"I New York" may have been a catch phrase a few years ago, but the words ring hollow to Russ Parr.
The popular Los Angeles-based rapper, comedian and morning air personality on KDAY-AM shuddered when he recalled the hostility he faced two years ago when performing in New York, the capital of rap.
Booked into the Roxy, a key hangout for the Big Apple's rappers, Parr had no idea that New Yorkers regarded rap--and the entire hip-hop subculture of beat-box rhythms, "scratching," graffiti art and street dancing--as their exclusive turf.
"I made the mistake of saying I was from L.A.," said the California-born Parr, 30, who performs under the name of Bobby Jimmy & the Critters. "To them, no one west of the Hudson River had the right to rap. In unison, they all turned their backs on me. It was like it was planned. . . . It was vicious."
New York is still the home for that swaggering, rhythmic and distinctly urban phenomenon called hip-hop. The most popular and critically acclaimed rap and deejay "crews"--Run-D.M.C., Whodini, L.L. Cool J, the Beastie Boys, the Fat Boys, Public Enemy, Full Force, Salt & Pepa, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Mantronix, U.T.F.O., et al.--were spawned on that city's streets. (See adjoining interview with Public Enemy.)
Still, other communities are starting to give New York a run for its Adidases in what is one of the fastest-growing areas of modern music.
Since the style break danced its way to the world stage in the late '70s, home-grown hip-hop has taken root in Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Seattle, Houston, Britain and Australia. Yet one of the most active, if still underexposed, scenes is right here in the Big Orange.
Though saddled with an inferiority complex and a rep for producing only slick and safe R&B, Los Angeles is, in fact, clearly New York's closest rival.
In five years, Macola Records, an independent label, has mushroomed from a back room to a half-block of office and warehouse space on Santa Monica Boulevard, thanks to best sellers from such local artists as the L.A. Dream Team and Berkeley's Timex Social Club, both of which went on to major crossover success.
Streetsounds, a British label, recently released a 23-track compilation of Macola material for the European market called "The Best of West Coast Hip-Hop." A junket for European writers is being planned to introduce them to Macola artists in person.
Last year, when L.L. Cool J sought producers for his latest album, the double-platinum "Bigger and Deffer," he turned his B-boy gaze westward to the L.A. Posse, a.k.a. Darryl Pierce, Dwayne Simon and Bobby Erving.
Simultaneously, New York-based Sire Records--best-known for rock/pop stars like Madonna, Depeche Mode and Talking Heads--signed its first rap act, Los Angeles' Ice-T. His debut LP, "Rhyme Pays," has sold more than 300,000 copies, according to a Sire representative.
There are even some suggestions around town that Ice-T, 27, and his half-Bolivian manager, Jorge Hinojosa, 24, are the City of the Angels' answer to Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, the young, interracial entrepreneurial masterminds of New York's Def Jam hip-hop empire (Run-D.M.C., the Beasties, Public Enemy, etc.).
The West Coast pair has formed a production team, Rhyme Syndicate, and is the driving force behind a Warner Bros. compilation album of the same name featuring mostly Angeleno rap acts. They are negotiating for a production deal whereby new acts they find would get major label distribution.
Meanwhile, the L.A. Dream Team, signed to MCA Records, has formed a new organization, West Coast Distribution, to handle a network of small, local labels.
And in the competitive world of rhyming and beat-boxes, where braggadocio is elevated to high art, Los Angeles can boast something that New York can't: KDAY, a 24-hour radio station devoted mostly to hip-hop.
The scene isn't restricted to a handful of enthusiasts. Newcomers such as Eazy-E, NWA, King Tee, the Mixmasters and Tone Loc (short for Tony Loco) are making noise in the hip-hop and dance club underground.
A few rooms, such as La Casa downtown, Skateland in South-Central Los Angeles and World on Wheels in Compton, offer live exposure and can hold up to 2,000 fans. Even New York's Village Voice newspaper, which usually trumpets only its own scene, took note of all the Southern California activity.
Nelson George, the New York-based black-music editor of Billboard magazine, acknowledges the growth of L.A. hip-hop. "In the early 1980s, New Yorkers considered Los Angeles 'too soft' to be a factor in hip-hop," he wrote. "But the tone and, as a result, the image of that city's street culture have changed profoundly."
"Nineteen eighty-eight will prove to be a turning point," said Greg Mack, the 28-year-old KDAY music director who has guided the station from the R&B mainstream to the hip-hop cutting edge. As if to back up his faith in the music form, he's started his own label (Mack Daddy Records) and opened a record store, the Rage.