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Once upon a time, the phrase “Compton rapper” evoked a very different image than the one it might conjure today. Before the very concept of a denizen of the Hub City was revamped to include examples of Black excellence and crunchy granola woke rap, the above-mentioned term suggested an air of menace, as well as urgency. After all, “Straight Outta Compton” wasn’t just a declaration of hometown pride, it was a call to action.
Now that the city has spawned such eclectic artistic standouts as Kendrick Lamar, Buddy, and Westside Boogie, one might think that Compton is no longer producing acts in the vein of NWA, MC Eiht, or more recently, YG. However, there’s a burgeoning underground in the city, producing rappers who are far less mainstream-friendly, but every bit as vital as their gangbanging predecessors. The one you need to know is Compton Av.
Named for the street he grew up on, Av quietly but assuredly built a decade-long career on independent releases such as Thugged Out, Tru 2 The Streets, and All In, becoming something of a local celebrity and a fixture of Compton’s indie rap scene. But with his latest release, the 10-track Net 30, he stakes a claim on the wider world of hip-hop, proving that despite his veteran status, he’s just getting started.
From its opening track, Compton Av lets listeners know what kind of time he’s on. Yes, he’s gangsta as hell, but he’s a businessman, as well, here to teach the finer points of making the transition from the streets to the boardroom. There’s a knowing wit to his rhymes, which find him smirking his way through casually delivered daggers and the sort of raunchy comedy of peers like 1TakeJay and AzChike, but he also drops the occasional gem like a thunderbolt from Zeus himself.
“I done seen record deals and said I wouldn’t take it / And took care of hoe n****s who said I wouldn’t make it,” he says in the self-titled intro. Later, in the interlude “Fucc The Opps,” Av sums up the mindset that drives the reckless lifestyle he touts: “N****s give they life to the set until they lose it / Had a chance to go to the league, the n**** blew it… How you supposed to feel when you grew up in the slums / When they asking ‘where you from,’ you better get yourself a gun.”
While much of the album is given over to turn-up anthems like “Secret,” “Tear It Up,” and “Jumpin,” he also offers upliftment on “I Did It (Winnin),” which calls to mind Jay Rock’s 2018 hit “Win.” “We made it from nothin’, look at God,” he boasts over a triumphant horn loop. And on “Slid’N” featuring West Coast rap godfather Snoop Dogg, he gets off some sinister one-liners, demonstrating both his gangsta bonafides and an unexpectedly creative way with words.
This isn’t game-changing stuff, but it is perhaps more representative of where the average Compton citizen is at than the brainy, jazz-infused raps from some of Av’s more celebrated compatriots. As important as it is to magnify the “high art,” it’s equally necessary to highlight the stuff that will soundtrack the late-night house parties, summertime cookouts, and midnight gang slides that are also a part of the city’s vibrant, rich history. Black folks shouldn’t always have to be excellent to be considered worthwhile and some stories are best told in the blunt language of the culture that created them.
Net 30 is out now via Cook Gods/Rich Off Rap/Empire. Get it here.