"If you can see the palm trees but can't find the beach, you might want to be careful." Although it's far from a steadfast rule, this common admonition is used by natives of Los Angeles County's urban areas to highlight its most hidden danger--the deceiving landscape.
Inglewood is no exception. The economically diverse city is an area of contrasts. The affluent Ladera Heights neighborhood on the northside straddles the Inglewood/LA city border, placing its million dollar homes directly next to blocks flooded with reasonably priced apartments. On the southside, the Crenshaw-Imperial Shopping Center and Century Shopping Center serve as important retail hubs that compensate for revenue lost after the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers relocated from the Great Western Forum at the heart of The Wood, to it's current home at Staples Center in downtown LA.
Inglewood isn't the best neighborhood, but it's also not the worst, and it's young residents have learned to adapt to all the city has to offer--the good, the bad, and the ugly.
On May 15, Montae "M-Bone" Talbert, group member and resident dancer of rap group Cali Swag District, best known for their platinum-selling instructional dance hit "Teach Me How to Dougie," was shot and killed outside of a convenience and liquor store in Inglewood.
As typical of homicides that occur in Southern Los Angeles and involve young black males, the possibility that the incident was "gang-related" was investigated. That fact was thrown around by journalists repeatedly in news stories.
Group members, resentful of the assumption, spoke out--first against the random act of violence, second to clear their friend's name, and then lastly to reveal a harsh reality of living in Inglewood. Violence happens, sometimes just because.
What the hip-hop community was experiencing nationwide for the first time was, in fact, a common occurrence there. Just last month, 22-year-old college student Shawn Bryant was shot in the back and killed by two men while returning to his car parked outside of a south Inglewood liquor store, while on his way to a birthday party at the beach. His girlfriend, who was sitting in the passenger seat was shot multiple times for screaming in reaction to the brazen act.
"It's scary," Shawn's mother Cunetta Sims told NBC news cameras the morning after the shooting. "It is so scary that you can get out of your car ready to go to a store and never come back home."
Sounding slightly callous but perhaps just a little jaded, "scary" wasn't the first adjective that came to the mind of CSD group member Smoove when asked about the murder. "I live over there by where the shooting happened," he said. "I didn't know the guy. It's tragic but it's not a surprise. It's nothing new to us. Summer in LA is known as killing season. My first tattoo in 08 was an R.I.P. tattoo and the next summer I lost about 4 or 5 more friends."
Whether you can agree with adopting apathy as a coping mechanism or not, one thing is for sure, it's taken a lot of courage for Cali Swag to realize that although the harsh reality of the streets may have crashed the kickback, it definitely didn't stop the party.
In the weeks since the funeral, group members have demonstrated remarkable resilience, honoring M-Bone whenever, wherever, and in the best ways they know how. Keeping the party as Bone would say, "turnt up!" Jay-Are, Smoove, and Yung recorded an upbeat tribute song "How to Do That" that highlights Talbert's personality.
They even egged on his grandmother to demonstrate the Dougie dance, which boosted the crew's popularity at his open-to-the-public memorial service at Inglewood's Faithful Central Bible Church. They kept the celebration of life going all the way up to the BET Awards on June 26, shouting him out during a presentation of a tribute to artists who've passed away in the last year including Teena Marie, Gil Scott-Heron, and Nate Dogg.
"It was amazing," said Yung. "We didn't even know we were going to be doing that, we were asked right before the show but we were very happy to do it, and happy that they chose to honor [M-Bone] in that way. It was great."
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This same enthusiasm is being carried over into their work as well.
Riding off the heels of the release of their "Deeper than the Dougie" mixtape, the trio is now promoting the their forthcoming debut album The Kickback which hits store shelves this Tuesday. For the project, the group traveled down to Dallas, Texas, the home of the Dougie, to film a video for "Burnout," the first single off the project.
Although the vid features some locals demonstrating a new jig referred to as "South Dallas Swaggin'" CSD maintains that there are no plans in the works to replace M-Bone in their hearts, minds or on stage because though the group admits that it's still difficult for them to perform old songs, especially ones that feature ad libs and cues directed at M-Bone, the show must go on.
Cali Swag District's album release party is this Saturday, July 9 at Slidebar (122 E Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton). The group will be hosting and performing at the event.