Tag Archives: gangster rap

As a legend passes, a Walmart in Compton?

A legendary Compton indoor swap meet is closing this week, and vendors say they believe it will be replaced by a Walmart.

Snapseed Compton Fashion Center Dresses BWThe Compton Fashion Center, 2100 N. Long Beach Blvd., closes Thursday after 32 years, during which time it revolutionized immigrant business formation in Southern California.

In a tersely worded December 1 letter to vendors, some of whom had been in the CFC since it opened, the owner, Soo Lee, told them they had 30 days to get out.  That deadline was later extended another two weeks – leaving this Thursday as the day when the lights go out.

Shortly before Christmas, the center put up large signs announcing a “Close Out Sale” – and thanking customers for years of patronage – that vendors had not agreed to. Vendors say this left them with little time or opportunity reduce inventory and find a new location.

Of several CFC merchants I spoke with, all said they believe the space will be occupied by a Walmart, though the owner, Soo Lee, has said nothing about his plans for the enormous space. So this may be rumor as much as anything.

Walmart did not confirm a new store at the Compton swap meet. But the company didn’t quite deny one in the future, either. Here’s the statement a spokeswoman emailed me:

“While we are always looking for ways to better serve our Compton customers, we don’t have any new projects to announce.”

Okay. Still leaves the question of what will go into the center that was making the owner push the vendors out so abruptly after so many years in business.

Walmart last summer put a store in the new azalea Shopping Center in South Gate, four milIMG_1919es away, and traffic was so heavy the store wasn’t able to keep its shelves stocked for the first few weeks, according to a shopping center spokeswoman.

Of course, Walmart has also had problems locating inner-city stores in Southern California. Inglewood famously turned away the giant retailer, fearing it would lay waste to numerous mom-and-pop merchants.

“If Walmart comes, all the merchants on Long Beach Boulevard and around here will be wiped out,” said Kirk Kim, owner of Cycadelic Records, which has rented space near a swap meet entrance since CFC opened.

Compton Fashion Center opened in the space of what had been a Sears in 1983. It was the first large Korean-owned indoor swap meet in Southern California.

With that, in a region then becoming a magnet for immigrants from across the world, the indoor swap meet idea took off. Swap meets became a safe place for immigrants, speaking little English and without much capital, to wedge into a cranny of the American Dream.

Compton Fashion Center, in particular, drew people from all over with, in its heyday, 300 vendors selling jewelry, Photo Jan 12, 1 18 21 PMmakeup, music, cellphones, groceries and clothe.

“The holy grail of the hood,” one Yelp customer called it.

At Cycadelic Records in the 1980s, Kirk Kim’s father, the late Wan Joon Kim, and mother, Boo Ja  — Korean immigrants who spoke little English – became the first to sell and promote the gangster rap then emerging from Compton garages. The couple, known as Pops and Mama, sold the first records by NWA frontman Eazy E, and dozens of other rappers that grew to chronicle the city’s crack-and-gang nightmare, as West Coast gangster rap became an international phenomenon. His shop and the center have been in numerous rap music videos.

But a lot has changed since then. National retailers have discovered the hood. Whether the indoor swap meet is slowly fading away is an open question.

Kirk Kirk believe the CFC owners have been keeping vendors out with an eye to attracting to a big-box retailer. Whatever the case, he said, foot traffic has dropped along with the number of vendors.

Last week, the center was slowly emptying. Stalls sat abandoned. Owners were boxing product and sweeping the floors.

“It’s sad. These folks are like my family,” he said. “I see these people more than I see my sister.”

Photos: Kirk Kim; t-shirts and dresses in booths at Compton Fashion Center.

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Filed under Business, California, Los Angeles, Migrants, Southern California

LOS ANGELES: R.I.P. Chalino Sanchez

Perhaps the most influential musical figure to emerge out of Los Angeles in a generation was Chalino Sanchez, who was found shot to death 20 years ago today outside Culiacan, the capital city of his native state of Sinaloa, Mexico.

An unlettered immigrant who spoke no English, he virtually singlehandedly created the narcocorrido genre of music, with songs he composed himself that act today as an oral history of the lawless ranchos — villages — of Sinaloa, Durango, Chihuahua and other northwest Mexican states, where impunity and drug trafficking were rife.

On May 15, 1992, he’d given a show in Culiacan and gone out afterwards with friends. A group of men dressed as policemen stopped the caravan of cars and took Chalino. His body was found in a field the next day with two bullets in his head.

