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 I arranged for the interview with John through is manager and when he told me that he was going to be in North  Hills (the valley if people aren’t familiar with Los Angeles) I was a bit taken back.

When you think of a rapper you usually think of urban surroundings. The city, highrises… not the valley. We had planned to get a beer at a local bar off the 101 freeway at 11 in the morning, but the bar was closed so we ended going to a Starbucks next door. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I had never talked to a rapper in my life but I knew I really liked his music and what he was trying to do with it.

John is immediately warm and welcoming, one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. I think you automatically sense that he has a great sense of humor and has so many interesting stories to tell. He reminded me of what a Jazz musician would be like, very cool, collected, and at ease with his surroundings. He is really an entertainer at heart and wants to involve you in his stories. He has amazing stories too, like going to the Good Life Cafe and rapping with big names from the Pharcyde, Jurrasic 5, Will.i.am. It was really interesting getting his take on rap today and how the industry has changed for the better or worse.

You sometimes go into these interviews with a lot of perceptions and expectations of what these people will be like and it never fails that every person I have interviewed has been completly different than what you expect. Maybe you go in expecting a rapper to live a certain lifestyle and have certain interests and you find out John loves playing with his little daughter, going to the mall with his wife, and reads Charles Bukowski.

To get a better idea what John’s offbeat personality is like here is a poem by Charles Bukowski, someone he was influenced by in his youth:

Love & Fame & Death

it sits outside my window now
like and old woman going to market;
it sits and watches me,
it sweats nevously
through wire and fog and dog-bark
until suddenly
I slam the screen with a newspaper
like slapping at a fly
and you could hear the scream
over this plain city,
and then it left.

the way to end a poem
like this
is to become suddenly
quiet.

Read the full interview with John here.

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Los-Angeles-smog

1989- Los Angeles. Rap and Hip Hop were being defined on the East Coast in places like Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Queens. 

Gangster rap was flourishing on the West Coast, NWA were the hottest thing in town and was set to define the genre of West Coast rap for years to come…

NWA

 Except there were others doing things differently. At a health food center in South Central Los Angeles in Leimert Park, The Good Life Café, something else was brewing. Started by B.Hall and her son R. Kain Blaze, the Good Life Café hosted an open mic workshop on Thursday nights where MC’s and musicians could find refuge and hone their craft. Musicians could perform written songs or freestyle. Gangster rap at the time was marked with harsh drug tales and explicit profanity. The Good Life Café instead had a no profanity policy.  B.Hall in an interview explained “The no-cussing policy wasn’t about us being uptight church people, it was about wanting the atmosphere of a serious arts workshop.”   

Pharcyde

The workshop drew diverse artists from all over Los Angeles. Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, The Pharcyde, Fat Joe, Kurupt, Bone Thugs n Harmony, and emerging young artists like Pigeon John, Will.I.am, members of yet to be formed Jurrasic 5, Freestyle Fellowship. Cut- Chemist was the DJ at the time. It brought in people from very diverse backgrounds from those interested in Gangster Rap to those experimenting with Jazz Riffs. 

CutChemist1.pub4

The influences and reach of what happened on those Thursdays were widespread and started a chain reaction which helped shaped what hip-hop is today.

freestyle fellowship

For more on the Los Angeles Hip hop, stay tuned for the next issue of The Experience Gallery where we talk to a former Good Lifer about his career and hip hop in Los Angeles at The Experience Gallery.