Shoreline Mafia is leading L.A.’s unruly rap renaissance
After signing a major label deal, the West Coast group is looking to bring their boisterous brand of rap to the rest of the country.
Photographer Ben Taylor
Shoreline Mafia is leading L.A.’s unruly rap renaissance

Ohgeesy can’t shake hands with anybody: No daps, no high-fives. The outside of his right hand is freshly inked with the “100” from a $100 bill, surrounded by some of those ornate flourishes the U.S. Treasury loves. It looks fresh –– which is to say it looks painful. Despite that, the lanky Los Angeles native is in good spirits: just 24 hours earlier, Atlantic Records officially announced that it had signed Ohgeesy’s group, Shoreline Mafia, to a major-label record deal. Today, the crew is hosting a one-day-only pop-up shop to sell merch, sign autographs, and pose in an interminable stream of Snapchat stories. The venue is a small building in a barren industrial block on the East bank of the L.A. River; the glut of fans, most of them young and all of them exuberant, makes it nearly impossible to move.

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While his groupmates — Fenix, Rob Vicious, and Master Kato — sign everything from merch to Styrofoam to flesh, Ohgeesy notes that his hand at least felt good enough to do the tagging that covers virtually every wall in the space. It was through graffiti, rather than rap, that the bones of Shoreline were grafted into place: Ohgeesy and Fenix, the charter members, met while tagging around East Hollywood, where they were both attending high school. “We was just going stupid,” Ohgeesy says of those years. “I was tagging, skating. I was into crazy-ass shit –– it was fun. Now, I’m not doing nothing unless I get actually paid for it.”

Shoreline Mafia is leading L.A.’s unruly rap renaissance

In the past half-year or so, Shoreline has emerged as one of the city’s most magnetic acts, a young, diverse addition to L.A.’s most significant stylistic movement since the jerkin craze. Their mixtape, last fall’s ShorelineDoThatShit, is a crisp, minimal introduction. It’s helmed largely by Ron-Ron, the Watts-bred producer who’s been at the forefront of this paranoiac new wave. The group’s collaboration with the producer initially began with a bit of theft. Ron-Ron and his management team discovered Shoreline Mafia when they found the group’s single, “Musty,” which made unauthorized use of one of Ron-Ron’s beats. (Shoreline had also swiped the beat for “Bottle Service,” which would go on to become another local hit.) After playing FaceTime tag and coming to a short stalemate, they not only brokered a peace but developed a remarkable chemistry.

“Musty” only features Ohgeesy and Fenix, but works well as a microcosm of the group’s sound. Each rapper burrows deep into the pockets Ron-Ron creates. Their deliveries are tightly wound; they start from a baseline of monotone and spiral out from there, adding wit and verve and sneers where necessary. When Rob and Kato do join the proceedings, they add punch and grit: the former is fluent in many of today’s contemporary flows, and offers something like an L.A. spin on the deliveries that are crowding national rap radio, and — while Ohgeesy is the group’s early breakout star — the Chicago-born Kato, plaintive and fluid on record might be its most interesting vocalist.

Threaded through the tape are clips from a Fox 11 “expose” on the dangers posed by lean in and around L.A. The group, of course, refused to cooperate with the piece, and spliced up portions of the news report to open and close songs, and even to act as a kind of Reaganesque narration. It made for the sort of instant mythmaking that no marketing department could hope to coordinate on its own. But with the help of their managers and a serious push from a major label, Shoreline is positioned to break out as the banner act from L.A.’s new rap renaissance, a youth-led movement that aims to unite the city’s disparate component parts.

“I like writing music about my life, but I’m not focused on going solo. This is my family.” — Rob Vicious

“I met Eazy-E when I was 13.” This is Tracy Kimbro, whom everyone in L.A. knows as “TK.” TK and Picaso (born Jeremiah Aubert) are business partners in R. Baron, a sort of all-purpose management, marketing, and creative direction firm that has a near-stranglehold on the city’s most exciting talent. The pair splits management duties with Shoreline, with Picaso taking a more hands-on role on the creative side of things while TK concerns himself mainly with the business end. Right now, TK’s talking about his childhood, in Nashville.

