“San Diego got talent, but ain’t got ~one fuccen [sic] person that understands business,” a local rapper Freemind619 posted on his Twitter earlier this month. The tweet is the latest of many diagnoses offered to a lingering question: how come San Diego’s hip-hop artists don’t find as much commercial success as those in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Oakland, Houston, or Detroit?
The answers one hears never settle on a single theory: the city lacks a major radio station or publication committed to local talent, DJs at local clubs don’t play local music, rappers from San Diego are divided and unwilling to work with each other, San Diego’s inner-city black community is too small, or, as Freemind619 said, artists just do not have the business acumen.
Maybe the answer is found in the exceptions, the artists and venues that are creating an alternate narrative in which San Diego is home to a growing scene of hip-hop emcees, producers, DJs, and fans.
Rossi Rock: the main chambelán
“The main chambelán, bask in my ambience,” Rossi Rock raps on his 2017 single, “Belly 17,” featuring Saviorself. At a quinceañera, the chambelán is the main male escort to the birthday girl. Rossi Rock’s clever nod to his Latino heritage, in the context of this song, is one of masculine pride and supremacy. But dig into Rossi Rock’s music, you will find stories of childhood, insecurities, earnest ambition, and heartache.
“There was a fan that stopped me [at Trader Joe’s]. I could tell that he connected with my music ’cause he brought up the thing that I would talk about — my dad passing away — and he brought up how his dad had passed away, too. So he felt like he had that connection. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one. And then when you hear something like that, like when you speak to somebody that went through the same thing, you’re just going to automatically connect with the music.”
In 2017, Rossi Rock signed with the Los Angeles–based label Private Club Records. His new album, Wolfe Boy, is set to release later this year.
Ryan Anthony: “Family in these streets”
Ryan Anthony performs under the same name he was born with, a rarity in hip-hop. It’s fitting for an artist who packs the trunk of his sedan full of CDs of his most recent album and accompanying merchandise, hoodies, and T-shirts then meets up in person with fans who order online. Anthony’s ironically-named album Barely See the Beach tells a tale of two cities: one near the coast where people live in mansions and tourism thrives, and another that exists in areas such as Southeast San Diego, or Anthony’s own Spring Valley, where the beach is an unseen luxury.
In one of his songs, “Da[Y]Go,” Anthony shouts out to local spots across the county. He feels loyalty to the experience of the common San Diegan. “I really made a family in these streets out here,” Anthony said.
He recalled an experience at the end of a day selling CDs across town: “I was coming out of Foster’s Freeze and this kid, he came up to me. He was, like, ‘Yo I really like your music. I got this birthday party in, like, two, three weeks. How much for you to perform here.’ And I was like, ‘Where is it at?’ And he was like, ‘Right here.’ It was kinda by Dictionary Hill [Spring Valley]. So I was like, ‘If I’m in town, I’ll pull up. You don’t gotta give me nothin’. The morning of the party, I got back in town, and he hit me. He was like, ‘Hey, can you pull up?’ I was like ‘Yeah I’ll be there.’ So I pulled up, did my thang, everybody was rocking with it. It was crazy, it was dope.”
A video posted online shows Anthony perform “Da[Y]Go” at the house party, and a group of kids are seen jumping, phones out to record, singing the hook in unison, “Bitch I’m from D-A-Y-G-O, D-A-G-O!”
Find Ryan Anthony on Instagram (@SpringValleyRyan), message him for a CD, sweater, or t-shirt, and meet the man himself.
Lvrd Daphne: rogue kids
“I’ve been writing a lot less,” Lvrd Daphne said, explaining her process of creating music.
She used to take notes a bunch of notes on her phone. But now, when she records, she often puts her phone down, and steps toward the recording microphone in her home studio. The beat starts playing. Her eyes close. Words begin to leap from her mouth.
“Young enough to still believe that love my strongest weapon. Love my mama cause she help me learn my biggest lesson.”
The music ends. One take.
“It’s kind of like trusting the feeling,” she said.
Lvrd Daphne has been busy recording her new mixtape titled Rogue. I ask about the tape’s theme and she tells me to envision a group of runaway kids, stowing away in the forest, living in a tree house. The kids don’t know what they want to do with their life, but in the forest, they are creating things, exploring, learning about themselves.