Sanchez was already an underground star in LA by then. His death confirmed his street cred and he became a phenomenon. He is today a legend and well known to kids who weren’t even born when he was alive.

Chalino also did the impossible by making tubas, accordions and clarinets hip and cool instruments, so much so that young Latino kids would blast tuba- and accordion-based polkas from their trucks as they drove down the streets of towns in southeast LA County. Still do.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of LA-born kids followed him, becoming narcocorrido singers and sounding and looking just like the master.

I’ve always felt, though, that they imitated the wrong part of Chalino — his dress, his raw style of singing. Instead, the point of Chalino’s life, I’ve always thought, was to follow your own vision, your own way of doing things. People would tell him to shut up, that he couldn’t sing. “I don’t sing; I bark,” he said, fully aware of his own musical shortcomings. But he kept on, trusting his own experience and ability. he wrote corridos from the people he met in LA; recorded them in small studios, then sold the cassettes of these songs at Mexican bakeries, butcher shops and at swap meets.

DIY — that’s how great things are accomplished.

The narcocorrido scene he fathered in LA was one of the great DIY musical movements to come out of LA. First was punk, in Hollywood. Then gangster rap out of Compton. Then narcocorridos out of Huntington Park, Paramount, and other southeast LA County cities.

You can read more about him in my first book, True Tales From Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.

There’s a concert in his honor on Friday at the Gibson Amphitheater, which should be great, and a tour coming out of that later this year.

A great punkrock spirit. RIP Chalino Sanchez.

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Filed under Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico

BUSINESS: Kelvin Anderson and VIP Records

Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records

Here’s my story on Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records, and the last of the great independents in what’s become now the old music industry.

He marketed music via boomboxes and car stereos and championed a host of young kids, rappers from Long Beach streets, some of whom, like Snoop Dogg, went on to change the music.

So punk rock!

Now Anderson is downsizing his store and says he’ll probably only stay in business a year.

You can read the story at the link above, and listen to a podcast interview I did with Anderson regarding the early days of the store and gangster rap and how a music that took over started from a small little drum machine.

 

 

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BUSINESS: Kelvin Anderson and World Famous VIP Records

Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach

I’ve been spending time lately with Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach, a ferociously independent record store.

Anderson’s store is a landmark, one of the places where rap began in Southern California, and a store that hung on long beyond others because it mastered the art of customer service, knowing what people wanted, and got them in touch with emerging artists who didn’t get any radio play.

But he’s downsizing now, moving from the space he occupied for 33 years and this will probably be his last year, the last independent record store around. “You can’t compete with free,” he told me.

Anderson was there at the beginning of one of the three great DIY musical forces to come out of LA. In Hollywood, it was punk in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, from Paramount came Chalino Sanchez and Mexican drug ballads, narcocorridos.

Anderson helped mid-wife gangster rap, which emerged in the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, from the garages of Compton then Long Beach came West Coast gangster rap — first with NWA, then with Snoop Dogg and his 213 crew. 213’s first demo was recorded on a drum machine in VIP’s backroom.

Anderson’s advertisement was getting new cassettes in the hands of those with big car stereos and ghetto blasters — “street promotion.”  (Gangster rap was so punk rock.)

Yet I wonder whether these kinds of geographic movements of intense garage band creativity are as possible nowadays, even as technology has allowed everyone to be a DIYer, all from a laptop computer, and avoid entirely the control of major record labels.  “It’s people’s attention span,” Anderson told me.

Hope to have a podcast of an interview with him (a first for me!) that’ll go with the story on VIP’s downsizing, which I hope will run in a few days.

 

 

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Filed under Business, Los Angeles

MIGRANTS: Wan Joon Kim

I’ve spending time with Wan Joon Kim and his son Kirk. Mr. Kim was a gangster rap empresario in Compton, selling records, then cassettes, of the rap pioneers from that town when no one else would, and operating it all out of a stand at an indoor swap meet.

The story began as a piece about indoor swap meets and how in Los Angeles they’ve become an avenue that thousands of Korean immigrants have used to work their way into America, selling whatever anyone would buy. They pioneered the indoor swap meet and most vendors in indoor swap meets are still Korean, though new immigrants find their way into many other businesses nowadays.

Mr. Kim just happened to sign a lease in Compton at a time when it was a hive of DIY rap artists and promoters who had nowhere else to sell their stuff. He didn’t care what he sold so long as it was different and moved. He became “Pops” to an entire generation of young Compton rappers, and had 20 years of great sales, until computer downloads began the decline of the record store. Great story, I think. Very happy I happened on it. Here he is with his son and wife….

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