It takes a special audacity and swagger to get “Living Legend” tattooed on your face. You’ll be forever tested in the streets, and forget about a 9-to-5. It’s a brazen decision that can only be pulled off in one circumstance: when you’re actually a certified living legend.

So let the record show that Watts’ 03 Greedo — one of L.A. hip-hop’s fastest-rising and most musically gifted rappers and producers — deserves the boast inked on his face. You might not have heard of him yet, but he’s long been infamous from the Jordan Downs projects to Kansas City, St. Louis, Sacramento and Atlanta — the other cities he’s called home.

“I always had hard times but was always the most popular in school,” 03 Greedo says, referencing brief stints at Verbum Dei, Gardena High and elsewhere. The tattoo came shortly after he dropped out for good, as did dozens of others, including a massive grape cluster on his leg, the iconography of the Grape Street Crips.

“I’ve been trapping before all these niggas,” he continues. “I’m a real shooter, I really been to jail, I really never told, but I’ve been told on and shot by my friends. But that never stopped me. I’ll always come out on top every time. Look at this shit!”

He points to his leg, which bears the scars, implanted metal and surgical grafts of a surgery to save his leg after an attempt on his life last September.

“They told me I needed to get it amputated, but I was like, ‘Fuck no,’” Greedo says with a laugh. “I can still run.”
His shoulder-length dreads fly as he demonstrates, darting across the front lawn of his house in Mid-City. There’s a limp, but it’s impressive nonetheless. As he returns to the porch, he asks his sister to bring out a memorial candle of his best friend and partner, Lil Money, who was murdered last December.

“I want him to be here for the interview,” Greedo says solemnly.

Both Greedo and his music are too versatile to cleanly pin down. He can artfully switch from raw, chalk-outline gangsta rap to Auto-Tuned ’hood Phil Collins ballads. He produces his own beats and writes and sings his hooks.

The biggest hit to date is “Mafia Business,” a tribute to Watts O.G. Mafia Ray, who was slain in a barbershop last summer. It’s a mumbled requiem, a wounded but beatific anthem that casts Greedo as L.A.’s version of Kodak Black or Boosie.

“I make pain music that’s popping,” Greedo says. “My shit is like emo music for gangbangers, because we’re stressed out, too, but have trouble expressing that without looking lame. Even how I do my ad libs makes you feel the soul and the pain of it.”

His own story is a testament to struggle and survival: a father murdered when Greedo was just a year old; frequent bouts of homelessness; grappling with addiction on both a personal and familial level.

Institutionalization has left him constantly pacing and gang life’s left him slightly paranoid. Several legal cases continue to hang over his head. Should he beat them, he could very well wind up one of L.A.’s all-time greats.

“I’m fighting for my life,” Greedo says. “I used to say I didn’t wanna live past 30 because I didn’t know anyone over 30, unless they were in jail. But after this last year, I realized I had another chance. When they let me out of that jail, I was like it’s zero again. It’s zero three. It’s starting over. This is my new life. You feel me?”

An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss is the founder of Passion of the Weiss and POW Recordings, and hosts the monthly POW Radio on Dublab (99.1 FM). Follow him on Twitter @passionweiss.

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