Rap's Main Street: the music of
Rosecrans Avenue

Compton rapper Problem drives through Rosecrans Ave. (Albert Lee, Myung Chun and Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Since the rise of rap in the 1980s, Rosecrans Avenue in South Los Angeles and Compton has served as the music’s West Coast spiritual home. Extending 27 miles from Fullerton to its end at Pacific Coast Highway in Manhattan Beach, the street, named after a Union soldier, has been an actor in songs by Kendrick Lamar, YG, Problem, DJ Quik, 2Pac and dozens of others. Take a tour of Rosecrans Avenue, and check out our Spotify playlist below. Warning: Some selections contain adult language.

Rosecrans Ave.

Rosecrans asserts itself in dozens of songs as an ideal, a kind of secret handshake among the Compton-proud musicians. Most famously, 2Pac’s Dr. Dre-produced “California Love” helped codify the avenue as a major spot. In it, he called on fans “worldwide, let them recognize from Long Beach to Rosecrans / Bumpin' and grindin' like a slow jam.”

Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco echoed that line on his 2011 track “Joaquin Phoenix,” and Grammy-nominated lyricist Rapsody’s 2013 track “Complacent” featured her rhyming “rollin’ on Rosecran” with “La-La Land, a Kobe fan." Below, rap artist and producer Problem discusses the influence of Rosecrans Ave. and Compton on music over the years.

McDonald's 1160 E. Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA

Ya Better Bring a Gun

King T ft. Mix Master Spade (1987)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"Yo man, who blew up that McDonald's on Central and Rosecrans, do?

The earliest known mention of Rosecrans in a rap song arrived in 1987 via the rapper King Tee’s “Ya Better Bring a Gun.” Featuring a bouncy but menacing old school beat, the track helped define the neighborhood in bloody 1980s Compton by warning would-be tourists to arrive well-armed: “From block to block everybody's bad / And if you don't know where you're at, then your life's been had.” Near the end of the track, almost as an afterthought, the rapper wonders aloud on an unsolved mystery: “Who blew up that McDonald's on Central and Rosecrans?”

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Intersection of Rosecrans St. and Aranbe


DJ Quik ft. Gangsta D | Quik Is the Name (1991)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"Live, via satellite on Rosecrans and Aranbe/ We got my boy DJ Quik in the house"

The longtime South Los Angeles producer and rapper DJ Quik has been a neighborhood chronicler for over 25 years. On “Skanless,” from his 1991 album “Quik Is the Name,” he and his collaborators document lawless action up and down Rosecrans, but cite this intersection in particular. The rapper KK describes “bailin’ down ‘Crans with my khakis creased” and a woman in his lap. DJ Quik’s verse depicts a Rosecrans car-jacking in progress, “rollin with a [passenger] with doodoo in his pants.”

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Lueders Park 1500 E. Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA

Piru Love

Bloods & Crips | Piru Love (1993)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"Every town has an Elm Street but not a Freddy Krueger/ Don't get caught in the Jungle's or a park called Lueders/ On Rosecrans pass Oleander at the light/ Tree Top is to the left, Fruit Town is on the right"

The 1993 song “Piru Love” — a reference to a Compton street and a Blood-affiliated gang — by the rap group Bloods & Crips offers a primer on the many gang chapters running Rosecrans, and their warning features one of the earliest shout-outs to Lueders Park.
“Every town has an Elm Street but not a Freddy Krueger,” raps Bloody Mary, of Compton’s most prominent public space. “Don't get caught in the Jungles or a park called Lueders.” Other artists who have memorialized the park include Compton icons Kendrick Lamar (“Keisha’s Song” and “Backseat Freestyle”) the Game (“Murda”) and Jay Rock (“Real Bloods”).

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Church's Chicken 1415 E. Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA

Money Trees

Kendrick Lamar | good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"Pull off at Church's, with Pirellis skirtin'/Gang signs out the window, ya bish"

The Atlanta-based fried chicken chain is one of many fast food joints appearing in songs about Compton. Lamar references it in two tracks. In “Money Trees,” Lamar shouts-out Church’s with a line about screeching out of its parking lot.

