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
It was Kutzner's idea to bring the artists together to help kickstart their new record label. He garnered the blessing of Snoop Dogg—whom Kutzner had repped and with whom he co-presided over the clothing line for years—to use the Lake Forest studio for the collaboration. A meeting was set for this past February at Serious Pimp's 10th-floor offices in Irvine.
And the rest, as they rap, is history.
* * *
At the meeting, Kutzner sat between Young and Wright. The three talked about what a compilation album would look like, sound like and actually do for their careers. The conversation, while casual, had been a lifetime in the making. It even seemed that way for Kutzner. His first meeting with Young was in 2008, after Snoop became affiliated with Serious Pimp Clothing. Though it would be a couple of years before he and Bigg A would launch the record label and partner with Snoop to run it out of his personal studio, Kutzner was already dreaming about Young and Wright being his flagship artists. He reached out to Young and attempted to set up a meeting with him and Wright.
"They'd always seen each other in clubs, and they were at a business event together, so I sent a limo to pick up Curtis and Lil E to meet up at a hotel, but Lil E never showed," says Kutzner, a gruff, stocky, 5-foot-8 white guy with spiky brown hair, black-rimmed glasses and a gravelly voice.
At the Irvine meeting, Wright and Young shook hands, deciding to do something they both believed was finally ready to happen. They have already had their individual tracks slapped on a recent label compilation featuring an intro from Snoop himself. "I respect the fact that Damian respected the lineage of my father and Curtis' father when he came to us with this," Wright says. "It's about keeping people aware of where the legacy of this music started and, as his son, to keep his music going."
Since they've started the project, a batch of 12 new songs are on the table, a mix-and-match of solo tracks; collaborations with Young, Wright and Wright's brother Derrick; as well as group tracks awaiting verses from new label signees Dillinger and Kurupt. On the production side, legendary West Coast producer Battlecat is manning the boards on a majority of the beats, with Dillinger and capable local producers such as Steve Dang handling others. The goal: to incorporate the G-funk genetics into an updated formula that brings together slices of house music with a sound that surveys the current state of West Coast rap, as pushed by artists such as Kendrick Lamar and School Boy Q.
The label itself is also going through a reformulation, thanks to some key advice from former Ruthless Records president and longtime industry pro Ernie Singleton, who has managed the careers of artists such as Bone Thugs n Harmony and Mary J. Blige and briefly ran Eazy's label after he died. Hell, he even had Diddy as an intern back when he worked at Uptown Records. His résumé also includes a stint as president of urban music at MCA Records. Singleton has 139 platinum- and gold-selling albums to his credit.
"Eazy-E poured the concrete and paved the road for that new 405 [freeway] everybody's riding now in hip-hop. Eazy-E did that and Dr. Dre," he says. "So their sons are entitled, and I think that they're both committed. You can't ask for any more than that."
That commitment is showing itself outside the studio, as the two finally embarked on a recent tour together (in Idaho, of all places) and have plans to participate in a reality-show series titled Seeds of Hip-Hop, detailing the careers of famous rappers' offspring as they venture through the business without the direct help of their fathers. In addition to Young and Wright, the show is said to feature the sons of Jam Master Jay, MC Ren and E-40.
For Wright, the DNA Project and a separate project with his brother Derrick (the Compton Money Gang) are coming at a time when his DNA is also being woven into the fabric of West Coast rap in a virtual sense. About two months ago, after news that his father would be an avatar at Rock the Bells, Wright was asked for the use of his body to computer-generate his dad's likeness. The project got the blessing of Eazy's widow, Tomica Wright (the current owner of Ruthless Records). Chang Weisberg, founder of Rock the Bells and its presenter Guerilla Union, also brought in Derrick to help with the voice, as well as their sister Erin "E.B." Wright (also a rapper) as a model for crafting Eazy's face.
In his interactions with Wright, Weisberg was taken by his willingness to contribute in any way possible, from the physical modeling to pushing the project on radio stations and CNN without mentioning his own projects. While that drive didn't result in his participation onstage at Rock the Bells with the DNA Project or as a solo artist, Weisberg says he's willing to do whatever he can to see Wright succeed. And since RTB isn't the only concert Guerilla Union puts on, that's definitely a possibility.