Each month, The Ringer’s Logan Murdock will profile up-and-coming artists from around the music landscape. And each month, he’ll put you on notice about the future of that landscape. Tap in.
AllBlack has accumulated a lot during his rise as Oakland’s next best rapper—money, power, a G-Eazy cosign, and four impressive independent releases. Music has provided an escape from his house on 22nd and Foothill and an exit from the pimp lifestyle he chose for years but ultimately came to question. But as he advances in his career, he’s still in search of the peace that’s eluded him for much of his life.
“That’s it,” he says by phone in early October. “Monitoring the storm. Having control over this storm.”
At the moment, AllBlack, born D’Andre Sams, says he finds solace only when he’s in the booth, spitting life experiences from his diary. His latest entry, No Shame 3—which includes features from Too Short, DaBoii, Guapdad 4000, and frequent collaborator Offset Jim—serves as a reminder of his place atop Oakland’s music scene.
No Shame 3, released earlier in October, is an ode to the Oakland of his youth, before the tech boom and high rent, when the Bay Area was inching out of a historic recession and house parties were more popular than clubs. Production from longtime Bay Area beatmaker DJ Fresh recalls the music the now-28-year-old AllBlack heard during his weekend odysseys to teen nightspot ClubLive as a youth. The album’s third track, “Running to the Bag” pays homage to Oakland legend Dru Down’s “Pimp of the Year.” The Spencer Stevens–produced “Keep Count,” the project’s first single, shows the dark side of his teenage endeavors, providing commentary for those who didn’t make it with him:
Pray for that junkie who keep stickin’ needles in his neck
Pray for the BGs and torpedos who ain’t got no mind
Pray for them vegetables at Highland [Hospital] fightin’ for they lives
Pray for them weirdo niggas in the pen’ who ain’t got shit but time.
AllBlack says he found rap by accident—or rather, rap found him. One night about six years ago, Bay Area rapper and singer 100s (now Kossisko) was opening for A$AP Mob in Los Angeles and needed a hype man. He turned to Sams. By the end of the evening, Kossi had a request for his newest coworker.
“You should rap,” AllBlack says Kossi told him.
Black had other plans—at least in the short term. He wasn’t one to stay in one place for very long. On one weekend, he’d be in Santa Barbara hustling on State Street. On other nights, he’d be back in the Bay, coaching youth football or working as a pimp, something he says he got into as a way to make ends meet. Sensing a need for stability, he moved to Atlanta at the behest of his aunt, who’d recently bought a house. Trouble still found him. In 2013, he was arrested on marijuana-related drug charges and returned to Oakland broke and in need of a change. Upon arrival, he kept listening to Dru Down’s “No One Love You,” which inspired him to make his own music. Needing an outlet, he found a studio. One night in 2015, nervous, he took Kossi’s advice and recorded two songs. One of the songs, “Dallas Cowboys Starter,” showed Sams’s unique flow: Though he was a Bay resident, his rhyme patterns were similar to Detroit rappers, offbeat but right on time. He talked about trapping on Atlanta’s MARTA train, having “a bigger army than Obama,” and how a girl told him he wasn’t a gangsta because his clothes were too tight. His cadence had the swagger of Bay Area legends 3X Krazy, Luniz, and Celly Cel. He talked shit like Dru Down and told stories like Too Short. But the biggest takeaway from the session was his command in the booth. His confidence masked his inexperience. He had stories to tell about himself, his crew, and his Town. When he finished, his homies went crazy in the studio, amazed by what they heard—the rawness, the cadence, and the subject matter that made it personal.
“I’m looking through the window,” he says. “I’m seeing people jump up and down like, ‘Hey, he tripping.’ I’m looking like what the fuck.”
But the songs were supposed to be a secret. He didn’t want his life to be on wax. He was an outcast, the weirdo with the septum piercing and face tattoos who was still fighting a case. The outlet was cool, but the world wasn’t ready for him, he thought. The next day, his friends leaked songs to SoundCloud; those uploads ended up on the first No Shame and helped jump-start his career. A year later, he released No Shame 2, featuring “Salute Me,” his magnum opus of self-reflection. Eight months later, he dropped KimSon, featuring “Canadian Goose,” which became an Oakland anthem. Outcalls and 2-Minute Drills continued his rise, attracting the attention of G-Eazy, Too Short, and E-40. 22nd Ways, a collaboration album with Offset Jim, gave him the keys to the Town. An appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! alongside Jim, Blueface, and G-Eazy soon followed. The fame brought some unexpected experiences, like when G-Eazy threw him the keys to his Ferrari, got in the passenger seat, and let him drive down Telegraph Avenue, through North Oakland, into downtown toward Alameda for a video shoot. Or the moment in 2018 when he was on FaceTime with longtime friend Kiwi Gardner, and Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson popped in saying, “ALLBLACK, I love you, bro. ‘Canadian Goose’ is my shit!” Weeks later, Thompson invited him on his float during the Warriors victory parade.