In “Backstreet Freestyle” he suggests to an unnamed other to park their car “in front of Lueders next to that Church's Chicken. He also locates Louis Burger, also on Rosecrans.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Tam's Burgers 1201 W. Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA


YG | My Krazy Life (2014)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"N****s ain't beefing with a hamburger/ I'm on Rosecrans n**** at Tam's Burgers"

From a historical perspective, the little spot at the corner of Rosecrans and Central avenues is the center. “I grew up off of Rosecrans and Central / Tam's Burger on the corner,” raps J3 in the Game’s track “Support Compton.” In “Compton State of Mind,” Kendrick Lamar recalls “the good old days / Eating Tam's Burgers while my Juvenile CD had played.” This was also where Suge Knight rammed his Ford F-150 Raptor pickup truck into two men outside Tam’s Burgers after a dispute on the set of “Straight Outta Compton.” Terry Carter, 55, died of his injuries.

Most recently, the Compton rap star YG celebrates the restaurant in his track “Bompton” by setting himself “on Rosecrans ... at Tam's Burgers/I'm buying AK's and handguns.”

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Gonzales Park 1101 W. Cressey St, Compton, CA

Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst

Kendrick Lamar | good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"In the parking lot, Gonzales Park, I'm followed/ By a married man, and father of three"

For “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” Lamar inhabits the perspective of a prostitute working out of the Rosecrans-adjacent park. Lamar-as-hooker describes being in the Gonzales Park lot and being followed “by a married man, and father of three” who’s a favorite client because he tips her in MDMA pills.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Compton Swap Meet 2100 N. Long Beach Blvd, Compton, CA

Wesley's Theory

Kendrick Lamar | To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

"I'ma put the Compton Swap Meet by the White House/ Republican run up, get socked out"

This vanished landmark has served as setting for songs by Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, the Game, Mack 10, Snoop and others. Often used in reference to the many bootlegs and mixtapes acquired within, the Compton Swap Meet was most famously immortalized in a skit on Dr. Dre’s classic album “The Chronic.” For his part, Lamar promises in “Wesley’s Theory” that someday soon he’s going to “put the Compton Swap Meet by the White House.”

Wan Joon Kim and his son Kirk work behind the counter in their stall in the Compton Fashion Center on June 18, 2012. The Compton Fashion Center, also known as the Compton swap meet, closed in 2015. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Food 4 Less 1900 W. Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA


Kendrick Lamar | good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"Look, the neighbors say they seen you and your little friends over there by the Food 4 Less, and they was preaching to you over there telling you about the good book because right about now that's what ya'll need."

During the musical interlude “Real,” from Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” the artist’s mother is captured in a voice recording: “Look, the neighbors say they seen you and your little friends over there by Food for Less,” she says, then relays a message about his label Top Dawg. During “Compton State of Mind,” the rapper describes “chilling right inside best outlets / Five dollar Little Caesar — mama shopped at Food for less.”

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Tacos Mexico 613 E. Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA


DJ Quik and Problem | Rosecrans (2017)

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

"Crossing over the railroad tracks/ That near got packed out in the canal/ Slid out then got some of the crew/ Came back like 'what's happening now?'/ Pardon my young n***** going so wild/ It's just how we used to be back in the day/ Get out the way, you ain't got no business this side of Santa Fe"

On the 2017 album “Rosecrans,” the rapper Problem offers some sage advice for rivals: “Get out the way -- you ain't got no business this side of Santa Fe,” he raps, a reference to a crucial north-south avenue that separates gang factions. Like most major intersections in South Los Angeles, it’s occupied by either fast-food joints, gas stations or strip malls. In this case, the intersection is home to the mid-sized chain Tacos Mexico.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Sources: Mapzen, OpenStreetMap

Credits: DJ Quik photo by Al Schaben; Kendrick Lamar photo by Robert Gauthier; YG photo by Lawrence K. Ho; Top photo of Rosecrans Avenue by Kent Nishimura