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The scar over his temple is a reminder of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head during a suicide attempt at age 22; the bullet is still lodged in his skull. Cuicide tells me he played mentor to Kadillak after his prison stint and that, recently, he and a business partner teamed up to produce a documentary on Kadillak's cousin Kevin Powell, a parolee from Aliso Viejo who was killed by Santa Ana police after he allegedly stole a vehicle in 2007. When the chase ended, just off the 55 freeway, eight to 15 officers fired as many as 20 shots toward the vehicle.
Cuicide's stoic face turns jovial, with a wide, gapped-tooth grin, and he shakes my hand firmly as I tell him I've been interviewing Kadillak in jail. Until recently, Cuicide hadn't heard his friend was locked up. "He'd always kinda called me his uncle, and recognizing his past, I saw a lot of me in him," he says. "I could see him trying to be better. Whenever we hung out, it wasn't about trying to be Kadillak Kaz, the guy from the streets; he wanted to be Kadillak Kaz the rapper."
The two met at a studio in Bellflower in 2009, which in hindsight appears to be the heyday of Kadillak's career. The rapper had just completed his second album, 2010's The Coldest Winter Ever, an inspired mix of freeway funk and lyrical post-card moments cribbed from his years in the state penitentiary. He'd recently tapped a booming online fan base (in Japan, of all places). More important, after years of hustling and drug dealing, he'd decided to focus exclusively on music. He'd just begun performing a show at the Copa Cabana in Long Beach when Cuicide took him under his wing and recorded with him. In Cuicide, Kadillak had found a mentor, someone who not only had survived gang life, but also had decades of experience in the rap game with credible ties to some of the world's MCs including Snoop Dogg, whom he'd known since he was a punk kid slinging dope on the streets of Long Beach.
As it turns out, Kadillak would have an unexpected chance to make an impression on the Dogg Father himself: Last April, an old high-school friend of Kadillak contacted him on Facebook to talk about his music. What started as a typical chat led to her asking him for a demo she could pass onto her brother-in-law, an A&R rep for a label looking for talented rappers. That label happened to be Doggystyle Records, Snoop Dogg's home, though she didn't tell him that at the time.
A couple of weeks after sending her a few of his tracks, Kadillak got a phone call from his friend's brother-in-law, Torrey, who told him the label was interested in meeting him and hearing more of his stuff. That interest soon turned into an invitation to a party at a tree-covered estate in Hollywood Hills, the home of the owner of Levi's jeans. "At first, I thought Levi's must have been the name of some club. When I rolled up, I don't think I put two and two together right away," Kadillak recalls. "But when I figured out where I was and who I would be meeting, I was just shocked."
There, he met Torrey, a 6-foot-8 behemoth who delivered a crushing handshake and a smile. He told Kadillak he'd invited him to meet a few people from the Doggystyle crew: rapper Kurupt and his cousin/rapper Roscoe. He would also meet Snoop, who was doing a DJ set that night for a house full of hot women and drunk revelers. What shocked Kadillak the most when he met Snoop, who was dressed in a Rastafarian tam and shades (the Snoop Lion persona was in full effect), was that he actually acknowledged his music and that he'd wanted to work with him on some songs he'd written.
"As your project goes, it's already in motion," Kadillak says Snoop told him. "Everything I need to find out about you is on this CD. You don't need to learn how to fly, your wings are already flying." (Snoop's people did not respond to multiple attempts to reach the rapper.)
It wasn't exactly a record contract, but for Kadillak, who would soon begin negotiating a deal with Doggystyle, the moment meant everything. His recent decision to focus on music, while artistically liberating, had left him technically homeless. For two years after abandoning his studio, he'd couch-surfed with friends and moved in with girls he was seeing, living off them as he spent time cultivating his fan base, rocking shows and selling as many units of CDs as he could in Japan. Most of his family, meanwhile, had moved back to their native North Carolina—minus his father, who'd started a new family. Once again, Kadillak was grasping for a lifeline.
As he carved his way into Snoop's circle, Kadillak was convinced his outward appearance and streetwise demeanor would be his ticket to sealing a record deal. When talking to an A&R rep or a member of Snoop's entourage, it was all about staying cool and listing achievements. And his weren't bad: a pair of full-length albums selling like hotcakes in Japan; four featured songs on a soundtrack for the bargain bin Wiz Khalifa/Amber Rose flick Gang of Roses II; landing a hit song,"Drugs" (featuring Snoopyblu, Big2DaBoy and Cake Boi Sav), on the iPad video game Demon Chic. So he kept quiet about being homeless, living out of his car and frequently sneaking into truck-stop showers.