Dominick Wickliffe, better known as KXNG Crooked (formerly Crooked I), is proud to be part of Long Beach’s illustrious rap history. “We had one of the biggest runs in hip-hop history,” he proclaims. “I don’t think it’s really talked about much. We had more major deals in the city of Long Beach than in probably any other city in Los Angeles County or the West Coast, period.” He notes that at one time, Long Beach artists such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg, The Twinz and The Dove Shack all had major label deals.
Crooked’s own Long Beach roots helped shape a complex yet remarkable rap career. From 1999 to 2004, he was signed to Death Row Records, under the tutelage of Suge Knight, who was incarcerated when Wickliffe first signed. The two negotiated and signed his deal on a prison visit. When Knight got out, it was clear to the then-young rapper that the “powers that be” didn’t want his mentor calling the shots. “I think they did a lot to try to block him from having any further success,” Crooked recollects, “and I got caught in that little cycle.”
While Crooked and Knight had fun partying, traveling and riding Harleys, they weren’t putting any music out. In 2004, Crooked left Death Row and started his own label, C.O.B. Records.
Now, 12 years later, Crooked is signed to Eminem's Shady Records and is a member of the rap group Slaughterhouse, with whom he's working on new music. In the meantime, he is releasing Statik KXNG, a collaborative project with Boston producer Statik Selektah out Feb. 12 on Showoff/Penalty Records. The album blends Crooked’s West Coast gangsta sound with Statik’s East Coast boom-bap beats, a combination the rapper feels has been missing from hip-hop. Though he appreciates the synth-driven sounds that have become synonymous with West Coast hip-hop today, he misses the more traditional hip-hop mix of loops, snares and hard-hitting kick drums.
“It doesn’t sound like anything that’s out there right now,” he says of Statik KXNG. There was a time when West Coast rappers such as MC Eiht and Compton’s Most Wanted were still using more sample-driven beats. Crooked thinks it’s time to incorporate that traditional sound back into West Coast hip-hop. “Everything comes full circle … so you know, it’s refreshing.”
Though Crooked is happy to be fusing West Coast and East Coast sounds, he thinks West Coast artists need to collaborate more. 2Pac's All Eyez on Me album represented the entire West Coast with artists like E-40, C-Bo, Dru Down and others. Today’s hip-hop projects rarely bring together artists from across the coast. “I think that’s where we’re lacking,” he says. “I don’t think we collaborate with each other enough.”
Wickliffe changed his name from Crooked I to KXNG Crooked to reflect his personal growth, which includes a renewed dedication to rapping about current political and socio-economic issues. “I think it’s our duty to make music that reflects life at the time we’re living it,” he says. “If we traveled through time with a time capsule filled with the music we’re making now, the people in the future wouldn’t know what was going on here. They’d think all we were doing was getting high. You know. Sex, money and drugs.”
While Crooked appreciates artists such as Fetty Wap, he questions the messages in songs such as “Trap Queen,” which essentially glorifies couples teaming up in the drug game instead of being at home to take care of their children. It creates a “culture of ignorance” that he thinks could be dangerous.
Overall, however, Crooked believes that hip-hop is in a good place, and is proud of the way artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples and others have helped to carry on the West Coast’s legacy, fighting the “war against wack shit,” as he calls it. “Everybody gets a voice now because of social media, and I don’t know how fucking smart that is,” he says. “It’s too much noise in hip-hop. We gotta cut through it.”
KXNG Crooked and Statik Selektah's Statik KXNG is out now on Showoff/Penalty Records. More info at penaltyent.com.