After years of hustle, Blxst is leading the new wave of L.A. hip-hop
On a suffocating afternoon in early September, the cavernous Hollywood Palladium was unnaturally empty.
Inside, the South-Central hip-hop artist Blxst (pronounced “Blast”) ran through a soundcheck before his second sold-out show at the 4,000 capacity venue. Midway through, he and his band rehearsed their rendition of “Die Hard,” the Kendrick Lamar song on which Blxst begs for another chance despite missing each one prior. Live instruments illuminated the track’s layered melodies, the emotion swelling each time they reached a section’s apex. But Blxst wasn’t satisfied.
He and a stage manager huddled with the violin-toting Grandmaster Vic, instructing him to “go crazy right there” in the absence of Lamar. They ran the song back and Vic unleashed a riveting solo, racing across octaves and punctuating it with well-timed ricochet bowing.
The song ended, and Blxst subtly nodded his approval.
Later that night, his reactions weren’t as reserved. As he strolled onto the stage to sing “Gang Slide,” which served as the theme song for Issa Rae’s “Sweet Life” reality show about aspiring Black L.A. creatives, phone lights from the crowd bounced off his gleaming teeth, the smile betraying his joy at returning home after trekking across the country. He was just as happy to welcome onstage a parade of L.A. heavyweights who surprised the crowd by performing their collaborations (and their own biggest hits): Ty Dolla Sign, YG, Tyga, Kalan.Frfr, Bino Rideaux and Dom Kennedy.
“It’s your time, Blxst,” YG exclaimed.
For at least the last year, the soundtrack to Los Angeles has run through Blxst. He’s done it by taming the city’s bounce to fit his own laid-back groove, highlighted by the muted synths and punchy drums that have become synonymous with his sound.
You can hear his music booming from car speakers across the city. He’s been the connective tissue throughout L.A.’s multifaceted landscape — working with global superstars such as Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, but also artists with a strong local foothold like Rucci, 1TakeJay and Kalan.Frfr.
But Blxst, 30, is well aware that his hometown is only one piece of the puzzle. His tour has taken the new sound of L.A. across the map, and he’ll soon take it overseas for the tour’s international leg.
“The first time I went to London, the love was so real, it makes you want to move to these cities,” he said backstage at the Palladium. “But L.A. shaped me to who I am. I could never turn my back on the city.”
Compton’s Lamar performed with a ventriloquist dummy and showed off smooth dance moves in the service of songs that inspire and sometimes challenge his fans.
Blxst, real name Matthew Burdette, was born in South-Central L.A., the youngest child alongside three sisters. His grandparents were strict Jehovah’s Witnesses and with his parents kept a tight leash on the household.
His time in Los Angeles came with “ups and downs,” but that was cut short when his parents separated and he moved to the Inland Empire. Out there, life moved at a slower pace and he became a self-proclaimed nerd on everything music.
“I used to go on YouTube and look at all kinds of s—,” Blxst said. “I would type in ‘Kanye West in the studio, Jay-Z in the studio.’ Just trying to see how they were coming up with their ideas.”
Blxst’s mother educated him on neo-soul pioneers, while the rap came from a sister and uncle (who were in a group together). Once Blxst decided he too wanted to rap, his uncle gave him guidance, introducing him to the studio and telling him to look up a new word in the dictionary each day to improve his vocabulary.
He began producing using a trial version of Fruity Loops (now known as FL Studio). The dream started to feel real once he scored a placement on Hitta J3’s “Do Yo Gudda” in 2013, a local hit that earned a remix with Kendrick Lamar, YG and Problem. The skeletal, ratchet bounce was a distant cousin of Blxst’s eventual brand, but the song stayed in rotation at parties across the city, giving him faith that he could turn the passion into a career.
“That was all I needed,” he said. “It lit a fire.”
Blxst’s true identity as an artist came into focus in 2017, when he fell in love with the Rhodes keyboard and added chords to his production. He produced Kalan.Frfr’s breakout hit “Right Wit It” (which also got a YG remix), and in 2019 his own star shot up when he released “Hurt,” foreshadowing the vulnerability he’d soon pour into his future releases.
Love and betrayal would inspire much of his 2020 EP “No Love Lost,” his formal introduction as a solo artist. The deluxe version of the EP followed, including “Chosen,” featuring Tyga and Ty Dolla Sign, which peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became his first platinum song.
“I’d never really made a party-type record,” he said. “Usually my songs are conversational, talking to a specific woman. This one felt more free.”
By 2021, the movement had grown bigger than Los Angeles. Artists outside of the city had taken notice, and he appeared on songs with Rick Ross, Nas and even Dame D.O.L.L.A., a.k.a. N.B.A. superstar Damian Lillard.
Blxst’s sound further expanded in April with his debut album “Before You Go,” where he relished in his newfound success while toying with brighter sounds and fuller instrumentation.
But Blxst’s biggest moment of the year arrived soon after, when he appeared on the fourth song of Kendrick Lamar’s feverishly anticipated album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.”
Several months before, Blxst had received a text from an unknown number claiming to be Lamar’s manager Anthony Saleh, and almost let it go unanswered.
“I hit up my attorney and asked ‘you know Anthony Saleh?’” Blxst recalled with a laugh. “He was like ‘yeah he’s official, tap in with him.’ So I hit him back and he told me Kendrick was going to call me in five minutes. [Kendrick] FaceTimed me, and as soon as I heard him say ‘What’s the deal,’ I was like that’s for sure Kendrick.”
“I was in Miami, listening on an iPhone because I didn’t have any speakers,” he added of hearing the final song for the first time when it released. “I was tripping, bro. Hearing your voice next to a legend is crazy. You grow up listening to these artists and they find the respect for you. What more could you ask for?”
Blxst has done it all while pushing Evgle, the company he owns alongside Victor Burnett and Karl Fowlkes that houses a record label, clothing brand and investment arm. The company’s name is a nod to the bird that soars alone, speaking to the company’s do-it-all mentality.
“The eagle is the highest-flying bird that doesn’t fly in flocks,” Blxst said. “I look at that as confidence.”
Burnett had long made his name in Los Angeles as a party promoter, tracking all the way back to his days as a teenager. In 2017, he’d just finished designing merchandise for the Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me” and was at a production facility in Culver City with the film’s lead actor who’d invited Blxst over for a studio session.
The two built a rapport and Burnett gave Blxst free studio time in exchange for beats and graphic design, which he distributed to other artists and used for his own brand, respectively. As the partnership solidified, the team prioritized vertical integration, keeping the various facets of the creative process in house as much as possible.
When it came time to sign a deal in 2020, they spurned the major labels to partner with Red Bull Records, an independent label that aligned with their strategy.
Blxst credits Burnett and Fowlkes for helping him see how he could expand beyond just being an artist.
“Traditionally artists aren’t super vocal in the first half of their career,” Burnett said. “You’d see a lot of people start to invest a little bit later, and try to get a foothold in the music department. We decided to attack both at the same time, because we understood that our cause mattered.”
Family is also central to Blxst’s vision. Balancing his responsibilities to his partner and their 4-year-old son was the hardest part of his being away on tour.
“It’s helped me become more present,” he said. “Making sure the time I spend with him is actually intentional, not just physically being there but mentally too. It’s so important. Those genuine connections will actually shape his future.”
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