Technical difficulties are seriously killing Jay 305’s vibe.
“That was a fuck-up,” he shouts to the crowd waiting patiently to watch the mini-documentary he and photographer/director Danny Williams from the Topshelf Company shot. “We gon’ blame somebody!”
We’re in an airless warehouse on the upper edge of South Los Angeles, just a few blocks below USC. The air feels charged on this warm summer Saturday night. A ghetto bird swarms overhead as the blue and red lights of a couple of parked cop cars strobe. Officers stand, wide-legged, while a handcuffed man appears to talk to them.
The evening is a promo event for Taking All Bets, Jay 305’s major label debut on Interscope and Dom Kennedy’s The Other People’s Money Company. It also was billed as an “art installation” entitled Microcosm: South Central Streets and featuring elements from his lyrics. Unfortunately, inside the red-lit building, it’s hard to discern what’s part of the exhibition and what’s not. There’s a shrine to one of Jay’s friends in one corner, and a large piece that’s a map of South L.A. with pinned locations quoting Jay’s lyrics. But the main focus of the night seems to be the documentary, which won't play.
Watching the documentary the next day, it’s no wonder Jay was upset. A protégé of L.A.’s favorite, uber-successful independent rapper Dom Kennedy, Jay 305’s biggest singles to date are “Youzza Flip” and “Thuggin.” The former is a groupie diss track whose remix included Wiz Khalifa, YG and Juicy J; the latter, a turn-up anthem. The documentary, however, showcases a much more somber and mature side of the rapper. The opening scene is a long line of folks suited up in their Sunday best outside a church. Slowly, the camera pans to a hearse and immediately after, a police motorcycle driving by obscures the camera’s eye. The message is unmistakable: We are not safe anywhere. Eerily, the video was filmed before the Charleston church shootings.
Set to Jay’s song “South Central Slum” (on which “it’s like I’m crying in the song without crying,” he said in an interview earlier this year), the video is a love letter to the streets where he grew up. Filmed by the always sharp Williams, the doc shows friends in Nickerson Gardens, the Phreshcru clothing company warehouse and Hawkins House of Burgers. They rap and laugh and dance and throw out their Twitter handles. Through the film's words and images, Jay seems to be saying: We refuse to be miscast in your play. We aren’t the violent perpetrators you try to characterize us as.
But at Microcosm, as the event's midnight curfew approaches, the doc still won’t play. It’s clear that the screening was important to Jay, and though he’s trying to shrug off the screw-up, he can’t disguise his dismay. But what else can he do except brush it off, press on and pretend like he doesn’t care and that it’s no big deal? And compared to what Jay and too many of his friends have gone through too many times, as they've seen friend after friend getting murdered, it isn't.
“C’mon!” he says, an edge creeping into his voice. He hops up on the stage to perform “Youzza Flip.” “We 'bout to crowd the stage! We 'bout to have fun tonight!”
With or without the mini-doc, the party must go on.