Who better to explain the heart, soul and popularity of Los Angeles' famed hip-hop scene than a rapper?
James McCall, aka Nocando, that's who.
McCall/Nocando is an accomplished artist who has made a series of videos highlighting areas, events and icons which embody the hip-hop life. A legendary underground rapper from South Los Angeles, he is a recording artist, emcee, an organiser of indie rap nights at clubs and a ghost-writer of songs for award-winning TV series Empire.
Now he is busy making LA's hip-hop scene accessible not only to those already bitten by the bug and keen to sample the hip-hop environment that gave rise to so much talent – but also to those who want to understand and de-mystify hip-hop culture.
One of his videos, for example, showcases World On Wheels – a roller skating rink with a difference. It's where locally-produced records are aired first, ever since the days of Ice T and Egyptian Lover.
Los Angeles is the beating heart of West Coast rap, the birthplace of the distinctive sound of layers of synthesizers and groves that went global through the likes of Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and many more.
The heartbeat of West Coast rap remains not only strong but interwoven into a large slice of LA life. It is no longer a "genre". West Coast rap has become a bona fide culture, a way of life that can be seen in many different ways.
Another destination Nocando explores is the Slauson Supermall, known locally as the Slauson Swap Meet. Originally about 10 small kiosks in a strip mall, it is now housed in a massive warehouse with over 100 stalls and just about anything for sale that a self-respecting hip-hopper might require, from street fashion to custom jewellery to used video games and Jordans.
Many rappers, DJs, producers and "kids from all over" visit the mall with influential hip-hop folk like Drake and A$AP Rocky among those who have had custom pieces made here. Haggling is acceptable – required, even – and the prices can be gloriously cheap. And it's not just the shopping, Slauson Supermall has some popular restaurants too.
Still hungry? Nocando highlights Delicious Pizza – run by the same guys who launched indie record label Delicious Vinyl in 1987, booming the careers of Pharcyde, Young MC and Tone Loc.
And this isn't just about pizza – they throw and host events, listening parties and regular community get-togethers with outlets on West Adams Street (the more hip hop side of town) and another closer to Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard.
Chef Edwin "E-Dubble" Redway has opened a soul food spot on West Boulevard and Slauson – Grilled Fraiche. E-Dubble is known in Los Angeles for his food trucks (hunt them down on Instagram) and has linked up with and cooked for elite rap artists like The Game, Drake and T-Pain. Roy Choi is a world-renowned chef also linked with food trucks (Kogi BBQ taco trucks) and delicious Korean tacos – and has opened a healthy restaurant in Watts called LOCOL.
Then there's Kaos Network, the famous (and LA's longest running) open mic workshop, an icon close to Nocando's heart as that's where he started, winning "battles" against many emcees. Kaos is now homer to an event called Bananas, a colourful, eclectic night of indie rap and alternative music held every last Tuesday of the month. A visit here could result in spotting the next big West Coast star.
Beat Junkies, the O.G. Turntablists, recently celebrated 25 years as a crew and have now opened the Institute of Sound, a DJ school in Glendale where, on Saturdays, the best mixers, scratchers and selectors in the world of DJing and rap music give classes, tutorial and free workshops. Poo-Bah records and Amoeba Music are must-go record stores
Talking of creative licence, a must-see (and must-do) is the Venice Art Walls where an ever-changing canvas allows people to (legally) express themselves with aerosol paint – though you have to submit your ideas first.
The Fairfax district is the area Nocando calls "the Tigris and Euphrates of cool" – the home of street fashion in the US that ultimately influences what the hip hop world will be wearing in terms of footwear, hats, jewellery, T-shirts and more. Supreme, Pink Dolphin, DOPE, the Hundreds and Crooks & Castles all lodge here, attracting some big name shoppers.
And then there is the Petersen Automotive Museum. With so much of hip-hop music and personality bound up with cars, this museum has the best examples of LA rides, including Gypsy Rose (the original Lowrider which spawned a generation of anti-establishment automobiles) and a cherry Snoop Deville ( the Cadillac made famous by Snoop Dogg).
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