West Coast Hip Hop is experiencing a cultural renaissance. Veterans like Dr. Dre and The Game are still releasing critically acclaimed albums. While a new school featuring artists such as Kendrick Lamar, YG, and Ty Dolla Sign are making waves on a national level. Even the legendary 1980’s rap group N.W.A is currently being immortalized in record breaking movies and the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
The next performer accepting the responsibility of putting on for the West is emcee/songwriter Devin “King Pen” Jordan. Late last year, the Long Beach native joined with his business partner DJ Wellz to drop the 14-track album Momentum. The LP is a collection of lyrics-based cuts which draw on inspiration from 90’s era rhymers.
In particular, the single “Clubbin’” is an homage to Los Angeles representative/Hip Hop G.O.A.T. contender – Ice Cube. Pen also tapped his Cali peer Casey Veggies, his “little brother” Lit Fuse, and others for contributions to Momentum.
Prior to embarking on his current tour with Gunplay of Maybach Music Group, AllHipHop.com sat down with King Pen to discuss his latest project. He also touched on his region’s prevailing run in Hip Hop and his pushback against “soft rap.”
[ALSO READ: Ty Dolla $ign Discusses The Meaning Behind His ‘Free TC’ Album, The Success Of The West Coast & More]
How did you get started in music?
I started rapping at 14. I started taking it seriously in my early 20s. It was really because I was tired of hearing everything I was hearing. There wasn’t anything that was good. So I felt like I should create my own music, and it will be better.
How did you first connect with DJ Wellz?
I connected with him through one of our close friends, Lit Fuse. Wellz is a young cat. He’s like 22. He’s like a young genius. He and I are partners. We have CDC Entertainment together. Essentially, when I’m on the road doing all the groundwork, he handles all of the things behind the scenes and the day-to-day operations. I’ve been rocking with him for about five years now.
When I was listening to your album, I definitely heard influences from a lot of the older artists. Who did you listen to growing up?
2Pac was probably the reason I picked up a microphone in the first place. But I grew up listening to Ice Cube. That’s probably my biggest influence outside of Pac. I also grew up listening to The Lox, Biggie, Jay Z, and Nas – the best to ever do it lyrically.
And DJ Quik, Snoop, Dre – I’m biased because I’m from LA. I mostly listened to West Coast artists growing up, but I transitioned to a lot of East Coast emcees. That’s kind of what I gravitated towards more – bars and clever wordplay.
I can tell you even studied battle rappers.
Yeah, Hitman Holla is probably my favorite battle rapper. He combines all the elements I put into my music. He has the performance, the energy, and the delivery. He brings that to the battle rap scene, and I think I gravitate towards that because that’s what I do in my music.
Would you ever step into that arena?
Hell yeah! With the whole Hollow and Joe Budden battle, I think people didn’t really give it the type of credit it deserves. I think Joe Budden stepping into that arena was brilliant. It really wasn’t a bad battle to me. I enjoyed it.
[Budden] was very clever with it. I just don’t think he came with the tenacity and aggression. He kind of approached it like a “this is beneath me” type deal. But I think it was good for Hip Hop, and I hope we continue to see more top-notch rappers step into that arena. I think it makes it better for the culture.
There was a line on “Tax Season” where you were talking about how a lot of the rappers now are soft. You referenced “Truffle Butter.” My mind jumped to Drake. Was that a slight jab?
Clearly it is. I mentioned the song, so you know who I’m talking about. [laughs] I think that was a real soft rap record. I’m sure it served it’s purpose. It wasn’t supposed to be hard or for cats like me that like lyrics.
It was a Nicki Minaj record, so it was geared more towards a different demographic. I’m used to hearing bars. I do a mixture of everything, so I understand it. But that particular record was extremely soft to me. [laughs]
You gotta be honest. Music is a platform to talk about what’s really going on in your life and what you observe. If you’re not speaking honestly, it’s a waste of time. It’s an art form, so I feel like you gotta speak from the heart at all times.
Are there any topics that you may be hesitant to talk about? You talked about your family and your dad on the album. Is there anything that you feel like you want to keep to yourself?
Not really. Because to me, before music is a business or a means to provide for yourself or your family, it’s a way to release. I don’t know if everybody approaches it like that, but to me it’s more than just an art form.
Rather than go beat up a n*gga, pick up a strap, or do something crazy, I like to just talk about whatever it is that might be on my mind at the time. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Anything that I say in my music is 100% true. I talk about everything. I don’t think there’s no limits to what I would discuss.
What are your thoughts about West Coast Hip Hop? It seems to be on a pretty good run.
Absolutely, I think it’s been revived. You got Dom Kennedy, who’s one of my favorite artists. Nipsey also – Kendrick, Schoolboy, and Ty Dolla also. I look up to people like Nipsey and Dom, because they’re doing what I’m trying to do on the independent route. I look to them for inspiration. I study a lot of cats. Nipsey’s following the Jay Z blueprint.
That’s probably why Jay jumped on to support him.
Exactly, it’s good to see some people from your own region doing it. It kind of reaffirms the moves I’m out here making. It lets me know I’m doing the right thing, taking the right steps. West Coast Hip Hop is very much alive.
Even Game’s last project was crazy. He always comes with it, but to me, that was up there with The Documentary. He did it justice by calling it The Documentary 2 and 2.5. Both discs were crazy. Shout out to Game. That’s all I’ve been listening to lately.
Skeme is another cat out West I got a lot of respect for. Casey Veggies too. He’s on my album. Shout out to Casey Veggies. We’re taking advantage of this resurgence that we’re experiencing out West. Everybody’s just trying to get their weight up, so that’s what I’m out here doing.
One of the things I like about what’s happening on the West Coast is that they give you so many different styles. Casey doesn’t sound like YG. Dom doesn’t sound like Game. Everybody’s kind of doing their own thing.
YG kind of single-handedly revived the banging on wax movement. Before he came out and he was doing it like that again, you hadn’t really heard it like that in several years. Shout out to him.
You don’t even have to leave California to get any type of genre or style of rap music that you want to hear. Everybody does something different. That’s why I favor Dom a lot. He reminds me of the 90’s. He’s got that laid back type of vibe, live instrumentation – elements of music that I love the most.
Before you mentioned being an indie artist. What are your interests as far as potentially signing with a bigger label?
It would have to be the right situation for me. I hear about these 360 deals cats are signing and getting screwed. They’re stuck in contracts for years from not being able to meet the demands of what’s on the paper.
Honestly, it would have to be a situation like Wiz Khalifa. Wiz created his own thing, and then Atlantic had no choice but to partner with him. They couldn’t put in one of those type of deals. I think that’s what you have to do. You have to make yourself an asset to the point where if they want something from you it has to be equally beneficial.
I wouldn’t shoot anything down. When they come knocking, it will have to be beneficial for me. And I would have to make sure I keep all my masters. None of that’s going down over here. [laughs]
For more information about Gunplay’s “Living Legend Tour” featuring King Pen visit iamkingpen.com.
Purchase King Pen & DJ Wellz’s Momentum on iTunes and stream the album below.