The Secret History of West Coast Hip Hop
By Gregory "G.Bone" Everett written in 2007
The four elements of the culture now know as hip hop, which include but is not limited to Graffiti Art, DJ’ing, B-Boy’ing, and MC’ing, existed on both coasts of the United States in the mid-seventies. I know, I was here. Most historians and the general Hip-Hop public agree that the culture has it’s roots in the early to mid seventies in various boroughs in New York. Although given it’s name in the Bronx, a culture that closely mirrored this East Coast phenomenon called Hip-Hop had emerged on the West Coast from Los Angeles to Oakland during the same time period. How did this happen? Was it an example of The Critical Mass Theory? The theory which states that when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, it may be communicated from mind to mind?
Possibly an easier explanation is one summer vacation, somebody’s cousin from South Central takes “poppin’” to The Bronx and brings back B-Boying to L.A. Before the creation of music videos as a means of mass cultural exchange, a tool most exploited by Hip-Hop in the 80’s as MTV and BET forced the phenomenon down the worlds throat, the elements of Hip Hop were exploding on the East and West Coasts simultaneously. Although enough has been written about the East Coast movement, little has been discussed about the West. Go ahead, do a google search on History of West Coast Hip-Hop and see what you get. Most research and documentaries begin West Coast Hip Hop in the late 80s’ with Ice T and the group known for pioneering “Gangsta’ rap” NWA (Niggas Wit Attitude) then jumps into the 90’s with Death Row and Tupac.
Well those of us who were here know this culture begins with the Mobile Disc Jockeys, the Dance Promoters, the Lockers the Poppers, and the Car Clubs. Names like Uncle Jamm’s Army, The World Class Wrecking Crew, The Music People, Ultra Wave Productions, LSD, Starlight, Partyline Promotions, R.H., Z Cars, The Egyptian Lover, DJ Pooh, Michael Moore, DJ T, Jammin’ Gemini, Chris “The Glove” Taylor, Rodney O, Joe Cooley, The California Cat Crew, The L.A. Dream Team, Ice T, just to name a few- put the party scene which eventually developed into West Coast hip hop on the map. You never knew who might show up to rock the microphone or get down on the “wheels of steel”. The purpose of this Museum is to study, collect, and share everything pertaining to the roots, creation, and current state of all things West Coast Hip-Hop. As historians and documentarians, we understand that there are as many versions of the various stories as there are witnesses to the various events which we plan on covering, and we therefore anticipate and welcome your corrections, rebuttals , and responses via e-mail.
Now we could take it back to Africa, with rap being the style used by the Griots in their storytelling, how slaves in Brazil invent Capoeria which remarkably resembles B-Boying, or how graffiti shows up in ancient Nubia, Greece, and Rome. But I’ll let somebody else take it that way back. Here at the Museum of West Coast Hip-Hop, we start with a place in Los Angeles called Central Avenue. Half a century has passed since Central Avenue slipped out of the limelight as the jazz mecca and heart of African American Los Angeles. Famous musicians and singers performed live at Central Avenues black owned clubs and hotels. Most of these artists were in town to preform for White audiences in Hollywood, but could not stay in the Hollywood hotels because no Negroes were allowed. So while in town they would stay and party on Central Avenue. It’s many Clubs, Speakeasies, and other nightlife attractions became a “threat” to the racist white Angelenos way of life when too much race mixing started taking place. The White girls loved them Black clubs. Not only that but them negroes where making way too much money and recycling it among themselves. So the city council backed by city hall and the police chief systematically passed various laws and used the police department to harass those coming through to enjoy the nightlife enough to shut it down. This happened in the late 50’s.
So in the 60’s a new phenomenon explodes. Record hops at local parks and recreation centers, plus house parties become the rage for Black Angelenos. Almost gone is the live Jazz band. New Black nightclubs spring up in the 60’s like The Maverick’s Flat, Dootos, The Parisian Room, and the Hilltop. At these functions a young student from Trade Tech Community College, Don Campbell, creates a dance craze called “The Campbellock” and forms a crew of Los Angeles dancers who will eventually be called The Lockers. They create the dance styles which will develop into Popping and Boogaloo. Opening in 1966 as the second Black owned business on Crenshaw Blvd, The Maverick’s Flat opens the door for other black businessman to follow, evolving Crenshaw Blvd to the modern Central Avenue that it is today. Any popular Soul, Funk, or R & B act from the 60’s through the 80’s that you can name performed at Maverick’s. And when no one was on stage, records were being played. Maverick’s is just about the most popular and important club that jumps starts the party scene which evolves into West Coast Hip-Hop. Almost gone is the live band.
