It’s about 11:45 p.m. and Rucci, the typically smiling force of Inglewood rap, is wearing a serious face, leaned forward in his chair listening to a beat and quietly mumbling the verse he’s about to record. His eyes are closed and he’s clutching a freshly hit bong between his hands. There’s no crumbled paper lying on the floor or alley-oop assists for the hook. Rucci abruptly stands up after a few minutes and closes the sliding glass door that leads to the booth before he kills the lights and powers through the freestyle he had muttered just a few minutes before. By the time his voice echoes around the studio, the booth lights were dimmed, an electric fireplace is lit at the back of the room and a bottle of Don Julio materialized in his hand somewhere between the console and microphone. He was finished with the track in the time most people respond to an email.
Rucci is an anchored force in the New Los Angeles rap scene, a shorthand used to describe the city’s rap output since 2015. While some members of this expanding scene combine West Coast hip hop traditions with stylistic tendencies from other regions, Rucci was sewn from the city’s fabric. Specifically, he is a product of Inglewood, the rapidly gentrifying area just east of Los Angeles International Airport. Though only in his early twenties, the North Inglewood native is rarely seen without his signature braids, golden smile and tokens of his Piru heritage. None of these things are missing tonight.
On his 2017 track “Like Woah”, the canine rapper says, “My name is Rucci and I’m bringing Inglewood back” with a serious force but he’s more reflective when he elaborates to me before he zones into the recording process. “Sometimes I feel like this rap shit ain’t moving for me as fast as I want it to, but you keep hustling,” he says while rolling up a tiny Swisher Sweet and fitting it into the bowl of his bong. I ask him what kind of weed he’s rolling up and he laughs and says, “Man whatever shit they get,” gesturing at his managers, “that man right there will leave the weed store if they don’t let him smell and touch the bud.”
While there are plenty of laughs now, Rucci is still sombre when he says, “All the shit you hear in the music I’ve been through; my dad was really deported, I lost my best friend SeanMackk right there on the block, my brother really got shot in the head you feel me? That puts all the frustration that comes with rap in perspective.” Rucci started rapping in late high school and would eventually form the MackkRucci duo with Sean before his passing in 2017. Regardless of his past, Rucci still has the approachability of an old classmate, keeping a smile while speaking with fans or carrying around a half-empty bottle of Don Julio.
Over his last two projects, El Perro and 4 My Dawgz, he’s grown his sound by pushing the limits of the West Coast framework established when he was just a baby. He grew up under rapper 2 Eleven, a staple in the neighbourhood and a close friend of Rucci’s father and their music shares an outspoken reverence for the Northside tradition. He typically makes music in the splintered aftermath of g-funk missionaries Snoop Dogg and Warren G and, like Mack 10 before him, Rucci’s music loses a bit of its magic if not heard at a park function or screaming down a freeway. This isn’t to say he’s derivative or purposely avoids the sound of today’s music, but when Rucci raps it’s a manifestation of Inglewood’s communal history.
Rucci isn’t just rapping for himself, he’s showing the world Inglewood. When he’s posing next to pit bulls and Texacos or discussing the darker sides of his lifestyle and past, he does it so the city’s legacy is known to posterity.