June 7, 2021
When talking about West Coast gangster rap, the focus is usually on the era-defining stars who reigned during 1990s—Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Snoop Dog foremost among them. In her new book, “To Live and Defy in LA: How Gangster Rap Changed America,” Professor Felicia Angeja Viator argues that starting with the success of Dr. Dre's The Chronic or even N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton leaves out half the story. The aesthetic and cultural innovations of gangster rap were deeply rooted in the political economy of Black L.A., a space defined by entrepreneurial DJs, omnipresent police brutality, deindustrialization, a thriving gang culture, and the tantalizing access to the power and prestige of Hollywood. This history is essential for understanding how West Coast rappers were able to snatch New York’s spotlight, transforming Hip Hop into a national musical form, and laying the groundwork for...pretty much all of the pop culture produced since. Come for a revaluation of Eazy-E. Stay to find out which Parliament track is best suited for stopping a teenage brawl.
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02:40 - How Los Angeles plays a special roll in hip-hop and is instrumental in the genre crossing over
06:00 - LA Mobile DJ crews from the early '80s lay the groundwork through massive parties and DIY networking with local radio stations and gangs
11:20 - Egyptian Lover and what early LA “hip-hop ”sounded like
15:20 - What early '80s LA mobile dance parties played and how a Parliament song was used to keep the peace
19:35 - The relationship of early LA hip-hop to gang culture and the underground economies of South Central
21:00 - How cash from the drug trade can support underground music and that gets racialized
25:20 - Eazy-E saw music as a way out of the drug trade and a more sustainable income
26:30 - While punk wanted to stay on the margins, hip-hop was on margins and wanted to be part of the mainstream for inclusion and monetary reward
29:00 - The malevolent presence of the militarized LAPD in black communities, and its negative impact historically on black arts in LA
32:00 - The use of “the batteram,” a military vehicle bought by the LAPD to bulldoze crack houses in an effort to catch drug dealers in the act
34:30 - Toddy Tee’s song “Batteram” and the fear of the vehicle in south central LA
38:00 - The use of popular hip-hop beats and parody by Toddy Tee and Ice Cube to localize hip-hop in LA
40:40 - The use of explicit blue material and its legacy in music and hip-hop
41:30 - How Run-DMC’s sound influences up and coming Los Angeles hip-hop artists to create something uniquely local
43:20 - The beginnings of Eric “Eazy-E” Wright and how he carves out a space in the local LA hip-hop scene
47:45 - Ruthless Records and NWA attempt to walk the line between embracing the fears of growing gang culture in LA while expressing their grievances in an effort to gain notoriety and publicity
48:46 - The complicated politics of the “Straight Outta Compton” music video
51:00 - Ice Cube goes on a press tour that is both political and publicity — calling out MTV for banning their video while criticizing the LAPD
54:00 - Was the PR savviness of NWA related to being in a major American media center ?
56:40 - The success of Dennis Hopper’s LA-based cop film “Colors” and its effect on America’s perception of the gang culture in South Central Los Angeles
1:00:00 - The Rodney King uprising, Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” wrestles the spotlight on rap, and hip-hop crosses over
1:02:00 - LA opens the door and offers a model for regional rap in places like LA and elsewhere.
1:06:00 - Gangsta rap goes commercial without losing its commitment to being deliberately rooted in local black experiences, and how that opens the door for other hip-hop artists to go in other directions
1:08:00 - Hip-hop can uniquely stay committed to a local scene while still having an eye on the national mainstream