The sighting came at a skating rink. “This ain’t the Straight Outta Compton Eazy,” TK clarifies. “This is N.W.A. and the Posse Eazy. This is when "Boyz-n-the-Hood" came out, when he had the Jheri curl with the L.A. hat and the goddamn jewelry. The nigga had like a glow, homie, I can’t make this shit up. I saw that glow. It changed my life.” TK is 40-something and skeptical; when young men half his age stop by to say what’s up and brag about the new chains they hope to buy, he counsels them to wait until he can get them quotes from multiple jewelers. But when he talks about those early N.W.A. days, he acknowledges just how powerful the sales pitch was: “Eazy sold me a new California. If the average white person wanted to come out here and surfboard or skateboard––that was the ‘60s image––Eazy changed it. I wanted a low-low. We didn’t have lowriders [in Nashville]. I wanted a lowrider!”

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Nothing today will reframe L.A. rap in the national mind the way “Straight Outta Compton” or The Chronic did decades ago, but the artists TK and Picaso work with are leading a remarkable new push. Drakeo The Ruler’s Cold Devil, released at the tail end of last year, is one of the most singularly inventive rap records in many years. And 03 Greedo, the brilliant Watts synthesist, has warped and bent many of the aughts’ and 2010s’ most interesting musical threads into his own orbit.

But Greedo was recently sentenced to 20 years on drug and gun charges, while Drakeo, and many of his Stinc Team compatriots, are currently locked up in L.A. County Jail, awaiting trial on charges including first-degree attempted murder and multiple counts of conspiracy to commit murder, for which they maintain their innocence. “Coming from the environments that we come from, from Los Angeles, we are walking around with targets on our back,” Picaso will later tell me. While all the variables seem to be lining up to give L.A.'s rising young artists a shot at stardom, there are lingering fears: “I know for a fact they’ve been targeted.”

Shoreline Mafia is leading L.A.’s unruly rap renaissance


Shoreline’s trajectory, for the moment, is less complicated. While the managers are both energetic and clearly invested in the group, they quickly defer to the young rappers when it comes to big decisions: each one offers, unprompted, that the Atlantic deal was Ohgeesy’s brainchild. And the group’s rabid fan base –– both Picaso and TK cite how young the crowd at the pop-up shop skews, and how racially diverse it is –– is not engineered, but rather seems to be the product of a grassroots authenticity.

“A lot of niggas be sugarcoating, saying shit, talking about shit in rhymes they don’t even do, they don’t even live,” says Master Kato, who is as outgoing and upbeat in person as he can be grim and focused on record. “We don’t even cap. Everything we talk about, all that shit is real. The background noise in the song––that shit real.” Both he and Rob Vicious (Rob met Fenix after the latter changed high schools, and Kato was introduced to Ohgeesy at Rock the Bells) seem confident in the group’s ability to stay together despite the strictures of new, sudden fame. Says Rob: “I like writing music about my life, but I’m not focused on going solo. This is my family. I fuck with these niggas. I love these niggas.”

To watch the four of them together is to see four young men, all in their early 20s, already steeling themselves for a long road ahead. They sign autographs and distribute merch with care and focus––they’re still loose, and they’re still having fun, but they very obviously understand that this is a job. Before the summer is over, they’ll be touring overseas and, undoubtedly, have their image beamed into countless phones and computer screens around the world, all while trying to put on for a Los Angeles that’s constantly growing and deteriorating at equal rates and in equal measure. TK notes that Ohgeesy, already one of the city’s most visible Latino rappers, is emblematic of Shoreline’s new status as a convergent point for different parts of L.A.’s hip-hop cultures. “You see the graffiti culture,” he says. “You see black, white, you see Asian, you see Latino.” He looks out one more time over the crowd. “This is L.A.”

Shoreline Mafia is leading L.A.’s unruly rap renaissance
Shoreline Mafia is leading L.A.’s unruly rap renaissance