As more than 50 music, TV and film performers gathered in a Fairfax area recording studio Wednesday night to tape the chorus of a song of unity in wake of the Los Angeles riots, Kid Frost held a can of red spray paint and bent over a wood plank in the alley behind the studio.
The East L.A. rapper, who has championed pride in his Latino heritage in his two albums, painted the song's title, "City of Fallen Angels," on the plank, graffiti style--flames dancing around the words.
"I'm real angry, dude," Frost (real name: Arturo Molina Jr.) said. "I couldn't say that if I didn't have a record deal that I wouldn't have been out there . . . one of the looters."
The idea behind the recording--which involved such national personalities as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Arsenio Hall and Young M.C.--was to raise funds for riot relief efforts, a sort of parallel to the celebrated "We Are the World" recording in 1985 that raised millions for African famine victims.
Where that star-studded evening in a Hollywood studio was marked by expressions of hope and sharing, the mood this time was more bittersweet. Along with concern about riot victims, there was talk at Cherokee Studios about the factors that contributed to the nightmarish rampage.
"These kids in South-Central have had enough," Frost said. "They have gone through years and years and years of rage . . . seeing their parents struggle and their homies getting shot."
That concern spilled over into the song.
Where Tom Petty's "Peace in L.A." record--released to radio last week--calls for people to put their rage aside, "Fallen Angels" is an attempt to understand and channel that rage.
Still, the overall mood of the record is positive.
Sample lines from the chorus:
All right, all right, OK, OK
We need a brand-new feeling
A brand-new way ...
A brand-new understanding
For a brand-new day.
Larry Handelman, a producer of "cause-related" music and television projects, said he hopes to have the record available to radio stations and stores next week, though no deal has been completed with a record company.
He said proceeds will go to Los Angeles churches aiding the relief efforts and to Reginald Denny, the truck driver whose beating at Florence and Normandie avenues in the early moments of the riot has been shown on television as much in recent days as the infamous video of the Rodney G. King beating. Handelman said all those involved in the project are donating their services.
"What you have here is a collage," said funk pioneer Rick James, in one of his first public appearances since his arrest last August on assault and drug charges. "There are hard-core rappers here--brothers and sisters on the street who were right in (the violence)--and there are people with a pacifying mentality here, and people who are totally confused."
At one extreme was Ganxsta Ridd of the Compton-based rap group Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., who said that the only thing wrong with the rioters' violence was the targets.
"They should have gone to the rich 'hoods and burned them," he snapped before joining the taping.
On the other end was Iris Stevenson, the "Fallen Angels" musical director and the director of the Crenshaw High School Elite Choir. Stevenson wrote the song's choruses, which emphasize a theme of unity and peace, and the choir sings on the record.
"You can always turn a disaster into a positive, life-changing experience," she said after the taping. "All dead things either need to be buried or resurrected . . . and this is about resurrecting your self-esteem from the ashes."
The session wasn't marked by the star-studded lineup of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder et al. that was assembled for "We Are the World."
In fact, the biggest names in the project--including Jackson, Hall and the R&B; vocal group Boyz-weren't even at the taping. They had recorded their parts earlier in the day. Besides Jamesand Frost, the studio participants also included TV soap opera star Eric Braeden of "The Young and the Restless" and former "Taxi" cast member Jeff Conaway.
Other artists--including Roseanne and Tom Arnold and rappers Tone-Loc and Eazy-E--have agreed to join the project, Handelman said.
What was striking about the gathering was the ethnic diversity, and how prominently and proudly many participants displayed their ethnicity.
Handelman, referring to Hen Gee, Frost and himself, crowed, "You have a black man, a Latino and a white Jew from Malibu."
Standing in front of the chorus, he added, "We're going to get it back together, and these are the people who will do it right here."
Several people referred to the assemblage as a United Nations, and it looked it. African-Americans wearing African symbols and colors and Latinos flying their cultural symbols stood at ease with blond, blue-eyed actresses.
Given the recent racial tensions, the lone Asian-American in the crowd, "In Living Color" cast member Steve Park, in his own words, "stood out like a sore thumb," but felt no sense of racial tension. And a young Jewish rapper who goes by the name of Doc Mo She, made sure he stood out, wearing an oversize Star of David on heavy chains around his neck.
"I believe everyone should be proud of who they are and still try to get along with others," Mo She said. "People should be suspicious of what happened to Rodney King. It's happened to a lot of Jews. Be proud of what you are--Korean, black, Hispanic. You should be able to be proud and be secure without worrying about other groups trying to annihilate you."