You can learn a lot about a place by the ways in which it’s treated in song. With Compton in general and Rosecrans Avenue in particular, the lyrical lessons mostly involve themes foreign to those unfamiliar with the terrain.
Below, five crucial songs that have helped define West Coast rap’s boulevard of dreams.
Jimmy Webb, “Rosecrans Boulevard” (1967). It’s not a boulevard, it’s an avenue, but other than that, famed songwriter Webb accurately conveys what one stretch of Rosecrans might have been like in the mid-1960s.
First recorded by the Fifth Dimension, the song traces a narrative that begins as the narrator drives south on “that long freeway toward San Diego,” presumably Interstate 5. His memory of a woman he calls “Rosecrans Boulevard” is stirred by an exit sign. “One night on Manhattan Beach I said things that moved too fast to suit her,” he sings. “Then I held her close and dried her tears.”
Bloods & Crips, “Piru Love” (1993). In the wake of N.W.A’s success in the late 1980s, a mixed posse of rival gang members united under one banner to issue a pair of albums. The anthem in the bunch was “Piru Love,” a rapped recitation that listed the many gang chapters occupying South Los Angeles at the time.
Scored by a crawling G-funk beat and robotic Vocoder accompaniment, the track celebrates all things Compton — and offers a history of gangland L.A. in the process. Across dozens of couplets, the group plays tour guide: “On Rosecrans pass Oleander at the light / Tree Top is to the left, Fruit Town is on the right,” Bloody Mary raps.
YG, “Bompton” (2014). “Bompton” is ascendant rapper YG’s tag-team effort with DJ Mustard. The 2014 track sees YG buying guns at Tam’s Burgers, insulting an enemy’s mom for “looking like she do crystal,” buying helicopters and avoiding (ahem) press interviews “ ’cause criminals don’t like talking.”
That’s probably just as well, because in another track, “Gangbang,” he admits to being a conspicuous presence “walking down Rosecrans looking like I stole something.”
Dr. Dre feat. The Game, “Just Another Day” (2015). Anyone who follows music culture knows the connection between self-made billionaire Dr. Dre and Compton — he even titled his most recent album “Compton.” An ode to his birth city, the album features a host of guests.
Among them is The Game, who, until the rise of Kendrick Lamar, was Compton’s most successful non-N.W.A rapper.
A prolific lyricist, The Game has name-dropped Compton across his career, and in “Just Another Day,” he recalls the times he’s “been shot, robbed, stabbed, chased home, socked out” there. By the end, he’s waiting by his Cadillac, ready for whatever comes his way, “on Rosecrans with a Glock in both hands.”
Problem & DJ Quik feat. The Game, “Rosecrans” (2017). A track that unites three key Compton rappers, the title song from Problem and DJ Quik’s album-length ode to Rosecrans is set on the avenue itself. As sung by Candice Boyd, the refrain sees the artists cruising with the windows up, smoking weed and tipping from a bottle.
“ ’Cause we’re riding on Rosecrans,” Boyd sings. “‘I’m high, like when I’m rolling on a bridge/ … You know what it is/When I’m riding down Rosecrans.”