When he's not rapping in a wolf mask as the Koreatown Oddity, Dominique Purdy writes screenplays. His first feature script, Driving While Black, starts shooting in a few weeks.
This is ironic because, at the moment, he can't drive. That's because he got a ticket he got for, you guessed it, driving while black.
“On my last delivery of my last day, I got pulled over,” says Purdy, who's taking a one-month break from his day job delivering pizzas so he can promote his recently-released debut album, 200 Tree Rings. “They said I had a warrant for failure to appear for some driving violation or whatever.” He was just given a citation, but doesn't want to get another one – or worse – if he's pulled over again. So for now, he's bumming rides and taking the bus.
As his stage name implies, Purdy was born and raised in Koreatown, part of a black community that was a stronger presence there pre-Rodney King. He got his start doing stand-up but soon turned to rap, inspired in part by two friends of his mother's, Ice-T and Grandmaster Caz. Producing his own beats and releasing mixtapes on cassettes, he soon attracted the attention of the Low End Theory scene, where he's become a familiar figure.
But back to the enormous, pointy-nosed wolf mask, which has become his trademark.
He found it while he was still in high school and felt compelled to get it, even though it cost $70, which was a fortune for him at the time. “I saved some lunch money, went and bought it. I never wore it. Never. I just had it in my room.”
When he first started doing hip-hop shows, the mask was one of several talismans he'd bring with him onstage, to set the mood. But it wasn't enough to have the wolf mask sitting on a table next to his MPC. “People would want to see me wear that shit.”
On a recent evening he's performing at a free art party for music magazine L.A. Record, which recently ran an interview with Purdy. Illustrations from past issues line the walls while a DJ spins garage rock. Purdy, who's slim and handsome without his mask, but still imposingly tall, hunches over his MPC pad, checking presets.
Within minutes Purdy has transformed into The Koreatown Oddity, glaring wild-eyed at the audience through his wolf face and spitting one of his signature tracks, “Sleep If You Want.”
Gradually, despite the space's unforgiving acoustics, Purdy draws a small but appreciative crowd who nod along to his raw beats, most of which he produced himself. The wolf mask, which can seem gimmicky in his videos, is scary in person – not crap-your-pants scary, but mysterious and shamanistic, even under the harsh clamp lights of this downtown warehouse. Purdy likens it to those of African tribal dancers.
Purdy plays nothing from 200 Tree Rings, because it's his first release to feature other producers' beats and he hasn't gotten around to programming them into his MPC yet.
Prior to Rings, which is out on the freshly minted New Los Angeles label, Purdy made all his beats himself and released everything DIY-style, on cassette tapes and Bandcamp. Now he's rapping over joints from some of the Low End Theory scene's top producers, including New Los Angeles honcho Matthew Kone, House Shoes and Ras G.
“It's crazy,” he says. “I didn't even know I was gonna do that kind of project. That's really when you can show people your skills, when you can be on top of other people's beats.”
There's a track on 200 Tree Rings that talks about driving while black (and gobbling shrooms on the way to Low End Theory), misleadingly titled “Strawberry Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich.” Like most Koreatown Oddity tracks, it's a musical reflection that's both comedic and unsettling.
“Go ahead and check the plates, they straight, it ain't stolen,” he spits over an ominous House Shoes beat. “And you ain't gonna catch me slippin' with a taillight that's broken.”