The new way to get your boogie on is with a record player. And somebody has to put the record on. As in New York the backbone of this party scene culture out West becomes the DJ. Why? The DJ controlled the music! He will eventually give Poppers something to pop to, the Rappers something to rap to, and the Gangsta’s something to “walk” to. In the mid to late 70’s with the emergence of Disco a new DJ is born. Not the guy that worked for the club owner, but a renegade. A DJ who played by his own rules. One who could turn your house party, picnic, or special event into a your own little private discotheque. A DJ for hire. The Mobile DJ. By the late 70’s into the early 80’s, the young mobile DJ’s realized that they could make even more money as dance promoters than DJ’s. Venues like Alpine Village, World on Wheels, Skateland U.S.A., The Convention Center, The Sports Arena, Veteran’s Auditorium, Cheviot Hills Park, The Long Beach Convention Center, and many others gave the second generation of the party scene an ample opportunity to give birth to West Coast Hip-Hop. Besides the above mentioned venues there was an incredible amount of house parties, picnics, and beach parties where future rappers and producers like Ice T, Warren G, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, DJ Pooh, King T, Big Boy & Fuzzy from KPWR, comedian Alex Thomas and others either partied at or performed. The other two dance styles which evolved from locking, Popping and Boogaloo, as well as other dance styles specific to these parties in the early 80’s were popular. With a dress style, lingo, and culture all their own, Lockers and Poppers were the equivalent to New York’s B-Boys. “Freakin’” was the favorite dance style, and the DJ played everything from Funk, R&B, Slow Songs, Cha Cha records, and a new style of R&B backed by drum programming and heavy synthesizers the Westcoast DJ’s named “Club Music”. The DJ had set the stage for the what was called “The Party Scene”, but now the sleeping giant known as Hip-Hop was awakening in the East.
The mobile DJ would introduce this Hip-Hop culture to the West Coast in the form of Rap. It may seem hard to believe now but the only way you really heard rap music in the early 80’s was at parties with music supplied by the Mobile DJ. Now the West Coast mobile DJ’s had always rocked the mic or had a sidekick emcee to get the party started. But with the introduction of songs by east coast rappers The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Sequence, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five- everybody out here wanted to rap! By the 80’s the teenage children of the the 60’s party scene had taken over in L.A. and they were off the chain. Younger DJ’s played everything from Funk, to Nu-wave, from Hip Hop to Oldies and even Slow Jams and Ska. And
while on the East Coast DJ’s like Kool Herc (who coined the phrase “Hip-Hop”) were breaking out with what they called “massive” sound systems of about 16-32 speakers, out West the mobile disco company The Music People (owned by Edwin Vaultz) would supply Uncle Jamm’s army with a truly massive system consisting of 105 speakers. And while the first wave of mobile DJ’s basically blended records on beat from song to song, the new young breed of teenage DJ’s from the 80’s, being influenced by the scratching styles from New York they heard on records, took mixing to a whole new extreme. The hybrid form of scratching done by Joe Cooley, DJ Battlecat, Bob Cat, Blvd Rod, Tony G, and Julio G and the rest of the KDAY Mixmasters, plus any kid who get a hold of a mixer and two turntables would dwarf the scratching skills of those back east who invented them. Mix tapes were being sold on the RTD bus and at high schools. By the time rap music was made available to the ears of everyone on the streets of Los Angeles in the early 80’s, via local AM radio station1580 KDAY (almost single handedly because of radio personality Greg Mack), the party seemed like it would never be over.
Roger Clayton’s Uncle Jamm’s Army, unquestionably the most successful dance promotions team ever, The Egyptian Lover, and the California Cat Crew featuring Bobcat and Battlecat had a following of 5,000 from the Sports Arena to the Long Beach Convention Center. Spectrum Sounds and Outer Limits were catering to a large Asian crowd. Ultra Wave Productions was pulling in an average 2,000 teenagers twice a month at the Veteran’s Auditorium with DJ’s General Lee, Rock Bottom, and Blvd Rod on the Westside at their “dance battle” hip hop talent shows. Promoter and record producer Lonzo and The Wreckin’ Crew featuring Dr. Dre was spinning at the Eve After Dark, and along with the Egyptian Lover, the L.A. Dream Team, Rapper’s Rap Group, Ice T, Rodney O and Joe Cooley, and countless others- were putting out a hybrid brand of hip hop which would quickly develop into “techno-hop”, the Miami Bass Sound, and eventually- Gangsta’ Rap. DJ's, Poplocking and Breaking Crews, “Trendy” Dance Crews and wannabe rappers,were springing up every weekend. A Black “Mod” or “Rude Boy” scene emerged, rolling through the hood to the parties on Vespa motor scooters and requesting SKA music. Nasty Boys and Girls imitated Prince, Vanity 6, and even Morris Day and The Time. Teenagers mostly crowded these functions where the ages ranged from 14 to 25.
In the mid-80’s on the Westside graffiti crews such as West Coast Artists and others emerged, adding the forth element to West Coast Hip-Hop. Though this sub-culture had been around with muralists and graffiti artists practicing their craft in East L.A., through these new crews on the Westside it was colliding with the party scene, with graffiti artists like PJay of West Coast Artist designing the flyers and airbrushed gear for Ultra Wave. Highly trained street promotions teams put up posters and passed out flyers in carefully calculated areas, from high schools and colleges to malls, Venice beach, radio ads and even other dance promoters’ functions. This sometimes led to beef between promoters causing rivalries that sometimes led to physical confrontations.
