row and now rolls with white rappers and loose change from New York; Snoop defected and is now feuding with Suge; 2Pac rests in peace.
With Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound now V.P., and Michelle and Danny Boy returning as the soul of Knights musical family, Tha Row aims to bring back the glory. The second dynasty of artists adds Eastwood, Ganxsta Ridd, Virginya Slim, Gail Gotti, Suga Babies and N.I.N.A.; the late Lisa Left Eye Lopes will also get a release. But its Crooked I 26-year-old Dominick Wickliffe, representing East Side Long Beach whos expected to carry the heaviest load.
The West Coast is not at all where it used to be. The feeling of it is not the same, the pride in our music is not the same, our fans are not supporting us like they used to, Crooked says, then breaks into a mischievous grin. But we are going to do something about that.
On a billboard for his new Say Hi to the Bad Guy, Crooked is posed on a commode with the legend Im the shit! He doesnt care what the mainstream thinks of him. He says he just wants to put out a West Coast classic album (think Too $horts Life Is Too $hort) and be one of the best in the West.
The flavor is West Coast, but Crooked I wont be pigeonholed. Reading is his favorite pastime, and hes making connections to black icons of the past. On Still Tha Row, he rhymes, Im dangerous/Im a gangster Langston Hughes and Im dark as dark Bacardi/Dark as Marcus Garvey. Yes, black is beautiful, but not only black. As 2Pac put it, It wouldnt be L.A. without Mexicans/Black love, brown pride in the sets again.
The system does not mind us fighting each other, says Crooked. Divide and conquer.
Dope rap music is a marriage of tight lyrics and hard beats. If Crooked I is Tha Rows black lyrical genius, 28-year-old Darren Vegas is the Chicano beatmaster with a flair for tapping natural talents just listen to Michelles I Know Where Im Going.
You didnt make those beats! Thats what Vegas says the guys from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony kept yelling at him in the studio. They started throwing chairs when they found out I was behind the beats, Vegas remembers. We thought you were black I get that a lot.
No gangsta, Vegas was born and raised in Orange County. But he paid his musical dues working in Las Vegas and Los Angeles as an itinerant record-producing mercenary. Along the way, he found Suge.
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Suge had heard of me, and I wanted a label. Hes got love for Mexicans, says Vegas. Now its time for me to help Crooked I fuckin blow up Tha Row.
Word is that Knight runs the studio like a football camp, and his team, the Heavy Hitters, includes tough new producers and musicians. Jim Gittum is a natural talent who can play every instrument, including the killer keys on Still Tha Row. From the Boo-Ya Tribe, Monsta O is a Samoan who will not only kick your ass on the streets, hell tear you up in the studio on bass and guitar.
They have a mission. This region some call Killer Cali is known for two not-unrelated institutions: San Quentin and Tha Row. In prison, you make license plates; at Tha Row, you make platinum. Its the law.
I dont care what youre rapping about, whether its a child playing in the park, or doing a drive-by, Crooked I says. There are only two forms of music in this world, dope and wack. Thats it!