By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Though his parents fought quite a bit when Paul was around, other dangers in the neighborhood also played a role in Kadillak's troubling, violent behavior. At age 9, he says, he and a couple of friends were molested by a neighbor after being lured into the home on several occasions, something he kept hidden from his family until he was 18. "I knew my father would kill him," he says, adding that a need to prove his manhood at an early age led to him getting in a lot of fights, as well as frequent run-ins with the law on drugs and weapons violations.
Eventually life in the streets led him to join the Gangster Disciples, a notorious street gang based in Chicago that migrated to Orange County in the early '90s. Areas of Tustin and Santa Ana had become their stomping grounds. The pitchfork tattoo on Kadillak's right cheek, which he got when he was 26, is a sign of his allegiance, though he says he's no longer active in the gang.
Despite the chaos, music was the one sturdy linchpin that kept him centered. A performer since childhood, he remembers laying down cardboard on street corners and doing back spins to the beats of Melle Mel and Slick Rick before neon track suits were replaced by sagging jeans and his rap tastes changed to Scarface and E-40.
At 13, after he'd already racked up several trips to juvenile hall, Kadillak's mother relinquished her custody of him, and he became a ward of the state of California. He toured various foster homes until his aunt Teresa took him to live with her in Irvine for a little more than a year. Though it was only miles from where he'd grown up, the manicured lawns, chain coffee shops and abundance of white people left him with mild culture shock. He had the awkward distinction of being one of the only black kids at Woodbridge High School. After he exchanged punches with another student, whom he says taunted him with racial insults, he was expelled for fighting.
Meanwhile, he joined with rappers Ariano and Melee Sage, both of whom are still active in OC's hip-hop scene, in a group called Righteous Vicinity. Though short-lived, the teens hustled hard to open for such huge names as Ice Cube, West Side Connection and Too $hort at venues including the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. Then came the assault charge, the rape allegation and six-and-a-half years in state prison. When he got out in '06, it was time for Kadillak, who wasn't familiar with the portability of Pro Tools, to find a studio.
He located an office for rent in a nondescript business park in Tustin designed for accountants and third-rate mortgage companies. Kadillak christened it Skyballin Studios, a moniker he'd hatched with a neighborhood friend. With the name came an uncharacteristically holy slogan: "We're Just Tryina [sic] Touch Jesus' Feet One Time."
"I heard that, and it just sounded like the realest shit ever to me," Kadillak says, "because in the end, that's all I'm asking for: just a blessing."
He found an investor in a local businessman who made his money selling weatherproof TVs. But after giving Kadillak the startup money and an advance on a new Escalade in exchange for a percentage of the recording business, the investor backed out, citing a massive gambling debt he'd previously neglected to mention. Suddenly, setting up the new studio became a solo venture, one Kadillak frequently financed with drug money. Despite releasing lots of projects, including his own mixtapes, and saving on rent by living at the studio, he had no choice but to shutter the place in 2008. But the mission and the motto of what he'd started never left his brain.
* * *
It's not exactly a typical place for a local, hip-hop, album-release party, but inside an exotic-car dealership in Costa Mesa, a fleet of rare sports cars, a waft of blunt smoke from outside and the slamming of 808 drum-machine beats bouncing off mirror-covered walls add up to one thing: a rap video in the making.
It's well past sundown on Jan. 18, and this soiree is in honor of South County rapper Epademik's latest release. Shouts and laughter compete with the soundtrack inside the small showroom. Bright fluorescent light reveals packs of local MCs, bleary-eyed hip-hop heads and a smattering of females laughing, drinking and swarming around aluminum catering trays filled with Mexican food. DJs take turns spinning vinyl sets of West Coast gangsta shit. Pretty much everyone in the room knew Kadillak at one time or another; there are some who don't know for sure whether he's locked up but assume he is because he has been gone for a few months at such a pivotal time in his life.
One guy in the crowd seems to command his own orbit on the dance floor; he paces in the middle of the room, sipping vodka drinks and checking his cell phone. With a husky, 6-foot build, quiet demeanor and a scar over his left temple, he cuts an imposing figure under the buzzing, fluorescent light. Epademik tells me it's a Compton rapper—43-year-old Don Cizzle, a.k.a. OG Cuicide, a certified "street reputable" who, in addition to knowing pretty much everyone in West Coast rap, is a gang banger-turned-motivational speaker.