This generation of L.A. underground rap just took another blow. We lost someone that you may not know too much about. His name is Cadalack Ron or Robert Paulson.
It's a shame that you have to be informed of him this way. This generation of L.A. underground rap isn't equipped as well as the past generation to turn our local legends into household names. There wasn't a “Wake Up Show” or Mike Nardone for him. We have to tell each other's stories, so allow me one more chance to do it.
Cadalack Ron left us this weekend. It would be a lie to say that we expected him to live forever because of his lifestyle, which was also a big part of his persona. There was little to no separation between Ron and Robert. He crowned himself the Black Tar Rap Star. A young white rapper from Hancock Park who had a drug problem. We know this because he told us so.
Lemme explain my relationship with Ron. This isn't going to be all buddy-buddy, I knew him well, that's the homie, y'all didn't know him like l did. No, rather it's from the point of view of an acquaintance in the close-knit scene of L.A. underground rap, a scene of dive bars, battles, open mics, crews and cyphers.
The year was 2005. I was living in a tent in the hills of Mendocino County growing medical marijuana. Away for four months, late summer into the fall. Before I left I had a weekly job-ish kind of thing. I was a “rap teacher/counselor” at a non-profit after-school program called Juice in Koreatown at a church off 8th and Vermont. Everyone who was one of us young nobodies at the time was a part of this.
When I was up there in Mendocino, on what I affectionately call the mountain, all I could imagine is what's going on in my scene. Who's dropping new music, who's winning what battles, and I wonder if it's still as vibrant and wild as what I remember?
During that time I had a Boost Mobile prepaid chirp with about 130 minutes on it. I'd call people once a week for about 5 minutes until I ran out a few months in. I'd call my homies and ask what's popping and I'd get the rundown.
At that time there were two new very noteworthy individuals who were both different from each other but inspired the same level of enthusiasm from everyone I talked to. One of them was an artsy young black kid with dreadlocks and a psych degree from Chicago named Open Mike Eagle. The other was a streetwise white boy with a Dodger cap fresh out of rehab named Cadalack Ron.
A very serious black youth with an interest in politics and all things PC gave me my first description of Ron (and I'm paraphrasing here): “He's tight, he can freestyle, he won this battle with all the usual suspects, but I don't really fuck with him.” From what I can remember, Ron may have said something racially insensitive in a battle. Like we all did at that time, to be honest, so I didn't let that form my opinion.
Fast forward to late 2006. I had become acquainted with the scene again. Dumb was there, Saht was there, Open Mike was there, Rheteric was there, Ron was there, everybody. It was heaven. Unlike the Bay Area freestyle battle scene or everywhere else in the country, we didn't have one white guy that could hang on a creative, competitive and stylistic level when it came to improvised battle rap before Ron came along. Ron was a trailblazer
To be honest, those white kids from the other places wouldn't be able to survive here, because they had the words but didn't have the style. We each were a “thing”; we filled an archetype that it seemed like you could only find here. Ron's archetype was what I could only describe as a white guy that hung with Mexicans who was fresh out of prison. High socks, long Dickies shorts, coach's jacket and Nike Cortez. And real recognize real — you could tell it wasn't an act. Ron was the genuine article
Fast forward to the fall of 2007. He asked if I wanted to throw any shows at a bar in Santa Monica. He was the talent buyer. I threw four or five there. After the second one I talked to the owner of the venue and cut the middleman out of the deal. Ron called me the next day and we had a very polite, gentlemanly conversation about the what happened. If he would've sounded angry or aggressive I would've had to respond with aggression or maybe even worse, indifference. He explained why he wasn't happy about the situation in street terms and drug dealer language. I was clueless; our conversation really changed how I do business. Ron was a noble man.
Flash forward to 2009. I was living I Oakland and visiting Los Angeles. I was at a relative's house in West L.A. I went into the alley behind the apartment to take the trash out. I saw Ron asleep in a Range Rover. I was clueless. I was very happy to see him, so I woke him up, said what's up and went back in the house. Ron was a troubled man
2010 is what I like to call the crew era of L.A. rap. Odd Future came along and everyone felt the need to clique up. My label was kind of turned into a black nerd haven while a friend of mine's label turned into the tough, tattooed, non-black guys' crew. The heads of this crew at the time were upset at me because I signed a guy that was in their crew. I'd see Ron out and about and he would tell me that he wasn't tripping off of none of that crew bullshit. Ron thought for himself.
The written battle rap era was upon us in the 2010s. It favored the gangster, the slick talker with street savvy. Ron excelled. His personality shines through in every battle I've seen him in. In a previous article I talked about how rappers that battle sometime will end up having to become a caricature of themselves, like Daylyt or Carter Deems.
Ron was a polarizing character just by being himself in battles. He wasn't the white guy appropriating black culture or the white guy that made himself a caricature of whiteness. Robert Paulson was something else without trying to be. He was the Black Tar Rap Star. He was the white boy fresh out of jail in gray sweats and karate shoes.
He'd say something racially insensitive in battles to a Latin or black kid, things that other white guys wouldn't dare utter. Some people may have misunderstood what he was doing, but he was taking an educated approach. These were prison jokes. This was real L.A. street shit. He wasn't mimicking New York gun rap (in my book, the worst sin an L.A. rapper could commit). His pen game was amazing, his tone and cadence was pro.
In his most infamous battle, Ron allegedly shot up heroin in front of a crowded room on camera and commenced to give the best performance of his life to date. He says it was Gatorade that he shot up. I believe him, but that doesn't make it any less of a spectacle. In that moment a rapper that was relatively unknown made national news. It was deliberate and worked. Ron was a world-class writer, performer and creative mind.
My most recent dealings with Ron were in passing at a show or event. He hit me up to do a song; I was down and was glad to do it, but ended up letting it fall through. I was too busy in the same way I was to busy to put out Ikey Owens' project on my imprint. I let both of these things sit on the back burner. Wish I could've recorded that 16-bar verse for Ron and just send it over. I saw him later to tell him that I couldn't get to it because I was busy. He wasn't tripping at all. Ron was cool.
The morning that he passed I found out about the death like most people in the scene, I suppose, via a group text. Damns and what-the-fucks were thrown around. We all hit whoever we thought was a reliable source. Came back to confirm. Then we flooded social media. Ron will be missed.
I don't know about Ron's personal life; that's why I didn't refer to him as Robert. What I do know is that Cadalack Ron was a pillar of the L.A. underground rap scene. He was the genuine article, a noble man, a trailblazer. Although a troubled man, he thought for himself. He was a world-class writer, performer and creative mind, a cool guy, and he will be missed by this city.
R.I.P. Robert Paulson. Long live Cadalack Ron.
James “Nocando” McCall is a critically acclaimed rapper, co-founder of the Low End Theory and founder of indie rap label Hellfyre Club.