By his own measure, Annimeanz (pronounced “any means”) should either be dead or serving life in state prison. Instead, he's counting his blessings as his single “Like the Westside” remains in rotation at radio stations in L.A. and the Inland Empire, such as 99.1 KGGI and Real 92.3, and his clothing line starts to take off.
“I have a long story, to say the least,” the rapper says over the phone, trying to prepare me for the story of his life in Cudahy, the second smallest city in Los Angeles County, which has a long history of crime, drugs, violence and political corruption.
Annimeanz grew up off Florence Avenue, a street littered with motels that were home to prostitutes and drug dealers. His parents, members of the first generation of Cudahy's South Side 18th Street gang, couldn't raise him. His father was a heroin addict with a long rap sheet who died of an overdose while serving time in prison for numerous robberies.
“If I had to break it all down, I think I knew my pops maybe three years if I add it all together,” says Annimeanz, measuring his words to hold back the strong emotions that these old memories whip up.
“My mom was a single parent,” he continues. “She eventually got into doing drugs herself … so, at some point, she just kind of left, so I just started living off the street on my own.”
Annimeanz learned to fend for himself by selling crack at age 11 for a local dealer and eventually joining the 18th Street gang as his parents did. Homeless and parentless, he slept in parks and couch-surfed with various friends. At age 15, he was locked up until he was 21 for his role in a string of armed robberies. He was out for about two months before he got locked up again for seven years for his involvement in a shooting.
The only positive element in his life during that time was rap music. He listened to music by Brotherhood Creed, Kid Frost and other Latino rappers bumping all over Cudahy streets. It was in prison that he realized it could be his way out of a life of poverty, violence and uncertainty.
His grandmother, who tried to take him in before his first stint in prison, gifted him a subscription to XXL magazine to help him pass the time in between completing his high school diploma and, later on, college courses in psychology and sociology while behind bars. The stories in the magazine lit up his imagination.
“Before I got out of prison,” he recalls, “I had already known that if I didn't get involved in something, that I was gonna go back to prison because I got two strikes. My rap sheet is long … so it was only a matter of time before I ended up killing somebody or something, and then it was going to be all the way over.”
His first attempt at a rap career came in 2006 immediately after leaving prison at age 25. He collaborated with a cousin who attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood until that fizzled out. Later, he linked up with Rakaa of Dilated Peoples and DJ Ill Will for his first mixtape. He also worked as a security goon for Hot Dollar and Guerilla Black, but left when it became clear they only thought of him as muscle and not as an artist.
Afterwards, he began working with Glasses Malone in his studio. It was Malone who convinced him to switch his sound up from an East Coast gangster style to something more ratchet, which had yet to blow up at the time. Their collaboration resulted in “Fuck You Pay Me,” which got attention from a few local DJs in Southern California. Annimeanz's music career looked ready to take off.
Unfortunately, an argument with a then-girlfriend led to a phone call with police, who found a pistol in Annimeanz's car. He figured he'd do no more than six months after years of being on parole with nothing worse than a parking ticket on his record.
“We go see the DA and the first thing they tell me is, 'Look, you got two strikes, you got a pistol charge and you have a criminal threat charge,'” he recalls. “'You're looking at 25 to life.'
“The first thing I thought was, my career's over. By the time I get out, I'm gonna be old.”
His lawyer cut a deal where Annimeanz would serve close to three years behind bars without an additional strike added to his record. He kept his head low, stayed out of trouble, and dove back into the rap game after he got out of prison in 2015, having served about 60 percent of his sentence.
Musically, Annimeanz doesn't sound like most Latino rappers such as B-Real, Lil Rob, Kid Frost or 2Mex. Instead, he has more of a musical kinship with rappers like YG and Kap G.
“It's not really ratchet no more,” he says of his current style. “It's more like G-funk rejuvenated and that was the thing that Glasses was pounding in our head. Someone like Kap G is the complete reformation of what we're trying to do out here.”
Barely two years out of jail, Annimeanz has already produced a handful of tracks and videos, gotten regular rotation on the radio thanks to promoter Reggie Butler, and has launched a clothing line, American Dope Boy. He's also had a lot of help from an unexpected source: his mother.
After years of addiction, Annimeanz's mother cleaned up, got sober, found God and remarried. Now she's his biggest supporter. She helps burns the CDs he sells, bags all the shirts before they're sold and shipped, even bailed him out the last time he was in jail. She devotes much of her time to her son's success now that she's in a place to do so.
“My mom really loved my father even though he was what he was,” says Annimeanz, holding back tears as he recalls their separate struggles. “She always hoped that he was going to change and he never did and then he died. I think she feels cheated in a sense because she never got that opportunity to see him change. I think for a long time she felt like she failed me in life. I think all this shows her it wasn't all in vain. She didn't go through all that for nothing.”
Annimeanz is also using his new career as a model for others to follow. As someone who understands what it means not to be given anything in life and forced to create one's own opportunities, he's using the few resources he has to support others in similar situations. Whether it's giving locals some free studio time or connecting them with one another for collaborations, he feels it's his responsibility to do what he can to lift up his community, which continues to be ravaged by poverty and crime.
“I took positives from my whole struggle but I don't endorse it,” he says. “I want to be looked at as a real artist and have people appreciate me for who I am, and not see a gang affiliation more than seeing a man who created an opportunity for himself and the people around him.
“I hope people will read this and go, 'He came from where I came from, I'm proud of that and I can do that too now.' That's what I want to do and that's the image that I want to give. I want to be known for being a gang member that turned his life around and gave other people opportunities to do the same thing.”