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Click. Click. Click.
But for that sharp rasp, it's completely silent in the inner sanctum of Serious Pimp Studios in Lake Forest. The teal couches are sprinkled with entourage and hip-hop types, mouths hemmed from the tension and tedium of recording except to expel the occasional sigh or pungent gust of chalk-white blunt smoke that waltzes up to the all-black ceiling. At the center recording console, producer/Serious Pimp co-head Bigg A—a 6-foot-4 Maytag of a man sporting a Compton hat, a gold chain and a Raiders jersey—guides a computer mouse with a right hand the size of a catcher's mitt. Looking at colored lines, wave forms and knobs on a glowing bay of twin flat-screens, he clicks, clacks and space bars his way to finessing a new track alongside a very important new signee to his label, which he runs with Damian Kutzner.
As he presses playback for the millionth time, Bigg A turns to the artist, Curtis Young—the son of legendary hip-hop producer Dr. Dre—gives a nod and takes a drag from a nearby joint, the striated fumes escaping through the ridges of his platinum-and-diamond-encrusted grill. "Ready to hear it again, my man?" he asks in a low, dry tone.
Young turns his head to nod back. The resemblance—from the ridge of his eyebrows to his nose and broad shoulders—is uncanny. Fidgeting with a giant gold wristwatch, he glances at the time and casually gives the go-ahead. "Drop it."
Bigg A releases a Krakatoa of woofer-rattling bass that struts over melting keyboard lines paved into an amped-up fusion of G-funk, serrated synth and dramatic strings. It's West Coast rap 101 with a defiantly modern twist. The beat echoes past the couches and the entourage to the back halls of the recording studio, built and owned by Snoop Dogg, who co-presides with Kutzner over the Serious Pimp clothing company.
As the beat knocks and heads bob, Young traces the air with his hand, visualizing the rhymes he's set to lay down with Eric Wright Jr., eldest son of late N.W.A co-founder/iconic gangsta rapper Eazy-E. With the little time he has in the studio, Young is trying to make every second count. This can't just be a respectable track among his respectable releases over the years; the compilation he's embarking on with Wright (a.k.a. Lil Eazy-E, a.k.a. Lil E), dubbed the DNA Project, has to be more than that. It's gotta be good enough to make his pops "raise his eyebrow," he says.
Of course, the project they're creating and where they're creating it is an eyebrow-raiser in itself. The sons of two gangsta-rap pioneers who formed N.W.A as friends only to be pulled apart by a feud that plagued them until Eazy-E's death in 1995 are coming together to work on an album that pays tribute to their roots. Along the way, they're getting help from some major players in the West Coast rap game, including Daz Dillinger, Kurupt and DJ Battlecat. Glancing at a soda machine emblazoned with a mural of Snoop's face, in a place whose walls are lined with platinum and gold records and a flotsam of shrines to the Doggfather, Young says both he and Wright know that having their "uncle" in their midst makes this the proper place to push the music cultivated by their fathers in a new generation.
"It feels like a big hug when I walk in here," says Young. "Like [Snoop's] always watching me."
There have been plenty of eyes and expectations (both positive and negative) on Young and Wright throughout their hip-hop careers. The DNA Project, inching toward completion this year, is catching most people by surprise. Probably because this studio flush with murderous beats and the blood of gangsta-rap royalty isn't predictably located in LA, but in the devastatingly quiet, boring OC suburbs of South County. Lake Forest, to be exact, is where the Doggfather decided to build his studio to get some peace and quiet, two of South County's most prized commodities.
But right now, it's time for these sons of N.W.A to step out of their fathers' respective shadows and cause a ruckus all their own, spitting rhymes that tell their story, while giving an inside look at the struggles they've faced while growing up in the same neighborhood in Compton. They had hardly spoken to each other as adolescents, remnants of their fathers' rivalry. This collaboration also aligns with Rock the Bells, at which Eazy-E and Wu Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard will be featured via virtual avatars, performing à la Tupac at Coachella 2012, during its stop at the San Manuel Amphitheatre on Sept. 7 and 8. Though Young and Wright said the DNA Project is not an effort to rehash their fathers' legacies, it certainly appears as if the next-generation N.W.A project is coming straight outta . . . well, OC.
Leaning forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his knees, Young, dressed in a thick peacoat, a crucifix dangling from a chain around his neck, explains why finding the success he's always wanted in music isn't just business—it's personal. "By it being in our blood and our birthright, we're able to continue what our fathers imprinted the game with, as far as gangster rap," he says.