It's summer in San Diego. It's always kind of summer here, but it's June, summertime, and nothing (at the moment) sounds more like a Southern California summer than "Imperial" by Mitchy Slick and Oso Ocean [listen here], members of Slick's Tha Wrongkind collective. If Jay Z is to the East Coast as Scarface is to Houston, then Imperial Ave. is to San Diego as Crenshaw Blvd. is to Los Angeles.
There's 125th St. in Harlem and 8 Mile in Detroit, streets that hometown rappers rap about, that hometown fans hold down. They're sources of identity that seem to suggest that if you can survive them then you can survive just about anywhere. They're gritty and usually far from the suburbs, all scary and dark. Imperial Ave. is ours, San Diego's main pipeline through the "'hood," District 4, the "inner city," South East.
Music. Community. Culture.
Produced by Tre Boogie, "Imperial" is Tha Wrongkind's future (Oso Ocean) with Tha Wrongkind's present (Mitchy Slick), all T-Pain'd out over slow synths and hand claps. "I shoulda made a left./I'm headed to the set./But now I'm sliding down Imperial./They got on too much blue./I got on too much red/To be slidin' down Imperial," sings Slick on the hook. All vocoder and melody, the track is the street-savvy veteran navigating South East's main vein and its tricky neighborhood politics, dictated by turf boundaries and opposing color lines.
But where Slick is mindful of his outfit choices (too much red), Ocean is just trying to avoid the nonsense. He's smart though, adeptly maneuvering the heavy police presence on Imperial with a "mouth full of fries," side stepping a patrol car by pulling into a gas station to "fake pump this gas." If he's rattled by the close call, it's hard to tell, as once they pass he's "right back in the whip" -- right back to sliding down Imperial. Even though it's a familiar narrative (police and black profiling), Ocean's particulars make for a fresh story line.
It's gangster rap in the new millennium, Ice Cube's "Today Was a Good Day" re-imagined. Twenty-two years later, farther south on the I-5, and it's been an all right day. Not bad, not good, somewhere right in between -- just another 24 hours on Imperial Ave. in the heart of South East San Diego.