[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
It takes more than 15 seconds to think of something that can be effectively completed in 15 seconds.
That's the sprinter's time allotted to make an Instagram video – double that of Vine – but barely enough for anything but twerking clips, jokes, athletic miracles or funny cats fucking up their owner's yoga workouts.
But Noah King, a local rapper and singer, has come as close to anyone to making it an art form. Over the last few months, the West Hollywood resident dedicated 15 seconds a week to kick triple-time raps for Portland Trail Blazer Damian Lillard's “4 Bar Friday Series.” Competing against thousands of participants, including LeBron James, King won an all-expenses trip to All-Star Weekend in New Orleans as one of eight contestants in the “4 Bar Friday” contest finals.
]The performance last month was akin to a Bayou 8 Mile. Flanked by co-hosts Mannie Fresh, Juvenile and Lillard, King acerbically and endearingly destroyed the other seven finalists. His victory was unanimous, sealed by the approval of the roaring crowd, and celebrated by an onstage shimmy.
“A lot of the other guys were spitting written lyrics, but I freestyled everything. In that environment, people have to feel something and be connected to what's going on at that moment,” King says when we catch up a café in West Hollywood. A Rasta hat covers his dreadlocks. With his tortoiseshell glasses, a plaid shirt and dirty Chuck Taylors, he looks like a modern, bohemian Bob Marley.
“Spitting 'writtens' means that you lose the ability to connect with and entertain people,” King adds.
Apart from his freestyle prowess, King has spent much of the past eight years amassing a metro reputation as socio-political firebrand and kinetic live performer. Raised in Beverly Hills (where, full disclosure, we once played on the same Little League all-star team), music is in his bloodline. His father is William “Wak” King, a trumpeter and rhythm guitarist, who co-founded and still plays in The Commodores. His mother, Shirley Hanna King, is an actress and songwriter who reportedly coined the phrase that became the group's biggest single: “Brick House.” King's godfather is Lionel Richie.
After graduating high school in the early '00s, he formed Noah King and the Renegade Soldiers, whose fan base grew large enough to sell out the House of Blues and Key Club. Meetings soon followed with Warner Bros. and Epic Records.
“The problem was that I got ahead of myself and into things I didn't really understand,” King says. “It's easy for a nice young punk like me to say something that sounds ideal. I could stand onstage and put my fist up and say 'revolution,' but what did I really know about it?”
His last half-decade has been one of musical and personal maturation: harnessing an earthy singing voice and developing a more honest personal philosophy. There also was a stint in New Kingdom, a quartet that included Asher Roth and Miley Cyrus producer Oren Yoel.
King seems most at peace in the present. He has discarded the revolutionary rhetoric for something more sustainable and less contradictory. He's recording a solo album due out sometime this summer, and singing and rapping with Liberation Movement, an internationally touring, electronic roots music collective on the bill at this May's Lightning in a Bottle festival.
He's also still spitting blistering, 15-second freestyles on his @littleneez
“I spent most of my early 20s being ignorant and arrogant. My basic values were good, but I realized that I'm just a normal guy who plays basketball and video games, and masturbates,” King says. “I'm still into rebellion, but am wary of would-be prophets. That's why good things are happening to me instead of when I was a young punk. I can hear it happening now. I can taste it.”