With summer just around the corner, an explosion of Southern California releases in recent weeks, and the Pulitzer Prize firmly in the hands of King Kendrick Lamar, we, understandably so, have West Coast on the mind. A barrage of artists, both newcomers and veterans, have left us with a library bubbling over with laid-back flow, relaxed deliveries, and explosions of West Coast synths. We couldn’t be happier about it.
It just comes with the territory, or better yet, the times. As March turns into April into May, as Spring Break comes and goes for those lucky enough to still have such a thing, and as sun dresses, classic Vans, and high-watered cuffs begin to make up the stylistic landscape, an adjustment of the sonic landscape is an equally telling and necessary symbol of the season. And no region of music artists past or present has done more to so accurately encapsulate and drive the warm-weather and sunshiny aesthetic than those who call home to Southern California.
Any good design is derived of its environment – inspired by its surroundings – and some environments – some surroundings – are simply more appealing and welcoming than others. Push aside the traffic, the smog, and the assholes, and Southern California, its music included, is an aesthetic more beautiful, more inspirational than most.
In its soil has grown what is arguably hip-hop's strongest root, its deepest soul. The firm foundation hosts a tradition unequaled throughout hip-hop history and has no sign of bequeathing its throne anytime soon. Recently, in the midst of releases from the likes of Larry June, Pac Div, Hugh Augustine, Cozz, YG, Overdoz, and SiR, one project in particular has successfully carved its way into a position more defining of the West Coast's future than any other.
The artist's name is KB Devaughn, and though there's a good chance you haven't yet heard of him or his debut album, 4 Me, Not U, rest assured that's all about to change. With an endorsement from friend, collaborator, and West Coast juggernaut, Boogie, a sound and style equal parts reminiscent of the classic West Coast and innovative to its stylistic future, and an attitude that's as bold, unforgiving and yet hopelessly romantic as hip-hop allows, KB Devaughn is a versatile artist with an undeniably addicting approach.
Though at times his style may come across a little rough around the edges, it is West Coast through and through. Though lacking a certain easy-going-ness, its structural makeup, and more importantly, its lyrically-profound driving force and meditative flow make it a clinic on the Southern California approach. Perhaps less akin to the beachside vibes of Dom Kennedy and Snoop and more on par with the likes of Larry June, Nipsey Hussle, even an early Dre, an underlying ferocity and an abrasive attitude drive Devaughn’s delivery. But, like any California artist worth their weight in a future of gold, Devaughn's ability to access the emotional and romantic sides of his personality while somehow maintaining his firm exterior, may in fact ensure that future be carved of platinum.
It may be a little early on to make such claims, but KB Devaughn's level of talent is certainly there. Though by itself, that in no way dictates a successful future, a series of quality decisions, a continued prevalence and growth at his craft, and perhaps most important of all, the right circle of friends and collaborators with which to work, the hip-hop spectrum is his for the taking.
And thankfully for him and for any fan of the West Coast auditory aesthetic, we can think of just the collaboration he should start with.
Dom Kennedy has, for more than a decade, been one of the most powerful and consistent forces driving the West Coast's hip-hop scene. But, in 2016 when he co-launched a new collaborative project with fellow California producer and rapper Hit-Boy, he took the next step towards already imminent eternal influence over the geographic styling. The two came to call themselves Half-A-Mil, and also in some sort of undefined grey area, refer to themselves as Courtesy of Half-A-Mil - the name of the duo's sophomore project. But, strange name fluctuations aside, Half-A-Mil has unearthed something lost long ago in the hip-hop sphere – a truly successful and innovative partnership.
Dom's style is definitely the overarching force driving the duo's distinct first impression but Hit-Boy's influence behind the beat and his knack for dropping harder-hitting and more attitude-driven bars than Dom balances their partnership in full, while also providing a stream of consistency flowing beneath the duo's every release.
But if there's one thing missing from Half-A-Mil's delivery that has been ever so present in the individual work of both artists, it's the tendency to act as a driving force behind the work of other musicians and as catalyst for the futures of young local talent. Dom Kennedy has worked with just about everybody from the West Coast, boasting an insane track record that ranges from Kendrick Lamar to YG and everyone in between. And Hit-Boy’s own résumé is even more stacked than that. Most well-known for his production on platinum releases like N****s in Paris, Drop the World, and Clique, there is a clear case to be made that Hit-Boy is one of the most influential producers in hip-hop, and subsequently music.
Together, Half-A-Mil is one of the most underrated and overwhelmingly talented and influential groups on the modern hip-hop spectrum – particularly the West Coast’s unique styling from which they’re both derived. So, naturally, a furthered partnership that extends its grasp to also include the talent of one of the West Coast’s most unknown and most promising future stars, would result in a long run of incredible music. The veteran, easy-going, pool party delivery of Dom Kennedy, the postured, prolific, and boldly future approach of KB Devaughn, and the high-profile, vibrant, and attitude-fueled lyricism and production from Hit-Boy could play a key role in defining the future of the West Coast sonic landscape with respect to its storied past.