[Editor's note: All this week West Coast Sound is speaking with rappers and writers whose work has been influenced by the L.A. riots, to coincide with their 20th anniversary on April 29.]
South L.A.-raised rapper El Prez is all about the city. He named one of his albums Animal Style! after the In-N-Out add-on. On the cover of his 2008 album Prezanomics, he poses in front of the Forum. And on his Tumblr, he forms the initials “L.A.” with his fingers. Believing that town's true colors get eclipsed by its Hollywood image, he spoke to us about the riots and their influence on his music.
Where were you when you found out about the riots?
I used to live right behind where it all started. It started on Florence and Normandie, and I used to stay at 71st and Normandie. You could just see it all going down. And you start seeing people getting pulled out of cars. People were getting rocks and all types of stuff thrown at them. They showed the Reginald Denny thing on tape, but there were all types of people getting pulled out of cars and beat up. There was a Mexican guy I remember. For sure, he got fucked up…But you know, there were cats really getting messed up. And it was just pandemonium.
I was at [a] liquor store, basically in front of where everything was going down. They started raiding the liquor store. So we ran over there to see what was going on. You saw the liquor store going up in flames.
What did you learn from the riots?
I remember we talked about it in school afterward and all the kids had their little stories and stuff. But honestly, that's just the way of life out here in L.A., especially in South Central.
Have the riots influenced your music?
It definitely influences my music. It definitely gives me a better awareness, just like the music that came out around that time. You know, this was when Ice Cube made Death Certificate and stuff like that. You had a lot more conscious music. Even like street, gangtsa, hardcore — whatever you wanna call it. They still were dropping a lot of that type of knowledge into their records and stuff. I still have that street awareness in my records today. It's not all me trying to preach per se, it's nothing like that. I'm gonna tell you from a real perspective.
What are some examples?
On a new song I got called “Steady Mobbin,'” I say “Even though the rags hang from the West to the East, the world's biggest gang is the fucking police,” which is true because we experienced that. The people that I feel rough people up the most is the police. You see the cop units and stuff…They don't care if you look like a gang member.
How do you think L.A. got a reputation for being violent and chaotic?
Back then, it was crazy. But now, I don't know. I'm not going to say people were proud to know that this happens out here. Every person in L.A. knows we have that stigma, that reputation, “Don't fuck with us out here. Shit will go down.”
You know, we do have that stigma and there's a lot of people that thrive off that out here, in my opinion. You definitely don't want to be known as a soft city and we kind of don't have to put that out there.
On your website it says that you represent change.
Like I said when I was talking about stigmas and stuff, you don't want to be stuck in any type of stigma. I'm always talking about change because to me, change equals progress. So even on my new record, which is called LEADERSH!T, it's talking about breaking the mold — breaking the cycle. And breaking these stigmas and stereotypes of what people think we are. And what people think it takes to make it or to be a success in life.
I feel everybody should be able to carve their own lane. And the only way to do that is though change. Not to be the same as everybody around you. Take the qualities that you like the most in people around you and form your own. You can't just stay stuck in the same style in the same place. You have to grow. Change equals people growing.