Last Tuesday, on the release date of his debut album Apex Predator, LBC-rooted rapper Crooked I had a moment of reflection at the intersection of Palmer Court and 20th St in Long Beach, at the studio apartment of his teenage years. He sat and admired his surroundings. It was here at this apartment--where he lived with his older brother--that a 15 year-old Long Beach kid born Dominick Wickliffe decided he wanted to take up being an emcee as his life's work. Some years later, the 34 year-old rapper went from a kid idolizing hip-hip heroes to actually becoming one himself.
"I dropped Apex Predator last Tuesday and last Tuesday I just sat in front of that studio apartment where it all kind of began just to soak up and always remember where I come from," says Crooked I.
Growing up, the rapper spent many years in Long Beach, and it's a city he counts as having a significant influence on him as an individual and as an artist. It's in Long Beach he says his "creative juices" began to flow, and it's the eclectic environment of Long Beach that impacted him more than anywhere else.
"It's a very relaxed environment; it's beach living -- skateboarders, fishermen, surfers, just like any other beach city. All that was like a collage in my mind. From being on the east side where I'm from and seeing all the death, the shootings, the robberies, the drug selling, the drug addicts, and then being able to escape and go down to the beach and just chill out with friends and see the positive atmosphere. It just all made for a recipe for who I am," Crooked I says.
Crooked I even discovered his passion for hip-hop and music in Long Beach. While staying in his mother's household, he was constantly surrounded by old-school rap records, and was impacted by his mother's own musicality.
"My mother used to sing and do backup singing for R&B groups and that was her hustle -- getting gigs, doing background singing, helping people write songs. She was very musical around the house, and she would play a lot of old-school hip-hop records when we were little and I think she put that into me. To express myself musically came from my mother," he says.
And, while there may not have been a true, solid father figure in his household, hip-hop seemed more than able to fill the role.
"We grew up in a single parent home so hearing all these dudes rapping about what they were rapping about, they became in a severe way my mentors at first. All the emcees; Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Too Short even. These voices were the only male voices in my house, outside of my older brother. They almost raised me."
As mentors and artistic guides, the emcees that served as "the only male voices" seemed to do a good job of aiding Crooked I in his formative years. Nowadays, Crooked I is an accomplished artist with a huge body of work to point to and a dedicated fanbase of attentive, lyric-loving fans. As a rapper, he has a reputation for being a verbally-potent "emcee's emcee," and as a businessman is a prime example of how to properly conduct an independent grind. Aside from releasing his debut album Apex Predator--now available on iTunes--he even has his own weekly radio show on well-known hip-hop figure DJ Skee's network SkeeTV, which airs every Wednesday night.
All of Crooked I's accomplishments and accolades have been driven by a sheer love of music and an appreciation for his artform, and to this day Crooked I still sounds as though he gets more enthusiastic about his profession by the day.
"I just want to evolve, and get better with time. I want the fans to see that evolution and hear the hunger that still exists. No matter how many goals I achieve and set for myself, I want to keep that hunger, that drive, that passion, and just always be the best I can be as an emcee. I'm not running from that, like a lot of rappers they run from the terminology 'emcee' because it puts them in a 'nerd, backpack' category. I'm not running from that; I'm running towards it. That's what we're supposed to be -- emcees. I always tell upcoming artists: 'no one wants to hear a dumb rapper.'"