Hip-hop is all about youth movements. It’s a cliche, but it’s also true; to paraphrase one of the late greats, “Hip-hop is for the children.”
While 21-year-old Watts native LaRon Robinson may not technically still be a child, he is, however, leading one of the foremost underground youth movements in one of the biggest markets in hip-hop at the moment. Going by the pen name of Ron-Ron, the young beatmaker is both the vanguard and the anchor for a rowdy squadron of rebellious rap kids who call Los Angeles home. He brings a raucous, party-ready vibe to the G-funk-and-hyphy-influenced productions he crafts for rising talents like 03 Greedo, Drakeo The Ruler, Frostydasnowmann, Ralfy The Plug, and Shoreline Mafia, a style he calls “Traffic Music.” He is, in short, the new face of LA rap and it’s only a matter of time before he blows up.
Ron-Ron started out making beats after he got bored skateboarding. He worked out of a bedroom studio in his mom’s house with rappers who went to his high school. “I connected with Ralfy The Plug and that’s when my career started booming. I got connected with Drakeo The Ruler through Ralfy, his brother. I sent beats off to Drakeo, he did “Condone It” and “Willie Nelson,” then after he got out jail, that’s when I met him.” Ron-Ron says he met Greedo not long after that. “I met 03 through my manager Picasso. Me and 03 been on each other for about ten months now.” He says that the legal drama swirling around Drakeo and 03 is “messed up” because “they just now getting they shine. The situation they in right now is messing up they shine. But they gone be legends off what they do now.” He says that they have wildly different working styles, but while Greedo is the more prolific of the two, both make nothing but hits.
His work with fellow West Coaster Frostydasnowmann on “Milwaukee Bucks” brought him to the attention of up-and-coming rap collective Shoreline Mafia, who tapped him to create the majority of the beats on their ShorelineDoThatShit mixtape, including standout “Musty.” “They was looking for beats that sounded like mine, so they went to my Soundcloud and they found my beat mixtape,” Ron elaborates. “Two of the beats was ‘Musty’ and ‘Bottle Service.'” He says he didn’t expect the reaction to “Musty” — “After I posted it, it had a cool thousand or two, then it went crazy, doing 20,000 a day” — but takes the newfound attention in stride. His prominent placement at the head of this energetic snake has drawn attention from beyond LA’s sun-soaked shores in relatively short order. He’s signed to an artist deal through Atlantic and now, he’s the headlining act of a Red Bull Music sponsored showcase, Ron-Ron And Friends, that aims to expose his talents to a wider audience this weekend in his native LA. Red Bull has also tabbed the concert as a showcase of the Architects Of The New LA Sound, and there is perhaps no more appropriate descriptor for the boisterous, loosely-affiliated collective sharing the bill.
Watching Shoreline Mafia perform is a borderline overwhelming experience, with their small army of collaborators and friends occupying every available inch of stage space at their concerts. I managed to catch them at the Novo in Downtown LA recently and I was impressed at their ability to manage this barely-controlled chaos. I was also concerned; there were so many people onstage — including, for some reason, a toddler, who was passed from person-to-person as the show continued — I started to have a hard time determining just who was actually in the group. Yet, it didn’t matter which of the seemingly dozens of individuals crowding the Novo’s crammed pulpit, they all had bars to spare, along with a practiced, confident ease on the mic. They had already decided they were the greatest thing the audience had ever seen; their faith was simply reciprocated as the elated teens in attendance rocked, bounced, and moshed their way through a set that never seemed to dip below a breakneck, 90mph pace.
Meanwhile, 03 Greedo expertly controlled a packed house at legendary Hollywood venue The Roxy, according to longtime Los Angeles rap writer Jeff Weiss, who happened to be in attendance for one of the rapper’s last shows before he begins his incarceration for gun charges later this summer. The day after the performance, which found a rapt audience singing along jovially to every word, despite Greedo’s continued and inexplicable absence from radio or promoted playlists, Weiss said on Twitter, “Last night’s Greedo show was one of the most euphoric and heartbreaking communal celebrations I’ve ever seen. I can count on one hand the amount of LA rap shows where people knew every word to immediate classic anthems that never played once on the radio. The city is Greedo’s right now.”
It all comes back to Ron-Ron, whose infectious, uptempo beats call back to both the Hyphy movement and the jerkin’ sound that dominated California radio during his youth. Unlike the premiere artists of those movements, however, Ron-Ron’s contemporaries are focused more on showing off their rap skills and intimidating with a classic gangsta rap sensibility, even as they cavort and cajole each other onstage. His young age belies an expert’s ear at crafting engaging tunes and car speaker-rattling snare rolls. The closest analog might be DJ Mustard, who performed a similar trick with his own simple-but-catchy approach to faintly recognizable melodies. The difference is, Mustard practically owned LA radio for some time at the height of his career — and truth be told, to this day, with his 10 Summers artist Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” dominating airplay a whole year after its initial release. Ron-Ron is just getting started, which makes his self-assured sound all the more extraordinary.
“It’s basically a turnt-up, party sound mixed with a little bit of trap and a little club,” he says of his jittery, unique style. “Just stuff that you can listen to in your car and vibe out to or listen to in the club and turn up to.” He calls the upcoming showcase “crazy” and says “I don’t know what to think” of the show being centered around him, but is “real excited, because all the artists I work with — they big right now. They doing they thing and now it’s my time.” His plans for the next step include expanding his sound and opening a few businesses to keep the money coming in. “I started getting money, my whole life changed within a couple of months,” he says. “This feeling is amazing. It’s a good feeling. I want to be the next Dr. Dre, the next Metro Boomin, the next Zaytoven — all three put together.” The one thing those three names have in common? They’re three of the most in-demand, prominent producers making music today — and they have all been around for a long time.
Ron-Ron’s Ron-Ron & Friends mixtape featuring the artists on his June 15 Architects Of The New LA Sound show is available now.