Dozens of rap fans mulled around the outside the Globe Theatre in downtown L.A. for a little longer than they might have otherwise on a very early Saturday.
Inside, they’d just seen what might be one of the last local concerts for years by rising L.A. hip-hop artist 03 Greedo, who faces a potential 20-year prison sentence on gun and drug charges after a 2016 arrest in Texas.
On the same stage was a cardboard cutout of another beloved L.A. MC, Drakeo the Ruler, who is locked up and awaiting trial in connection with a 2016 killing for which he’s denied any involvement.
Plenty of other ascendant L.A. rap talent played Friday, including Watts producer Ron-Ron, the nexus of the Greedo-Drakeo scene, and Shoreline Mafia, a promising young quartet recently signed to Atlantic. But can a scene thrive if so many of its main players are behind bars?
A night that should have been a coronation for a new wave of L.A. rap felt a bit like a valediction too.
“As a fan, it’s gonna suck,” said Gabriel Diaz, a 20-year-old Greedo fan from the Valley. However, he added, for up-and-coming rappers, getting locked up is “nothing new. It’s almost part of the job description.”
With the exception of Kendrick Lamar’s TDE crew, it’s unexceptional for those in L.A.’s emerging rap scene to have messy entanglements with police. Still, the sprawling collective that has coalesced around Ron-Ron has had more obstacles than most.
With Drakeo and Greedo looking at potential prison terms at the peak of their ascent, some of L.A.’s most vital new voices could go silent. So the savvy Ron-Ron got acts onstage for what might be one last group gig for a long time.
Greedo’s brief set was essential viewing for obvious reasons. Many young fans at the Globe came to the Red Bull and R Baron Group-sponsored showcase specifically because of his captivating, woozily melodic sound.
Adrian Rodriguez, 20, from La Puente, compared Greedo’s records and mixtapes such as “The Wolf of Grape Street” to movies.
“He has these really cinematic vibes he gives off,” he said, adding with a raised fist, “Free Greedo.”
Maddie Medina, an 18-year-old from West Covina, said Greedo provided “a total experience, the way his vibes and flow go together.”
Does she think she’ll get to see him or Drakeo perform live again?
“I’m still hopeful,” she said.
When Greedo took the stage, phones flashed as fans captured his performance of mixtape hits like “Wake Me Up in Traffic.”
Greedo has been recording a wealth of new material in case he’s incarcerated. But for a few minutes Friday night, he reminded those in the theater how he got to this point: a sweeping, sun-dazed vision of L.A. hip-hop that launched the scene toward a new future.
For most of the night, though, Ron-Ron oversaw proceedings like a house party host. His friends and family danced with abandon in one of the Globe’s upstairs opera boxes; a life-sized painting of him was trotted out onstage whenever there was a lull.
Ron-Ron’s sound — minimalist freeway-cruising music halfway between the galaxy of SoundCloud weirdos and the block-by-block specificity of L.A. street rap — has become one of the most important in hip-hop. The members of Shoreline Mafia might be the ones to ride that sound forward.
Shoreline Mafia first came to prominence outside the local rap scene after a Fox 11 news segment included a music video that portrayed band members partying with “lean” (that is, cocktails with codeine-laced cough syrup).
Naturally, that made them outlaw heroes, but the group has a punk-rock bonhomie and some invigorating music to back it up. Tracks like “Musty” and “Bottle Service” showed how well they ride the pocket of Ron-Ron’s beats. As a mixed-race group connected to all sorts of fashion, graffiti and cultural scenes, they’re well positioned for a new era of underground L.A. music.
For all the significance of this set, though, the show was a bit of a mess. DJ Cypress Moreno improvised for close to an hour while Shoreline’s set was delayed. Meanwhile, near the venue entrance, someone got punched in the head and nearly went flying over the top of the bar.
It all was proof that underground L.A. hip-hop is as unruly as ever. This scene faces the same challenges it always has: Art, cops and career ambitions make for a blurry mix.
But for those hanging around outside the Globe early Saturday, smoking one last cigarette before heading home, it was important to see the talent onstage, while they still could.