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I’m unsure when my fascination with South Central Los Angeles first developed but I know it was before NWA exploded their ‘hood onto the planet’s media map with their debut album Straight Outta Compton in 1988. Admittedly, I didn’t know Compton but I possessed an awareness of Watts and the legacy of South Central, both as a one time Mecca for African American music and, more recently, as a blighted neighbourhood whose populace and lifestyle rubbed against the grain of the California Dream. NWA certainly established Compton and South Central as California Nightmare, slinging rhymes about brutal police harassment, drive-by shootings, dealing crack and murder as recreational activity, for CPT locals a weekend hobby akin to golf or bowling. That in Eazy-E, Ice Cube and MC Ren they had three very individual rappers and, in Dr Dre, the man who would soon be noted as the most gifted (and commercially astute) producer of hip-hop seemed fitting: South Central had been pushing forth strongly individual musical talent ever since a small black community established itself there in the early 20th Century – Jelly Roll Morton bought New Orleans jazz and since then the likes of Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Etta James, Johnny Otis and Esther Phillips (amongst many others) have risen from these flat, palm tree-surrounded streets to take their sound to the world. Especially of interest to me were War, Charles Wright & the 103rd St Rhythm Band and The Watts Prophets who all arose from South Central at the end of the 1960s, each with remarkable musical visions.

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