By Shawn “Speedy” Lopes
What should have been a leisurely afternoon for Kurupt has just turned into more work. On the Monday after Mother’s Day, the gangsta rap icon is wrapping up his weekend by gamely fielding questions over the phone at his kid brother’s house. “Feels like a Sunday but it’s really a Monday,” chimes Kurupt, humoring his interviewer in between sips of Crown Royal. “I know it’s only 5 o’clock, but I gotta start early,” he reasons.
After a few questions, Kurupt halts the small talk and excuses himself for a moment. Straining to listen in, ear pressed against the handset, I can make out bits of what sounds like a brewing quarrel: “How y’all goin’ be doin’ this without me, man? Takin’ all that motherfucking property … I’m gonna serve y’all!”
Something heavy is about to jump off as an unnerving silence hangs in the air. For several suspenseful moments, there is nothing. Then I make out the sound of stamping feet approaching the phone and someone picks up the receiver again. “Hello? They’re playing Monopoly in here,” Kurupt declares with a disdainful snort. “These cats trying to act like they know about money.”
Ah, when it comes to loot, don’t test Kurupt. Hip-hop is his business, and for the past decade, business has been good. The emcee and in-demand lyricist currently heads his own label and serves as benefactor and mentor to a number of budding rappers, including his teenage brother, Roscoe.
“Aw, man, he’s the new generation of the West Coast,” Kurupt says proudly. “He’s 18 now. I taught him how to run his own record label at 16. He was up and running at 17. He’s a big young man.”
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It wasn’t long ago that Kurupt himself, then known only as Ricardo Brown, was schooled in the ways of the world. At 15, he was sent from Philadelphia to live with his father in Los Angeles after crashing his mother’s car. “It was totally different; they was gang-banging out here. I was into simple things like rapping and trying to have some cool gear. These cats was into killing and fighting and war.”
Walking home from school one day, the reality of gang violence in L.A. struck him flush in the jaw. “I got socked ’cause I had on blue shoes,” he discloses, relating the startling encounter over the phone. “It was like, ‘What you doing with them blue shoes on, man? I ain’t into that.’ Boom. I told a couple of homeboys, and that’s when they started breaking down the streets to me. They showed me, ‘This is what we’re about out here.'”
While some of his alliances landed him in trouble, others led the gifted wordsmith to his big break. In 1992, a friendship with then-up-and-coming emcee Snoop Dogg helped secure an invitation to Death Row Records, the seminal gangsta rap label which produced many of West Coast hip-hop’s most groundbreaking records. Brash and infectious, the uncompromising gangsta sound described ghetto life in vivid detail and ultimately emerged as one of the most important and controversial musical phenomena of the decade.
After a brief stint in Tha Dogg Pound with partner-in-rhyme Daz, Kurupt released three successful solo albums. In between, there was an engagement to rapstress Foxy Brown (which never panned out), a temporary move back east and the formation of his own label, Wall Street Records.
Tragically, in 1999, friend and bodyguard Dwayne “Draws” Dupree, 23, was gunned down in the parking lot of an L.A. recording studio in an attack that left two other associates wounded. “A little confrontation happened — not a physical one,” recalls Kurupt, his voice subdued with grief. “Draws and them were outside and something must’ve cracked.”
When Kurupt’s group returned to the same spot later in the evening, so did their antagonists. “They just came through dumpin’,” he says, referring to the gunshots fired by the unknown assailants. “He was like my little brother. I lost a part of me. Me and Draws, we went together like a hand and glove. He was just a kid but he showed me a lot.”
There is a long pause. “They took my little brother away.”
These days, Kurupt is grateful to be entering a new phase of his life. He just wrapped up shooting for a pair of major motion pictures to premiere later this year, and while he vows never to give up on his rap career, Kurupt is content to sit back for the moment and let his stable of protégés enjoy the spotlight.
“I was one of the front-line riders, and now it’s time to set up the next generation to run this game,” he affirms. “But believe that when we get out there, we’re gonna show Honolulu how that original gangsta party cracks.”
Hip Hop Blow Out
Featuring The ‘Liks, Kurupt and Tha Dogg Pound Gangstas
Where: World Cafe When: 8 p.m. today Cost: $22.50, all ages Call: 585-2877
Dubbed from an edited version first published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Friday, May 17, 2002