A rapper and visible artist makes his mark in Leimert Park

In early October, the Los Angeles Metro lastly unveiled the polarizing Crenshaw/LAX line, bringing communities from Leimert Park to Westchester into town’s transit system whereas concurrently stoking fears of gentrification and new growth in these components of town.

Metro rung within the new line with a celebration at Leimert Park Plaza, the place a curly-haired rapper named Rhys Langston manned the stage to rap songs from his eclectic catalog. Though Metro had booked Langston, 29, as a solo performer, he made it a gaggle affair highlighting the Leimert Park hip-hop scene, inviting rapper VerBS, host of long-standing hip-hop showcase Bananas, together with emcees All Metropolis Jimmy and Alph tha Alien.

“[I had stopped] expecting to be involved in a lot of formal matters in Leimert Park and just decided to embrace the community and represent as best as I can,” Langston mentioned about getting the prospect to carry out. “But it feels good. Especially the fact that I’m doing a bit of curation.”

“I’m interested to see what [the Metro line] is really going to do because the area has been changing even without it being open,” he added. “But it would serve me well since I live nearby. It’s a new era for L.A. … I don’t know what it’s gonna bring.”

A few mile from the plaza the place he took the stage, Langston’s residence doubles as a multidisciplinary artwork dojo. Half-finished oil work greet you as quickly as you stroll via the again door, and when you not far away into his residence studio, you’ll discover an array of devices scattered concerning the room, obscuring the booklets of authentic, mixed-media work tucked neatly right into a nook.

The house is precisely what you’d count on from perusing Langston’s discography. Though he raps underneath his start identify, pseudonyms corresponding to “Jesus of Los Feliz” are way more arresting, maybe solely outdone by protracted tune titles corresponding to “h— on my d— ‘cuz I look like a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Over dense production, he raps with a wry sense of humor, racing through each verse with punk rock acceleration. You’d be forgiven if it takes you a dozen listens to parse via a single observe.

On his most up-to-date album, “Grapefruit Radio,” he achieves extra by doing much less, passing off manufacturing duties to as a substitute deal with simply the lyrics. On “Afro-Eccentric Character Creation Screen,” there’s a shoutout to legendary Residing Color guitarist Vernon Reid, juxtaposed with an eerily particular reference to Tayshaun Prince, the basketball participant who performed at Dominguez Excessive Faculty in Compton earlier than finally profitable an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons.

However the album itself was solely the gateway into Langston’s world. The mission was accompanied by an 85-page “Operator’s Manual,” which options his full-color work, tune lyrics disguised as “diagnostic sheets” and historic lore of “Grapefruit Radio’s” origins inside “The Domain of Langstónia.”

“There’s the famous quote about Clement Greenberg, where he says, ‘All profoundly original art looks ugly at first,’” mentioned Jeff Weiss, an L.A.-based music journalist who signed Langston to his label, POW Recordings. “Rhys’ art might not look ugly — I think there’s a beauty to it — but it may look unorthodox to people who don’t know any better. But I think when all is said and done, people will understand the intent and the broader idea of what he’s doing.”

Langston launched his newest album, “Grapefruit Radio,” on Sept. 14.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Occasions)

Langston spent his youthful years in Silver Lake but in addition lived in Hollywood, West L.A. and finally Leimert Park together with his mom after his mother and father separated. His mother and father, each of whom had established performing careers, instilled a love for all artwork varieties into their youngster, enrolling Langston in all the things from ballet to artwork classes to his center faculty orchestra.

Maybe most pertinently, his mother and father enriched his vocabulary early on, casually dropping unconventional phrases in dialog with him round the home, prompting him to hunt their definitions. However he credit simply as a lot of his curiosity in phrases to video video games — particularly the text-laden, story-driven role-player video games from the late 2000s.

“I’d notice these gaudy-ass, luxurious words that would be in there,” he mentioned. “It made it a given that I could explore words, and it gave me the fascination early. But part of it was I just wanted to sound smart for a long time.”

Exploring his personal identification was an ever-evolving journey spanning a lot of his adolescence. The son of a Black mom and Jewish father, that self-awareness didn’t really crystallize till highschool, when he was recruited to play basketball at Pacific Hills Faculty, a wealthier personal faculty that closed in 2018.

“Sometimes I had to accept the absurdity of a lot of it at once,” he mentioned. “To experience anti-Blackness not as a Black-white binary sometimes, but coming from people who were the same skin tone as me, or people who are not Black but were darker than the Black people I knew. It gave me a lens where I can look at things with a distance.”

A man raps with a microphone held up to his face against a backdrop of trees.

“I had to accept the absurdity of a lot of it,” Langston mentioned of experiencing anti-Blackness as a Black and Jewish teen.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Occasions)

That idea has threaded collectively a lot of his music — most overtly on his 2017 album, “Aggressively Ethnically Ambiguous,” but in addition in dryly comedic lyrics, corresponding to when he calls himself a “Black identity trapeze artist, balanced with bagels, capers” on “Obscenely Poetic,” from “Grapefruit Radio.” Previously, Langston admits he’s had a chip on his shoulder concerning the battle of rising a fan base as an area, indie rapper. However nowadays, he says validation comes from being understood by his musical friends, together with listeners already tapped in to artists who “freak the form.”

However there’s additionally a need to push past the folks already tuned in to his wavelength.

“I do also have a lofty ambition of redefining what we think about as accessible,” he mentioned. “With a lot of genres, the lyrics don’t have to make sense. You don’t have to get every lyric. But with rap, people immediately discount stuff they don’t get at first.”

“Obviously rap serves a different kind of purpose,” Langston added. “But I think there’s a bit of hostility toward not saying everything at once in rap music. It’s a slippery slope, but I want to be in the conversation.”