[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
“California knows how to party.” That five-word mantra might as well be tattooed on the dopamine receptors of every Golden State resident. Most under 40 remember it as the chorus of Dr. Dre and Tupac's “California Love,” but its genesis traces back to 1982, when bassist-singer Ronnie Hudson took a trip down to Watts and Compton to see gangstas and pop lockers grooving in Cadillacs. “I parked my car in front of an apartment in the projects and was met by a young lady with a .45 by her side,” Hudson says, chuckling at his youthful boldness.
His manager and label co-owner, Mikel Hooks, had supplied the idea to write a song called “West Coast Poplock,” a reference to the dance craze then sweeping the coasts. “He told me to say something about Compton and Watts, but I didn't know anything about those places. I had to go do research,” Hudson explains.
Time has been kind to Hudson. He owned his publishing and still earns royalties from the frequently sampled, licensed and gold-certified hit single. (It's co-credited to The Street People, the backing band that got its name from its label, Street People Records.) He's firmly in middle age but mostly unwrinkled and always energetic, wearing dapper, dark brown aviator lenses, khakis and a thick, neatly trimmed mustache.
Hudson's speaking in the Toluca Lake offices of his PR firm, amidst the promotional effort for Westcoastin: Reloaded, a vocoder-glazed, funk-rap hybrid with guest spots from MCs influenced by Hudson: Snoop Dogg, E-40, Too Short and Rappin' 4-Tay. Their love largely stems from “West Coast Poplock,” the indelible rallying call of their boyhood.
But first, there was Hudson's research in the Crips-and-Bloods – clotted projects of the early 1980s. It was unfamiliar territory for a Washington, D.C., native with no neighborhood allies. At the time, Hudson had been in L.A. for just two years. Raised in the District of Columbia, he'd spent most of the 1970s in Memphis, playing bass in Isaac Hayes' band and contributing slaps to seminal Hayes classics including Black Moses and the Shaft soundtrack. He also recorded and co-produced Luther Ingram's “If (Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right).”
Following a brief stint in San Francisco at the turn of the '80s, Hudson moved to an apartment off Washington and La Brea and got a job working in a downtown bank, where he met Hooks, a co-worker with music industry connections. Rap and the concept of sampling were just beginning to take off on the West Coast. Hooks' idea was to merge the beat for Zapp and Roger's “So Ruff So Tuff” with Hudson's lyrics to create a proto – hip-hop anthem.
“The first people I met while doing research were the gangsters. They knew that I didn't belong there, but they opened up their doors and told me about how they become brothers,” Hudson says. “I told them that I wanted to write a song about them that would show everlasting love and explain who they were and what they're doing here.”
Sold on his pitch, the gangsters and Hudson became fast friends and ended up partying until the sun came up. That experience wound up immortalized in “West Coast Poplock,” with its shoutouts to poplocking in Rolls-Royces at the Howard Johnson, cruising the boulevard, “shaking booties and busting your soul.”
Immediately adopted as an anthem by KDAY, “West Coast Poplock” has rarely left radio since its release 32 years ago. Everyone has sampled it, from N.W.A, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to Scarface and Mos Def.
“We were helping to start West Coast hip-hop and we had no clue,” Hudson says. “But what really touched me the most was going over there and meeting those people. That's what made it a real and true anthem. Even today, if I go to that area, I'm free to walk around and do whatever, and whoever recognizes me always shows me that same love.”
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