For the past 25 years, Los Angeles has been a mainstay in the hip-hop scene. It’s one that is more diverse than ever, thanks to such collectives as Top Dawg Entertainment, Odd Future, Pushaz Ink and more. In recent years, however, a nearby region within Southern California has been going through a renaissance. Just east of L.A., the Inland Empire, one of the largest populated regions in the country, has gone from the occasional rapper scoring a national deal (i.e.: Sly Boogy), to attaining a reputation for being home to some of the most diverse artists in rap music. Here are five Inland Empire rappers with staying power. [Photo via Hit-Boy Tumblr]
The first figure to know in the progression of the I.E.’s rap scene is Hit-Boy. The Grammy award-winning Fontana producer/rapper has gone from being signed to production deals under Polow Da Don and Kanye West, to now running his label HS87 under Interscope. Taking on a Dr. Dre-esque approach, Hit-Boy recruited a stable of artists to HS87, ranging from hip-hop duo Audio Push to his dad Big Hit and featured them all on the recently released compilation We The Plug. Equally skilled on the mic and behind the boards, Hit-Boy is bringing his rhymes to the forefront, as heard on his Hit-Story mixtape, and all over We The Plug (including on the posse cut single “Grinding My Whole Life”).
2. Audio Push
The next act from the I.E. to get familiar with is the previously mentioned Audio Push. Originally emerging from Rialto in 2009 under the jerking movement (alongside The New Boyz) with their single “Teach Me How To Jerk,” Oktane and Price Tag have shown in recent years that they aren’t to be nailed down solely to the jerking scene. After being dropped from Interscope in 2010, Audio Push kept on chugging by releasing several free mixtape projects. It culminated in the 2013 mixtape release of “Come As You Are”. Drawing equal parts inspiration from Eminem and B2K, Audio Push exhibited musical diversity on “Come As You Are”, most notably on the Janet Jackson-sampling single “Shine.” Now signed again to Interscope under HS87, look for Audio Push’s debut album to be released later this year.
3. Curtiss King
If Hit-Boy is considered by some to be the Dr. Dre of the I.E., then think of Riverside-based rapper-producer Curtiss King as the DJ Quik of the scene. Having produced numerous tracks for Ab-Soul of TDE, Glasses Malone, and many others, Curtiss has been a fixture on the scene for several years. Before the 2012 release of his album “Atychiphobia”, Curtiss King ran a successful 97-day grassroots campaign to perform at the Paid Dues festival. Paid Dues co-founder and L.A. underground legend Murs took notice of Curtiss’ work ethic. He eventually took him on a nationwide tour and earlier this year he released “Shut Your Trap”, a project entirely produced by Curtiss. Between the EP with Murs, producing “Tree of Life” for Ab-Soul’s latest album “These Days…” and the recent formation of Pterodactyl Jones with long-time collaborator Noa James, Curtiss is establishing himself as one of the most diverse artists to come out of the Inland Empire today, plus he is getting known as a producer as well.
Hailing from Moreno Valley, Speak (real name Anthony Negrete) has been releasing music that could be considered within the same lineage of the beloved Project Blowed scene that acted as the antithesis to L.A. gangsta rap of the ‘90s. Though originally known for co-writing Kreayshawn’s hit single “Gucci Gucci”, by now Speak has far surpassed his initial claim to fame. Speak skillfully weaves subtle references over a soundtrack of hazy production. His recent release, “Gnarly Davidson vs. The Marlboro Man” showcases Speak’s growth as a songwriter, especially on songs like “Bulletproof Denali” and “Mazda Blue.”
5. Eddy Baker
While a lot of the newer artists out of the Inland Empire draw inspiration from some classic West Coast rap music, Ontario-based rapper Eddy Baker gets his from the Mystic Stylez-era of Three 6 Mafia and other classic Southern rap music from the mid-‘90s. With deep vocals and a deliberate delivery, the former Raider Klan member has been consistently releasing EPs and mixtapes like “On Call” and “Private Sessions” over the past couple years. In addition to numerous releases, Eddy’s also been a touring force alongside former Raider Klan associates Xavier Wulf, Chris Travis and Bones, performing all over the country for some of the rowdiest crowds in rap today.
Photo courtesy of Hit-Boy Tumblr