What is Los Angeles hip-hop? Before engaging in this discussion, it’s important to draw a distinction between L.A. hip-hop and L.A. rap. L.A. rap most often falls within the category of gangster rap, of which Los Angeles has a long history beginning with Eazy-E and N.W.A and stretching all the way to The Game (this lineage, of course, includes Snoop Dogg & The Dogg Pound, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Tupac). Kendrick Lamar and Black Hippy may be the latest contenders for the title, but that’s debatable considering their personas and deviation from traditional gangster-rap tropes, however slight it may be. Then you have artists like OFWGKTA, which includes Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. It’s safe to say that despite their aggressive nature and rough edges, Odd Future rappers and affiliates are not gangster rap, however, their rejection of widely-accepted mediums of hip-hop also excludes them from being categorized as traditional L.A. hip-hop. Tyler the Creator and other artists of that ilk occupy more of a grey-zone than anything, which brings us to the other end of the spectrum.
Los Angeles hip-hop, at its pinnacle, can best be thought of as Dilated Peoples and Jurassic 5. It has little to do with guns and violence a lot to do with diverse vocabulary and boom-bap beats and where the DJ is just as important of a figure as anyone else. Of course, this is an over-simplification of the genre, but it helps to determine the parameters that allow us to identify for what it is. There are an extensive amount of groups and individual artists that fall within this category—some of which sound nothing like Dilated Peoples, for example, Living Legends, People Under the Stairs, and The Visionaries—but they all prize intelligent lyricism and beats that are more sample-based and less Billboard 100. Coincidentally, many of those who follow within this tradition know of each other and have collaborated with each other, which brings us to Bambu.
Bambu is a rapper from Los Angeles (Watts to be specific), that comprises one-half of Native Guns. He has just released a full-length album titled Son Of A Gun which features the likes of Rhettmatic, DJ Babu, and DJ Q-Bert. What starts off as a slow and heart-felt LP (“Walk On The Sun” & “My Potnas”) quickly becomes a raw and funky hip-hop album (“Last Year” & “Militant Greetings”). Brother Ali also makes a guest appearance on “Illuminotme” which is a play on “Illuminati”—a popular topic in L.A. hip-hop, especially for politically-driven artists. So, to finally respond to the question that began this post, Bambu and his new album Son Of A Gun IS Los Angeles hip-hop. It has all of the components that we’ve come to identify with the sub-genre, but it also has a contemporary, 2013 feel to it. This is not to say that it’s the greatest hip-hop album to come out of L.A., but it’s definitely music worth your time. Listen to Son Of A Gun below and should you feel so inclined, download and donate whatever you can to Bambu on his Bandcamp page.