There is something so comforting about the unapologetic synthesizers, the effortless flow, and the feelings of warm weather and sunshine that accompany West Coast hip-hop. As much as the style changes and adjust with the times, the trends, and the tipping points, West Coast hip-hop seems to hold firm to its foundational bricks. In its consistency also exist theoretical limitations, but those who claim that its time has run its course or that it’s no longer growing or relevant, clearly aren’t paying attention to hip-hop – a collective whose past, present, and future movements are largely dictated by a consistent stream of artists from California.
Form follows function – a long-overused cliché to explain a simple, truthful notion – that art and design of all kinds is born of its environment and that the nature of a place should dictate the creative direction of its art. Artists are products of their environment, and art, the product of artists. And no geographic denomination of artists across any medium more strongly portrays pride and influence than the hip-hop auditory aesthetic from California. Again, form follows function. And with the function of portraying their unique environment – one perhaps best noted, as Kendrick Lamar puts it, for its women, weed, and weather, the music inspired by California and by extension the West Coast, is as equally enticing, warm, and controversial as the three W’s.
From the beginning of hip-hop’s long, complicated history, the West Coast has had a continuous list of legitimate reasons to claim themselves the genre’s capital and such claims extend to modern times with Kendrick Lamar at the helm. Reigns long or short by West Coast artists with a reason to assume the genre’s throne have included NWA, Tupac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Andre Nickatina, and way too many more to list. To put it simply, the West Coast, and most specifically, California, was, is, and forever will be one of the premier hotbeds of hip-hop music and culture.
In the modern scene, though artists like Kendrick Lamar, Boogie, SZA, and Schoolboy Q are certainly some of the most well-known driving forces of the geographic style, there is an argument to be made that artists exist who boast a stronger West Coast sound.
Dom Kennedy has been one of the strongest, most consistent, most influential forces on the Southern California hip-hop scene for more than a decade. As styles have come and gone, as artists from Eminem to 50 Cent to Kanye West to Lil Wayne to Drake to Kendrick have grabbed ahold of hip-hop’s top spot and simultaneously dictated the genre’s direction, Dom Kennedy has held true to his sound, continuously grown as an artist, and continued to put out positive vibes, effortless bars, and grassroots West Coast music.
In many ways, Dom Kennedy can be called king of the West Coast. Consistently featuring names big and small of other California rappers, boasting early collaborative work with artists as impressive as Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs, and Schoolboy Q, and incubating up-and-coming talent with his own label, OPM (Other People’s Money) while remaining not only independent, but self-employed, and staying fixed and true to Southern California, there are few artists who can claim the loyalty, consistency, and cult following of Dom Kennedy.
A dominant factor in his following, aside from the ones already listed, is that his sound breathes and bleeds the vibes and fierce pride of his native Los Angeles. More specifically, Dom calls Leimert Park home, and never misses an opportunity to shout out his friends, family, and city in his music. It’s a move that not only makes the listener feel closer to Dom and his everyday life, but also gives us all a little taste of the good and the bad of life in general in South Central LA. He’s an honest artist who lets his truthful storytelling and easy-going personality guide his music. And just as his stories and lyrics are derived of his home, his music has become a reflection of sunny California. A decade-long stream of Dom Kennedy features, singles, mixtapes, EP’s, and full-length albums have provided the annual Summer soundtrack for millions of listeners and continues to separate Dom as an artist of epic proportion when weighed in terms of likeability, relatability, and good vibes.
One of the most profound contributions that he seems to always be making is his ability to inspire the growth of other artists. Casey Veggies, Villain Park, Warm Brew, Polyester, Skeme, Overdoz, and Teefli all owe Dom with the support that helped to jumpstart their careers, while artists like Hit Boy, Mikey Rocks, and Krondon can all attribute their rebirths in the hip-hop scene to Dom Kennedy collaborations. With a history as pragmatic and simultaneously explosive as Dom Kennedy, it’s no surprise at all that further collaboration is not only expected, but expectedly far-reaching for a slew of future features.
There are few possible collaborators we’d prefer to see Dom work with than the up-and-coming, fiercely West Coast, positive vibes Hugh Augustine. Also rooted in LA, Augustine has been building a career for the better part of the past half-decade, predominantly reaching new heights with each new release over the past couple years. Like Kennedy, Augustine often finds himself collaborating with a plethora of SoCal talent. With a list of feature work and collaborative friendships stretching from TDE’s soft-spoken R&B vocalist SiR, to OPM’s very own 90’s revival hip-hop crew Warm Brew, to a feature on Isaiah Rashad’s critically acclaimed sophomore album The Sun’s Tirade, it seems that Dom Kennedy might be the only West Coast artist Augustine is yet to work with. The fact that they haven’t collaborated already is made especially bizarre considering that they run with similar circles of friends and are such prolific artists with deep, long-lasting canons of work. They must know each other well, right?
To be honest, while writing this piece, I am doubting myself of whether or not they have worked together already, because with each new thorough exploration of their entire workloads always seems to result in the discovery of music I haven’t yet heard. But even if they have already worked with one another, they need to create something more, because if there is something out there, it’s not readily available or well-known enough.
A Dom Kennedy and Hugh Augustine collaboration is a matter of time, a matter of mutual understanding that both exist as prolific, profound LA prophets, and a matter of love for West Coast hip-hop that would drive any fan of the geographic subset mad with feelings of summertime sunshine and positive vibes. The two have been for a long time and continue to be some of the most important driving forces of hip-hop as a whole, existing as inspiration, incubation, and ignition for a firestorm of the West Coast hip-hop style, while also remaining true to themselves and their hometown. We all know it’s coming (and maybe I’m misinformed, and it already exists), but in either scenario, a collaborative project between the two is exactly what’s needed with Summer right around the corner. After all, form follows function, and the direction of West Coast hip-hop directly follows the trails blazed by Dom Kennedy and Hugh Augustine.