Where We’re From: Rise Of The L.A. Underground Hip Hop | Filmology With Spoken Nerd

L.A. Hip-Hop will always hold a place in my heart. I remember falling in love with the sound of groups like People Under the Stairs, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, and L.A. Symphony. When I became involved in my local rap scene, one of my friends had moved from California and turned me onto Project Blowed and emcees like Myka 9, Abstract Rude, and 2Mex. Hip Hop has many notable homes across the U.S. but the vibe of its L.A. base is incomparable. The first time I visited Los Angeles was in the early 2000s for one of my first rap tours. One of the first things that we did was buy spray paint and take the bus to Venice Beach to try our hands at graffiti. My piece was a cartoon of Homer Simpson that looked like absolute garbage with my emcee name painted beside it. We did a lot of exploring. We attempted to sell copies of my first solo album on CDR to random people on the streets. We ate vegetarian food from a café before having a conversation with the good folks from The Temple of Hip Hop who weren’t happy with us because we didn’t know the roots of the genre as well as we should have. When we finally circled back to the graffiti wall, we found our pieces painted over with insults regarding our rudimentary art skills. Ultimately, this town was exciting and unlike anywhere I had ever been.     

Although I probably still don’t live up to The Temple of Hip Hop’s standards of knowledge, I have seen a handful of documentaries about the genesis of the culture. It seems that about every 2 years a new one comes out that my older DJ friend insists that I need to see, so I buckle down and get ready to increase my knowledge with the New York-based tale of DJ parties in the Bronx and whatnot.  My favorite film out of all of the documentaries that my friend has recommended over the years was an emcee-focused documentary hosted by Ice-T, 2012’s Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap. Having discovered a documentary that stands as a regional period piece of Hip Hop history that has influenced the culture across the board, I am proud to say that I finally have a recommendation for him. Where We’re From: Rise of L.A. Underground Hip Hop (Shout! Studios) tells the story that every Hip Hop head needs to hear.     

Where We’re From teaches us about the L.A. underground Hip Hop scene of the ’90s and early 2000s through the eyes of the Elements crew. The film was directed and produced by Elements’ DJ Bonds and DJ Breeze who take us through a detailed description of the broader L.A. Scene while emphasizing its unity. For example, we learn from J-RO of Tha Alkaholiks that Del the Funky Homosapien is Ice Cube’s cousin.  Before this underground scene grew in popularity, the west coast scene was characterized. Even to Hip Hop heads on the east coast, it was a universe similar to that of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. We learn that it’s a very myopic perspective as we are graced with a performance from Aceyalone and Myka 9 from Freestyle Fellowship. These artists embodied an innovative sound that was ahead of its time. Freestyle Fellowship is one of the most underrated groups in Hip Hop.  

In the opening credits, there is a quote from DJ Breeze that sends shivers up my spine:  “When you’re caught up in the moment you don’t realize how special something is until you’ve had some time to reflect on it.  We were just young and to be quite honest, we didn’t even know what we were doing.  We just wanted to represent where we were from.  What I do know is we were at the right place, at the right time, in the right city.”  The Elements was a legendary weekly Hip-Hop event in L.A. similar to The Good Life and Project Blowed.  This event facilitated culture and grew to be an amazing outlet for a community of artists.  We get to hear stories about legendary battles like the one where Otherwise wins a Rolex after serving Eminem but gets it stolen at the bar that night while buying everyone drinks.  Phife Dawg from Tribe Called Quest talks trash to an emcee, and gets properly served in front of the crowd. DJ Breeze wraps it up best with another memorable quote, “That was Hip Hop in its purest form. A spontaneous battle between a living legend and a guy who showed up there on the bus.” 

The humbling thing about this documentary is that it illustrates the struggle of movers and shakers. Even in one of the biggest Hip Hop events in the country, there are financial struggles, venue problems, and discomfort with sponsors.  We are exposed to the all-too-common “no Hip Hop shows” policies of insurance companies. Hosting a weekly or monthly Hip Hop event is a labor of love and if your city has one you should consider this a great service to your community.      

Where We’re From tells a story that I feel like every Hip Hop head should know.  This is a moment in the culture’s history that is too often overlooked and I am truly thankful that DJ Bonds and DJ Breeze made this film. I’m not really much for judging other artists for their knowledge of the histories of their specific genres, but if I ever find myself visiting The Temple of Hip Hop, I will be sure to deliver them a copy of this film just in case they don’t know.

About Nathan Conrad:

He’s best known as the Nashville-based Hip Hop/Indie Pop emcee Spoken Nerd, but this isn’t your typical rap project. He rhymes playfully at times, singing and/or rapping, juxtaposes his style with real-life situations and subject matter. Occasionally Spoken Nerd will find inspiration in films and will put it into song. With six full-length albums into his career, the rapper has built a healthy catalog of music, which doesn’t include the number of EPs and singles released.