Anthony Rivera, a round-faced teen-ager who looks a little like Ritchie Valens but goes by "Click," frequently hears gunshots at night in his neighborhood. Overhead, the police helicopters "don't stop flying."
But instead of hanging out on the streets after dark, Tony would "go to the kitchen and start writing," said his father, ex-jockey Danny Rivera.
It all paid off Saturday, when the younger Rivera recited his hopes for troubled neighborhoods in staccato poetry to win the Rap for Peace competition at the Olympic Velodrome in at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
"It's time for peace. Too many people are getting killed for nothing," he said, clutching a trophy that he shared with his turntable accompanist, "Mixterious Kid" Tony Alicia. The two rappers also will receive six hours of recording time at the Paramount recording studios.
The competitors were cheered by a crowd of about 200, who didn't seem to mind that the sound system worked so poorly at first that the rhythm accompaniment was difficult to hear.
The Rap for Peace was a response by community activists to a particularly bloody month of gang activity in January. The idea was to encourage gang members and others to use their energy in creative ways, by writing and performing songs about peace in the streets.
Why Rap? "You don't need a band, you don't need a guitar. Rap is really basic neighborhood music," said Steve Valdivia, executive director of Community Youth Gang Services Project, which co-sponsored the competition with the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce.
Nearly 750 high schools, junior high schools and housing projects were encouraged to participate, and they contributed 60 teams. Preliminary competition narrowed that to 12 finalists Saturday, including the Make No Mistakes Cru, Kaos Cru, Def City Girls, Rock Candy and Yogie, and Idol King.
Jordan High School was heavily represented, with at least four of the final groups, all loosely affiliated under an umbrella organization called "Hip Hop Productions."
"We've got a lot of friends that are dead behind gangs and drugs," said Robert Davis, known as "The Doc."
"We could have chosen (gangs) or drugs, but we didn't," said Max Walker, 16, who goes by the name MAD, for Mean And Def. Def is a term loosely meaning outstanding, or bad, shortened from the word definitely. The youths said they already have enough material for an album.
The stage names of the members were as varied as the group names. There was MCT Love, for Microphone Controller Tyrone. Rock Candy was the name taken by 14-year-old Grenada Giddens, who said, "I rock the house and I'm sweet as candy."
When her turn on stage came in the afternoon sun, she sang:
Red and blue, y'all should combine
and stop killing each other
Cuz y'all are just wasting your time.
Def City Girls, a duet, took second place, discussing the life of drugs and gangs for a woman:
So all you high rollers cruising all over town
Let me tell you one thing, you're gonna get knocked down.
Because slinging dope is not where it's at.
You better listen to me, cuz it's like that.
You don't need to go out there and steal a rod,
You should go out there and get yourself a job.
Dope girls, dope-da-dope-da- dope, dope girls.
The Def City Girls is in this place,
Bustin' all of you, in your face.
Placing third in the competition was Special News, which performed to a repetitive, high-pitched sound that sounded like it was lifted from the sound track at the point when Tony Perkins pulls open the shower curtain on "Psycho." The name of the tune was "Peace."
The crowd was generous to most of the performers, but not to Rivera. And when "Hip Hop Productions" closed the show with a raucous, strutting number, Rivera said he he was convinced the judges would ignore him.
To make things worse, he and his girlfriend, Lisa, had a fight over his attentions to another female performer. "She thought I didn't care anymore," he said later. They clasped hands.
"I'm real proud of him," she said.
It all happened on a weekend when gang activity was linked to the shooting death of one man, and the wounding of four other people. Two gang members were arrested in connection with the latest killing, which occurred Friday evening.
The victim was identified as Kalon Lewis, 25.