A mixed-race rapper and visual artist makes his mark in Leimert Park

In early October, the Los Angeles Subway finally introduced the polarizing Crenshaw/LAX line, bringing communities from Leimert Park to Westchester onto the city’s transit system, while fueling fears of gentrification and new development in these parts of the city.

Metro stepped onto the new line with a celebration at Leimert Park Plaza, where a curly-haired rapper named Rhys Langston took the stage for rap songs from his own eclectic catalog. Although Metro selected the 29-year-old Langston as a solo artist, it turned it into a group affair that featured the Leimert Park hip-hop scene and featured rapper VerBS, host of the long-running hip-hop show Bananas, host All City Jimmy. and invited along with the presenters. Alpha Tha Alien.

“[I had stopped] Langston hoped to be involved in many official matters at Leimert Park, and I decided to embrace the community and represent it to the best of my ability,” Langston said. Especially the fact that I curate a bit.

“I’m interested in seeing what happens. [the Metro line] it will really work because the field changes even without opening,” he added. “But since I live nearby, it would do me good. It’s a new era for Los Angeles… I don’t know what it will bring.”

About a mile from Langston’s stage, his home functions as a multidisciplinary arts dojo. Half-finished oil paintings greet you as soon as you walk through the back door, and if you turn the corner of his home studio, you’ll find an array of instruments scattered throughout the room, hiding original, mixed-media booklets. neatly tucked into a corner.

The house is exactly what you’d expect when perusing Langston’s discography. Despite rapping under his birth name, nicknames like “Jesus of Los Feliz” are much more noticeable, perhaps only precluding long song titles like “h—on my d-” because Hz. I look like a drawing of Mohammed. ”

Above intense production, he raps with a sardonic sense of humor and competes with the punk rock momentum on every line. Even if it takes a dozen listens to parse a single track, you’d be forgiven.

On her latest album, Grapefruit Radio, she achieves more by doing less, instead delegating production duties to focus solely on the lyrics. The “Afro-Eccentric Character Creation Screen” features a note calling out to legendary Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid and is eerily juxtaposed with a specific reference to Tayshaun Prince, a basketball player at Dominguez High School in Compton, who eventually won an NBA championship. won. Detroit Pistons.

But the album itself was only the gateway to Langston’s world. The project was accompanied by an 85-page “User’s Manual” containing full-color illustrations of him, lyrics disguised as “diagnostic pages”, and historical information on the origins of “Radio Grapefruit” in “The Domain of Langstónia”.

“There’s a famous quote about Clement Greenberg that says, ‘All original art looks ugly at first,'” said Jeff Weiss, a Los Angeles-based music reporter who signed Langston to his own label, Passion of the Weiss Recordings. “Rhys’ art may not look ugly – I think it has a beauty – but it may seem unorthodox to people who don’t know any better. But when all is said and done, I think people will understand his intent and the broader idea of ​​what he’s doing.”

Langston’s latest album, Grapefruit Radio, was released on September 14.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Langston spent his teenage years in Silver Lake but also lived with his mother in Hollywood, West LA and eventually Leimert Park after his parents separated. His parents, both of whom had established acting careers, instilled in their children a love of all art forms and enlisted Langston in everything from ballet to art classes to the middle school orchestra.

Perhaps best of all, her parents enriched her vocabulary early on, haphazardly dropping unfamiliar words while talking to her throughout the house, prompting her to seek definitions. But he owes much of his fascination with words to video games, particularly text-laden, story-driven role-playing games from the late 2000s.

“I would have noticed these pompous, luxurious words going to be there,” he said. “It allowed me to discover words and gave me an early fascination. But part of that was that I wanted to look smart for a long time.

Discovering her own identity was an ever-evolving journey that spanned much of her adolescence. The son of a Black mother and Jewish father, this self-awareness didn’t fully crystallize until high school, when he was hired to play basketball at Pacific Hills School, a wealthier private school that closed in 2018.

“Sometimes I had to accept the absurdity of most of them at once,” he said. “Experiencing Black contrast sometimes not as a Black-and-white duo, but from people with the same skin tone as me, or people who are not Black but darker than Black people I know. He gave me a lens through which I could look at things from afar.”

A man raps among the trees with a microphone he holds to his face.

“I had to accept the absurdity of so much of it,” Langston said, who had experienced anti-Blackness as a Black and Jewish teenager.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

This concept brought together much of his music – most obviously in his 2017 album “Aggressive Ethnicity Ambigious” but also in his dry comedy lyrics like when he called himself “Bagels, capers balanced, black identity trapeze artist”. “The Obscene Poetic” from “Grapefruit Radio”. In the past, Langston admits he has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to his struggle to build a fan base as a local, indie rapper. But these days, he says, the validation comes from being understood by his musical peers and from listeners who have already touched the artists who “crazy the format.”

But he also has a desire to go beyond people who are already tuned to his wavelength.

“I also have a lofty ambition to redefine what we consider accessible,” he said. “In many genres, lyrics don’t have to be meaningful. You don’t have to buy every single lyric. But with rap, people immediately discount what they couldn’t get at first.”

“Obviously rap serves a different kind of purpose,” Langston added. “But I think there’s a bit of hostility in rap music to not saying everything at once. It’s a slippery slope, but I want to be part of the conversation.”

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