How NWA, Tupac, And Kendrick Lamar Made The Compton Swap Meet A West Coast Rap Historical Landmark

05.30.17 4 months ago 3 Comments

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If I were to ask you to name a rock and roll historical landmark, chances are that you would have absolutely no problem answering that question. After all, there are plenty to choose from. You could go with the street crossing in front of London’s Abbey Road studios, made famous by the cover of The Beatles’ 1969 record, Abbey Road. Or you could go stateside and roll with Graceland, the compound in Memphis, Tennessee that Elvis Presley built with the money made ripping off black artists; or the dairy farm in upstate New York that held the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969, a music festival that defined a generation thanks to performances by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and The Band.

But if I were to ask you to do the same for hip hop, would you be able to?

That was a rhetorical question. For whatever reason — cough, racism — we don’t give the same geographical consideration to rap as we do to other genres (country has the Grand Ole Opry; Tejano has the Day’s Inn motel room in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Selena was fatally shot). It’s kind of bonkers if you think about it. Not only has hip hop dominated our culture for the last three decades, but its subgenres, which are very much shaped by their geography, lend themselves to this type of commemoration.

So, in an effort to right this wrong, I’d like to submit one specific hip hop landmark for your consideration: The Compton swap meet in Compton, California.

Officially known as the Compton Fashion Center, the swap meet was a former Sears store that was converted into an indoor flea market by a Korean immigrant in 1983. It was a public space where hundreds of vendors — mostly people of color — made a living selling an assortment of goods until its closure in 2015. But the swap meet was more than that. It was also a hotbed for west coast rap, one with ties to three artists that defined the genre for their respective eras: NWA, Tupac, and Kendrick Lamar. In the spirit of honoring this landmark as it properly deserves, here’s a breakdown of why exactly the Compton Fashion Center is so important, its connection to the aforementioned artists, and why its loss should be, and is, deeply felt.