Over the past week, West Coast Sound has brought you interviews with local rappers whose music and lives have been profoundly affected by the L.A. riots.
Today we present all of them together, beginning with a rare video of Tupac Shakur (above) giving his thoughts on the riots, a week after they happened.
Few speak more passionately on the L.A. riots than rapper Thurz, the former member of U-N-I whose well-reviewed 2011 concept album L.A. Riot features songs with titles including “Rodney King.” The work also features clips of residents recounting their experiences, and lyrics detailing the events surrounding the events. We spoke with him about the album, his memories of the time, and other subjects.
Where were you when you learned about the riots?
I was driving from my grandmother's house. She lives on 55th and Central and we were coming west off of Slauson, passing Normandie. And when we reached that intersection, on the southeast corner was a line of police in riot gear with guns and looking crazy. On the opposite side of the street were a lot of angry people from the community. And I saw some news vans and all that. I was like six or seven, and I just remember people walking in the street and it was kinda hard to drive through.
Somebody was throwing something and almost hit my mom's car. But we made it through. You know, we get home and we looking at the news. And we're seeing a lot of pandemonium in the city. And you start hearing about buildings burning and you see footage of it all on TV.
You interviewed people in South Central for your album, right?
We talked to people in the community, recorded a lot of conversations. And we also had people calling in to give us their stories regarding the riots. And when you listen to the album we use a lot of inserts of these audio clips from our research.
I'm referring to my friend Tomas Whitmore. He's a creative director and we do a lot of filming together. He helped out on the L.A. Riot projects. So me and him — and another friend Daniel Figur — we were all together, gathering all this data…We had to make it as real as possible, and as detailed as possible. So we had to go that extra mile for it to be okay to call an album LA Riot. So that was our main reason for just going door to door, gathering all the data. It was just to make it as real as possible and to make sure it didn't come across as just an album that's using this historical event to sell records. We wanted people to make sure we were paying homage to the most historical event in Los Angeles history.
For your “Rodney King” video, you were made up to look disfigured to draw attention to the beating. What went through your head seeing your video for the first time?
When I saw it, I was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” I didn't know it as gonna look like this. It was like starting a drawing that turned into a beautiful painting. That had so much meaning to it.
What do you think was accomplished by the riots?
The only positive thing about it was that the community came together. You had Bloods and Crips who put down their issues to band together. And that wasn't seen before. You saw all likes of people just joining as one. That's probably the best thing about the riots. Other than that, your own city — your own backyard — was burning.
How do you think the riots shaped you?
The riots have affected me by letting people be aware that your skin color can lead to trouble. When you look at the Rodney King situation — and you know Rodney, he wasn't 100 percent innocent in that situation, some of the stuff could have been avoided — but the way he was beaten was very unjust. And it comes down to the question, “Would this have happened to someone who wasn't black?” It makes you think about those issues.
So the riots have shaped me to let me know that I'm a black male and there may be situations that may be unjust. And it almost makes my mentality a little stronger, knowing that I have to work a little harder at anything I do. And I know that I can speak for myself and I'm gonna work for what I need and what I want.
What do you want listeners to take away from LA Riot?
That it takes artistry and somebody dedicated to make an album like that. I want people to be inspired by it. I feel it's a great piece of art that I've created with my friends and I just hope they appreciate it.
NEXT: EL PREZ
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.
Murs is one of the most important and uniquely Los Angeles rappers working, even though he now lives in Arizona. Having made it a point to critique violence in hip-hop throughout his career, he naturally has very strong feelings about the subject of the riots. He spoke to us about the impact they've had on his music and his life.
Where were you when you found about about the riots?
I was living in Glendora, California at the time. It was just on television. I just remember getting home from school and I was like “Holy shit.” I remember being extremely angry, and of course asking my mother to take me down to go be a part of everything. I was just very anti-establishment as a child. I found myself, when I was like 13, really into the Black Panthers and stuff like that.
Did you witness the riots first hand?
Oh, heck no. But our family has had a dry cleaning business on Central and Adams in the neighborhood for 60, almost 65 years now. So we've been though the L.A. riots and the Watts riots. Everyone in the community knows my family and we weren't extremely in danger.
A lot of Asian American-owned business and white-owned businesses were writing “black-owned” just to be safe. My family — whether it was me, my little bother, my uncle, or my grandfather — we always worked the counter. We did this so people knew we were a black business and involved in the community heavily, I hope. So I think that's why we were able to go without any damage through two riots.
You use the word “community.” Whom are you referring to?
The South Los Angeles community is made up predominantly of Latinos and Blacks. As far as the police and the business owners that exploit and are only in the community for financial gain, I don't think they are part of the community. That was one of the main reasons for the uprising.
My mom got a divorce and moved back to mid-city. She went back to work at the cleaners. So she was always taking pride in serving the community…She quit her corporate job and moved back into the family business because she takes pride. And there's not many people, post riot or pre-riot, that take pride in doing business in South L.A. or in the black community.
You've talked extensively about the problem of violence in hip-hop.
Yeah, I'm definitely against violence in hip-hop. I'm generally against violence as a whole, unless when necessary in extreme circumstances. But I'm an angry person as well. Sometimes I want to get violent. I completely understand why the riots happened. And if I had been of age and in the community, there was nothing my mother could have done to stop me from being out there.
Do you think the riots accomplished much?
It didn't really accomplish much for the black community. The money that was set aside to rebuild Los Angeles was just released in 2010 for them to rebuild the block. And that's 18 years. My mother sits on the head of this board. She had to petition the city time after time and it took 18 years to get any of the funds that were set aside for us to rebuild our community in 1992. She had to fight and fight. The community had been without a grocery store. She helped Fresh & Easy come into the community.
As far as the war — the government against black America on the whole — I think it gave them an advantage because they know how we are going to react and how to contain us in the future. As far as if the LAPD is getting any better, I'd say “Fuck no.”
NEXT: JEFF CHANG