The year is 1989, the world of hip hop in mainstream America is dominated by the street hard, in your face West Coast Gangsta Rap
genre headed by NWA
. And an army of increasingly forgettable imitators
as well as genuine ingenuity coming from the opposite coast
The pop music market is dominated by the sugary sweet vaguely hip-hopish pop of The New Kids On The Block
. And on the corner Crendshaw and Exposition
in South Central Los Angeles a group of kids at a health food store called The Good Life Health Food And Resource Center
take a weekly Open Mike and turn it into an ongoing hip hop workshop where lyrical prowess, performance, and positivity instead of battling and trash talking was encouraged. In fact, swearing was strictly disallowed at The Good Life. The Good Life's
Thursday Night Open Mike nights became increasingly popular, and quickly reached legendary status in the incredibly insulated and incestuous scene of underground hip in early 1990's Los Angeles. Pre-internet, this was music that you only heard if you were at the show, or you bought the home made tape from some kid out of a backpack
on his way to tag up a traincar
. Many green MC's
had their moment in the sun, performed and wowed crowds and were never heard from again. Some took the momentum of their Good Life performances and decided to make hip hop their career, their life.
But what was clear was that something special was happening, hip hop was being expanded into a cerebral dense form of art that retained street cred without distancing themselves from the hardcore hip hopper and B-Boy
First, Afterlife Recordz
a sort of co-op CD-R label run by independant MC's started releasing CD's of their founding members Chillin Villain Empire, Rifleman AKA Ellay Khule
(pronounced L.A. Cool), Riddlore?, Of Mexican Descent
, who himself has gone on to be a certified indie rap star
having recently commented "There are no more backpackers, it's all hipsters now. I just came from doing three shows and there were no hip-hoppers anywhere-- I mean, it was great though, I didn't know that my kind of stuff would bring those people out. So I was surprised."
The pinnacle of The Good Life Scene on record was the now-legendary compilation Beneath The Surface
. Believed by many to be the single greatest hip hop compilation ever, every track was produced by OMID
and perfectly captured the apex of an artistic experiment at the height of pre-millenium tension and Armageddon obsession. Utilizing samples from high profile prog rock groups like Emerson Lake & Palmer on "Night And Day" and virtual unknowns like Swedish organist Bo Hansson
and his 1972 audio soundtrack to book version Lord Of The Rings
If you spend more then 5 hours a week in record stores, chances are you will recognize loops from this album and smile at how clever OMID was. The centerpiece of the album was a 9 minute epic track where every MC took the form of a different animal, all ending with one of the craziest and longest verses every laid down on wax by Circus of the Shapeshifters crew, the track called Farmers Market Of The Beast has become an underground ark of the covenant stone of sorts, stare too long into it and you're face will melt from the unbridled imagination.
Eventually The Good Life Open Mike night evolved into Project Blowed
started in 1994 by Aceyalone
, and Abstract Rude
a similar weekly workshop for MC's. But unlike Good Life's vibe of positivity, rehearsed performance, and strict adherence to language standards, Blowed was known for freestyles, battles, and foul language. Some have said
that Project Blowed has turned battle rapping into mildly rhythmic standup comedy, but the impact of Blowed cannot be understated. Many mainstream who need no introduction like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and even non-rappers like Lenny Kravitz.
Project Blowed is popularly known for a compilation CD released in 1994, a release of the backpacker variety, currently out of print. And a 10th Anniversary Compilation
Good Life alumnus who went on to be Project Blowed superstars like AWOL One
and his affilliated friends/graffiti crew mates the Krylon infused spray of brainsalad that is Circus
and The Shapeshifters
created a scene, a sound, and a movement that as Of Mexican Descent member 2Mex
says in quotes that was just as if not more important than G-Funk
, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
style symbiotic rap groups, even Grunge
or other related acts
. But because this was pre-internet, and the fact that radio, newspapers, and major labels simply didn't care about this music, it went by unnoticed, forgotten. Even to this day, many likely classic releases are lost forever because they were simply made on a four track deck, handed out at shows and never digitized and spread to the internet once Napster rendered the term "Backpacker" obsolete.
This Is The Life
is the story of The Good Life cafe, and the magic that you, I, and everyone else missed. The footage is scattershot, because most poor folk back then didn't have video cameras. The interviews are insightful and inspiring, and it reminds you that hip hop comes from cement and the heart, not diamonds and rims.
This Is The Life
is currently making the festival circuits, and hopefully should be seeing DVD release soon. Keep your eyes peeled to the websites for release dates and showings in your area.