“That’s the type of energy I want to bring to the people listening to my tape. I want it to be for like people who don’t feel like they fit in, feel like they don’t belong. Just rogue kids, like renegades. People that need a place to connect,” Daphne says.
Lvrd Daphne performs live at Studio M.I.F. in North Park on March 16 at 5:00 p.m.
Rob Stone is free
Though San Diego’s most commercially successful rapper in recent memory has a double-platinum single to his name, along with the riches of Billboard Top 100 success, these dollar signs are not the key to Rob Stone’s freedom. In 2016, he signed with RCA Records. But a contract disagreement with RCA executives kept Stone from completing the deal. As a result, Stone’s music could not be distributed for profit, barring him from platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.
In 2017, Stone cut ties with RCA,and started his own label, Grove Town Records, an homage to his hometown Lemon Grove. Stone released his latest album, Don’t Wait For It, in October.
“It feels like I’m more free. I feel like a boss. I felt like a boss before, but now, I really dig this shit, you know?” Stone said.
Rob Stone began his first headlining tour earlier this month, making a stop at San Diego’s Music Box on March 3. “This tour is big for me,” says Stone. Finishing the 17 stops will be a feat in itself. He was removed from a tour with Desiigner last year after a violent altercation between his camp that and that of his touring mate, Ski Mask the Slump God. “I’m just praying to finish this tour with no drama or anything.” His next stop in Southern California will be on April 20 in Los Angeles at the Roxy.
Amon: 10 Beats a Day
It started with a broken heel. In 2010, while he was in high school, Amon and his friends were skating in La Jolla. He wanted to land a trick called a “tre flip” in which a skater must pop his or her board in the air. While in the air, the board completes a 360-degree turn, then it flips over once, and the skater must land with two feet back on the board. Amon had landed the move before, but this time he wanted to do it while jumping off a staircase with nine steps.
He gave himself space, kicked and pushed off the pavement, rode toward the drop-off, sending him into the air down the staircase. The board turned and flipped, like it was supposed to, but something was off. Amon landed awkwardly and broke a bone in his heel.
Unable to skate, Amon turned to music. Eight years later, Amon still skates (“I definitely can’t not skate”), but he also produces ten beats a day in his home studio. He said out of the ten, he uses three or four for an actual song. From August of 2016 to August 2017, Amon wrote, produced, and released one song every week. One of the songs, “Lately,” found success on Spotify’s viral charts, reaching number one in Canada, peaking at eight in the U.S.
Hip-hop blogs are starting to promote his music. “Just gotta put your head down, and stay focused, and love what you’re doing,” Amon says. He opened for Rob Stone at Music Box for his March 3 performance.
Music Box - Little Italy
Formerly known as Anthology, Music Box opened in 2015 under new ownership. Though a musical home across all genres, hip-hop acts are a main part of the venue’s rotation. In the past few months, Snoop Dogg, E-40, Talib Kweli, and Chief Keef performed at Music Box. While most of its acts are out-of-towners, three artists from this list, Rob Stone, Rossi Rock, and Amon, performed there on March 3. Future hip-hop performances include Sir Mix-A-Lot on March 24, Bilal on April 11, and Big K.R.I.T. with Cyhi the Prince on April 20.
Air Conditioned Lounge - North Park
Since August of last year, Air Conditioned Lounge in North Park on 30th Street is home to an on-going series of hip-hop music events called Hip-Hop Wednesday. The name is a play on the term “Hip-hop heads,” which partakers of hip-hop culture are often called. “It’s curated,” said Kahlee, organizer of the Wednesday night series. “It’s not just a bunch of homies on the lineup, and then two months later the same homies again.”
The first Wednesday of every month, the night features DJ sets from Norm Rockwell and Freddie Joachim, who has worked with Brooklyn rapper Joey Badass. The second Wednesday, March 14, Skinny Veny and Lecha Leech are hosting Farout, with performances from local emcees. On March 21, Kahlee, Karlo, and DJ Tramlife are hosting Hip-Hop Wednesday's flagship event, The Hip-Hop House, featuring performances by Noa James, Steez 76D, Sam R.I. Fre Cat, Lexsea, and Santé Prince. March 28 is an event called Seance, led by Ill Atmospherics and Ill Poetic. There is no cover charge all month. Follow Hip Hop Weds on Instagram for more updates (@hiphopweds).