The pioneers of mobile disco could barely supply the need for the sound systems to provide the party scenes in L.A. and neighboring counties. The need by the mobile D.J. for fresh releases of records and special remixes even led to the formation of the Black owned Impact Record Pool- where mobile and club DJ’s’ who became members would receive advanced copies of records directly from the labels in exchange for rating their clienteles responses to the songs. Now record labels had taken notice of the explosion of the party scene in L.A. and were studying the culture to find a way to exploit it. Like on Central Avenue decades earlier, these young black entrepreneurs were making a lot of un-taxable cash money. At this same time another phenomenon took off. Gangs. Crip, Blood, Mexican, and Asian gangs exploded on the scene like never before. And with the money behind them from the crack explosion of the 80’s they now were able to influence the youngsters of the party scene with there shiny toys, jewelry, cars, and clothes. Easily influenced, Hip Hop went “Gangsta’”.
House parties and Mobile DJ functions became targets for drive-bys. The first killing actually called a “drive-by” by the media was committed at a house party on 54th and Hoover. The party and gang scene became so intertwined that some the hottest DJ’s out were Crips or Bloods. The “trendy” dance crews on the Westside eventually evolved into street gangs. The writing was on the wall. I was at a party given by 1580 KDAY at the Olympic auditorium where the latest New York hip hop artists like Kurtis Blow and L.L. Cool J performed. About fifty Rollin Sixties Crips, proudly wearing sweatshirts with iron on letters spelling “60 CRIP”, started swinging and stomping on anyone in the crowd- including security. The infamous incident at an Uncle Jamm’s Army party at the Long Beach Convention Center where a party goer was fatally shot contributed to their downfall. L.L. Cool J performed at World On Wheels skating rink and was attacked by Crips for wearing a red sweat suit. Tone Loc’s crew (the LOC Tribe) had beef with the Samoan rap group the B.O.O.Y.A. Tribe causing a big fight and shoot out at the Hollywood Palladium. There was a killing at a dance given by Spectrum Productions, which was a predominately Asian event- and a stabbing at a Mexican wedding reception forced Ultra Wave out of their home at Veteran’s Auditorium in Culver City, even though the incident didn’t occur at an Ultra Wave event. It wasn’t safe to party in L.A., not for young people anyway- particularly young minorities.
The venues would not rent out to crowds under twenty-five anymore, especially minority crowds (even though by now, especially on the Westside, the crowds were becoming more and more “mixed” as caucasian kids were being drawn to the scene) and if they did the L.A.P.D. and fire marshall would come and shut the party down- just like they did Central Avenue. The day of the mobile DJ, huge sound systems, picnics in the park, was over. Promoters turned to clubs who mostly had liquor licenses, which prevented them from allowing patrons under 21. And most of these venues already had their weekends booked. Teenagers couldn’t party on weeknights. Although some promoters were able to focus on the 21 and over crowd, the teenage scene was dead.
The Mobile Disco Crews, the backbone of the party scene, the scene which gave West Coast Hip-Hop it’s first voice, almost vanished over night. When MTV debuted, the first song it played was “Video Killed The Radio Star”. Well, ironically, L.A. street gangs killed the Party Scene in Los Angeles- but kicked off careers for such West Coast acts as N.W.A, Dr. Dre, Ice T, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, The Game, The Liks, King T, Warren G, The Dog Pound, Too Short, E-40, 213, Nate Dog, Jayo Felony, The Outlawz, Tray Dee, Crips And Bloods Bangin’ on Wax, True Blue and a slew of other Gangsta/Thug rappers around the world. West Coast Gangsta’ rap opened the door for such rappers as Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, 50 Cent and even Eminem. Many of these acts from the Los Angeles Hip-Hop scene pioneered the idea of artists pressing up their own records and selling them out of their trunk, then the Bay Area perfected this “independent game”. This “do it yourself” West Coast mentality is something that is now common all over the world, and almost expected by some major labels as a prerequisite before they will award new rap artists record deals.
Project West is dedicated to examining and preserving this underground past and the Hip-Hop scene as it developed on the West Coast. From the Bay Area to San Diego, from Death Row Records to The Good Life, from the Mobile Disco Party Scene until now, it preserves the history, starting with the collection of unsung heroes- DJ’s, Rappers, Producers, Dancers, Promoters, and Party Goers who opened the door to this culture now known as West Coast Hip-Hop.
So did Hip-Hop start in the East? Yes. They created and branded it. But let's not forget, we had our own thing going on too.
Gregory “MC G.Bone Kapone” Everett, Founder of Ultra Wave Productions- West Coast Hip-Hop Historian