The plan was simple. Head to Venice Beach, sample the mixtapes hawked by the hucksters hovering near the paddle tennis courts, pick one rapper to profile for this column and avoid the Kama Kosmic Krusader, the Rollerblading guitar freak in the white turban. (You've seen him, trust.)
The boardwalk might be the last spot in L.A. County where MCs still shill the old-fashioned way: by guilt-tripping you at levels that could shame a Hasidic grandmother.
After all, it's been a half-decade since digital warehouse Datpiff and FBI pressure quelled physical mixtape distribution. Long gone are the days when I lied to my mom to take the Big Blue Bus to Venice to cop DJ Rectangle mixes and miscellaneous bootleg paraphernalia. What's left are stalwarts ignorant of the Internet, those doggedly determined to stalk fame and fortune amidst the tourists, gawkers and connoisseurs of Bob Marley T-shirts.
Or so I thought. For one thing, your average Venice Beach mixtape rapper these days is as old as Jay-Z. These aren't young strivers; these are veteran peddlers profiting from the benighted buying hand-drawn Drake sketches. (This I saw with my own eyes.)
Upon entering the gauntlet, the babble commenced. "Yo dawg, you like rap?" Their uniforms were slanted caps and jiggy-era-sized jeans and tees. Accentuating the played-out fashion was a Jheri-curled G in a puffy North Face jacket, who looked like an extra in a 112 video.
Suddenly, arms foisted headphones and CDs at me. This wasn't the chimerical hustle of Rick Ross but the braying sobriety of the diurnal grind. One man approached like I was a turkey in November.
"Yo, yo, yo, man. Where you from?"
If someone offers three "yo's" in one hello, they're either trying to sell you something or they're a self-obsessed Spanish speaker with a stutter. I volleyed the question back.
"Compton. Yo, you getta check out this music, son, it's crazy."