"We're not sending no gangsta message," asserts Denver rapper Nyke Loc. "Like, we're not claiming anything, because I never claimed nothin'. I never told you I was Blood nor no Crip. I never dissed no set. We make gangsta rap, but without the gangsta mentality. It's gangsta rap like a gangsta who goes out and gets his money, just trying to put his dope on wax."
These words won't reassure anyone who wishes that hardcore hip-hop would go the way of the Jheri curl, nor should they. Death Row Records head Suge Knight may be behind bars, but the continued popularity of Master P and his progeny demonstrates that there's still a large audience for rap about life and death on the mean streets of America--and Loc aims to capitalize on it. He's the founder of Str8 Chek'n, a production company modeled on Death Row and Master P's No Limit Records, and the recordings it's released thus far, including the 1997 Loc disc Hit List, stack up well against the best gangsta product coming from the West Coast. Moreover, Loc has assembled a stable of artists, and several of them--including Twizz Loak and Vamp Dogg--who has a new CD set for release soon, are promising performers in their own right.
Loc came of age in Oakland, where he evolved from, as he puts it, "just fucking around with fools and beat-boxing in middle school" to making music influenced by Bay Area brethren such as C-BO and Spice 1. When he moved to Denver in 1990, he didn't think there was much of a hip-hop scene. But he learned differently after hooking up with Dez and Chill, considered two of the best rappers in the area, and producer Hakeem Abdul Khaaliq, a co-founder of the influential new 'zine State of the Union ("United They Stand," November 6, 1997). Khaaliq subsequently included "Everyday Thang," a track featuring Loc, Dez and Vamp Dogg, on a compilation disc assembled under the umbrella of his No Coast Line production company. Since then, Loc says, "Me, Dez and Vamp have been clicking. They are kind of my Str8 Chek'n brothers."
The first Str8 Chek'n release, a five-song maxi-single called The Hitman, came out in 1996, and thanks to strong word of mouth, it wound up selling approximately 1,000 copies. "It came out pretty cool," Loc notes. "People liked it--they liked our quality of music. They were all like, 'Yeah, man, you're all tight.' And after we sold those, we figured we could do another and even blow it up a little bit more."
In terms of quality, Hit List, Loc's first full-length, more than lives up to the promise of The Hitman. The CD sports top-notch professional value, as well as a diverse sound that Loc attributes in part to the contributions of several producers who worked on the project. Zaboo, who was behind the board for sinister cuts such as "All About Game" and "Kingpinnin," has "a killer funk vibe," Loc points out. "He's like a baby Dr. Dre. Every time I hook up with him, it's tremendous." Other production styles come courtesy of G-Hill, from the group Minority, who provides the laid-back grooves that highlight tracks such as "Cold Streets," as well as from Kingdom cohort Chris Johnson, the man responsible for the viciously funkified touches that accent "4 Da Revenues," which updates for the hip-hop era the theme of the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money." Against a smooth R&B chorus sung by Dai Dai, Loc reminisces about "how we used to play in the streets/ And how a slingshot was my first heat/Wasn't knowing about the struggle/And all the praying for Moms and Pops/Got us sitting on the bubble." He then contrasts these innocent memories with observations of what desperate people will do for cash: "Another victim's soul escapes from this murderous mayhem that the money creates/ What we do for the revenues."
Although Hit List contains a plethora of references to implements of destruction, Loc swears that he is neither promoting nor glamorizing violence. He calls his music "reality-based rap" and says that he strives for "versatility. I don't just like to come with one style. I like to talk about girls, money, different issues and conflicts." Urban crime is a favorite topic, but he doesn't feel that his decision to rap about it helps perpetuate the cycle of despair: "The things that are happening in our cities are the same things happening in your cities. I'm just telling you how it is. Kids run around and play cowboys and Indians, and they don't do it because they've been listening to this. They get it from seeing it on TV, whether it be Schwarzenegger or Snipes." The economics of survival also come into play, he believes. "If it was more of an equal thing, not so many people would have to get killed," he says. "When you can sit back and play golf, you ain't got no struggle anymore."
Plenty of Coloradans relate to Loc's songs: Since it hit stores last November, Hit List has moved nearly 2,000 units, in spite of being ignored by local radio stations. Loc is mystified by this lack of support. "For some reason, they don't want to play my stuff," he says. "I've got clean versions and everything, so I don't know what the problem is. Maybe you've got to flash 'em money or something. But they need to give the local cats a chance to put it on, maybe like once a week. That's all they've got to do."
Until that day comes, Loc is looking at other marketing methods, including improving his company's distribution. "We're a production company that's trying to go major," he allows, "and I've already got something established. I just need a little help with promotion and videos. But it can't be stopped, because we've already got the product.
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"We can bang with any state from Colorado to Kansas to anywhere on the West Coast, because we got that quality shit," he continues. "We've just got to keep pushing it, which is why everybody's getting more business-minded and everybody's trying to get their product out. At first everybody was putting their shit on a little tape and just letting their homeboys hear it. But now everybody's like, 'Fuck that' and saying, 'We can make money, too, and get some discs and sell that shit.'"
A first step in this process is a Str8 Chek'n showcase this week at Boulder's Fox Theatre, which Loc hopes will raise his label's profile outside the underground. But he's also interested in issuing a compilation disc featuring a roster of Colorado rappers, including some not signed to Str8 Chek'n. "We all need to come together and put down something funky that everybody's going to buy, where they won't have no beef about nobody's side because they like everybody that's on," he says. "Whether it be Kingdom, Nyke Loc, G-SOM or Vamp Dogg, they're gonna like something. That's why everybody needs to come together."
Nyke Loc, with Kingdom, Dez, Dai Dai, Vamp Dogg, Minority and MNLD. 9 p.m. Sunday, May 3, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $8.50 in advance/$10.50 day of show, 447-0095.