Legislators pay tribute to West Coast hip hop legends

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By Antonio Ray Harvey

Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO — The California Legislative Black Caucus and the Recording Industry Association of America celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip hop on Aug. 14, with a tribute to the West Coast pioneers, leaders and innovators who shaped the genre.

The Bring the Peace Movement organized the rally and ceremony where speakers paid homage to the honorees.

Juwana Sperling, co-founder of Rialto/Los Angeles-based all-female hip hop group JJ FAD, told California Black Media that the love received from state lawmakers — which included standing ovations on both the Senate and Assembly floors -— was a long time in the making, but well worth the wait.

“It was amazing,” said Sperling, who goes by the stage name MC JB.  “It was an honor to be there to represent the West Coast and represent my group. 

“When I first heard about it my thoughts were, ‘finally’ because the West Coast seems to be left out of things that are going on right now. So, the fact that our [lawmakers] were honoring us, we didn’t have to rely on other geographical areas. I was truly happy. We’re finally getting recognized.”

The rap songs Sperling, “Baby D” (Dania Birks) and “Sassy C” (Michelle Ferrens) performed were produced by world-renowned hip hop mogul Dr. Dre (Andre Young), and Arabian Prince (Kim Renard Nazel). The group was signed to Ruthless Records.

JJ FAD (an acronym created with the names of the original group members in 1985: Juana, Juanita, Fatima, Anna and Dana) reached the top of the charts with their signature song, “Supersonic” in 1988.

The program, organized by Jamilia Land of the Bring the Peace Movement, featured a voter registration drive and entertainment and was attended by California Legislative Black Caucus chair Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson, D-Suisun City, Vice Chair and Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and other officers and members.

“At the time of its founding, hip hop was met with vitriol from politicians,” Wilson said on the Assembly floor. “However, today a host of politicians, community organizations and leaders convene to honor the pioneers and architects of the hip hop movement.” 

Sperling was joined at the State Capitol by West Coast hip hop artists and music producers King Tee (Roger McBride), Kid Frost (Arturo R. Molina Jr.), Arabian Prince Mistah F.A.B.(Stanley Cox), Micheal Latt, Karega Bailey, Tenish Hollins, Greg Mack, Violet Brown, Russell Thomas, Casual from the Hieroglyphics (Jon Owens), Disco Daddy (Michael Khalfani), filmmaker Deon Taylor and Alonzo “Lonzo” Williams.

Mickelle “Hayón” Hellon, Leiah Steinberg, who was Tupac’s manager; the Magical Rock Band and retired legislative aid Rory Kaufman were also recognized for helping to organize the event.

Known to the West Coast hip hop community as “Grand Master Lonzo,” Williams is the innovator behind the legendary R&B/Rap group World Class Wreckin Cru, that found major success with the 1987 hit “Turn Off the Lights.”

“When I called my partner and Senator Sen. Bradford, and told him we need to do something for hip hop on the West Coast I had no idea that it would end up on the Assembly and Senate floors,” Williams told California Black Media. “My initial plan was to do something in Compton, get all the homies and OGs together and show some love. But here we are today, and it was a great event.”

Bradford and Williams “go way back” in the music scene of Gardena, Compton and Los Angeles. They used to promote singing groups, bands and hip-hop dancing cliques. The artists received a warm welcome from lawmakers in both chambers; thanks to Bradford, Wilson and state Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, D- Los Angeles.

“Steve understood what we did back in L.A. back in the day because he was a part of it but only on another level,” Williams said. “Steve was a dance promoter before he became a Compton city councilman, Assembly member and senator. He was my competition. It just made for a great situation.”

Williams is credited with launching the careers of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson), D.J. Yella (Antoine Carraby) and Eazy E. (Eric Wright), formerly known as NWA. The group is credited with ushering in a form of hip-hop music that was coined gangster rap.

The gangster rap genre propelled the careers of Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus Jr.), Nate Dogg (Nathaniel Hale), DJ Quick (David Marvin Blake), Above the Law, Warren G (Warren Griffin III), Lady of Rage (Robin Yvette Allen), Yo-Yo (Yolanda Whitaker), E-40’s (Earl Stevens) little sister Suga-T (Tenina Stevens), among others.

The elements of hip hop culture first emerged in the 1970s in Morris Heights, a neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City. Hip-hop consists of four elements: “deejaying,” or “turntabling,” “MCing” or “rhyming,” graffiti painting and the hip-hop dance, style and attitude of “B-boying.”

The West Coast artists extracted the characteristics and stylings from East Coast hip hop but were able to create their own musical flavor with stories, references and imagery that reflected street life and living in urban centers, mostly in California.

Gangster rap and the “G-funk era” dominated the hip-hop scene in the late 1980s and all through the 1990s from the Los Angeles region to Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area by standouts like Too $hort (Todd Anthony Shaw).

Joel Flatow, senior vice president of artist and industry relations, and chief of West Coast operations for the Recording Industry Association of America, said the accolades bestowed on the artists in Sacramento are a tribute to the innovation and foresight they brought to the culture.

“We just have a tremendous wealth of talent in this state,” Flatow added.

The Recording Industry Association of America is a trade organization that supports and protects the rights of artists and music labels in this country.

Adding to the cultural weight to the celebration, Land and other community activists issued a proclamation, offered samplings of poetry, gave shoutouts to hip-hop history and appealed to the audience to become politically engaged champions of peace.

“This is a time of celebration and reflection,” said Land, who is also the co-founder of the Anti-Violence, Safety, and Accountability Project. “We acknowledge the monumental achievements of West Coast artists and also reflect on the effect of unresolved trauma and violence in the culture.”

Antonio Ray Harvey is a writer for California Black Media.

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