“That was the moment when I’m just like ‘Oh, hold up,’” he said. “This is sick.”
To know AllBlack is to know Oakland. His grandfather was among the thousands to become a Black Panther in the 1960s. His family home is in Rancho San Antonio, one of the Town’s most diverse enclaves. Two blocks down is International Boulevard—known to locals as East 14th. All of this history comes through in his latest project. He raps about sideshows, parties, trauma, pain, and the stroll, the strip where prostitutes offered their services. No Shame 3’s intro, which samples Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Shame,” paints a picture of Oakland’s stroll of the 1980s: the opulence, the grit, and the swagger. Then, as King’s track comes to an abrupt end, a woman’s voice announces Black as a “16 who wears the crown, Black and proud.”
Elsewhere on No Shame 3, including on the Too Short–assisted “Never,” AllBlack references his past life as a pimp. Sex work has long history in the East Bay as one of its biggest underground economies, and it’s been prevalent in much of the art that’s come out of the region—the Blaxploitation classic The Mack was filmed along International Boulevard, not far from AllBlack’s family home, and rappers from Too Short to Dru Down have made it a theme in their music. AllBlack says he worked as a pimp for years, but quit after learning the full extent of the more troubling aspects of pimping, which can include human trafficking.
“I left that field alone once I started seeing that you can’t win,” he says.
AllBlack also illuminates his pain throughout the project. On “Keep Count,” he alludes to the time a gunman opened fire at a house party in 2009, striking him once in the leg. “Devil’s Call” details his experiences growing up, how the burning odor he smelled walking through rooms in his home was “fiends getting high,” and how he picked up a gun to protect his friends from getting beat up. “This ain’t no Noisey episode, it ain’t finna go no further,” he raps, providing context. “I was just letting you know how I turned into this motherfucker.” But perhaps most illuminating is the chorus of “No Sleep,” the P-Lo-produced posse cut featuring Offset Jim and Lil Bean.
“I been thumbin’ thru this cash,” AllBlack raps. “I been runnin plays all week, I know time don’t wait for no man, that’s why I can’t get no sleep.”
AllBlack’s words show the state he’s in—he’s no longer the broke kid hustling in Oakland, but not yet the star he’s striving to become. He’s now on the ascent, making money, living far away from 22nd, back in Atlanta. But he’s still having trouble finding solace. The biggest reason: His happiness is directly tied into his work.
“I actually have peace,” he says. “But it’s when I stop working, when I stop moving around, I lose it bro. I get bored. I start reminiscing on the past and start getting, thinking about all that happens. I don’t get back into all that happens. That’s what shakes me up and it makes me want to get back moving. That’s my peace. When I’m not working, I get back into them old habits. I mean I start feeling like, ‘Damn, bro, what is you doing?’”
Now, he’s back in the studio, prepping for his latest project, Thank You for Fucking With Me, expected the top of next year. Along the way, he’ll still tell the stories that got him out of his environment, while trying to find consistent peace in the one he currently inhabits.
Hailing from Long Beach, Giveon has put together an impressive year thus far. He supplied lead vocals for Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle” and put out two projects: Take Time and an EP titled When It’s All Said and Done, the latter of which was released earlier this month. His latest effort’s lone feature with Snoh Aalegra, titled “Last Time,” is a standout. On the track, Snoh and Giveon describe former lovers who know it’s the end, and are pushing for one more time together, promising a night of passion “just this last time.” It provides a familiar tale for couples on the brink of the end. He speaks on heartbreak, pain, and love, and made two soundtracks for anyone going through the perils of quarantined love life. He’s relatively new in the game, but if 2020 is any indication, he’s ready for a big run in 2021.
San Francisco has a large influence on the history of Bay Area rap. From San Quinn to Andre Nickatina and Rappin’ 4-Tay, the region’s most populous city has produced its fair share of legends. In two short years, ZayBang seems primed to add himself into the city’s lore with his breakout song, “No Relations.” On the track, Zay seems like a man just on the cusp of fame, still dealing with the rigors of poverty on his rise. Though he has eyes on the new Tesla, he still thinks about how his grandmother’s influence got him to buy one in the first place. But even though he’s getting acclaim, he still has to carry a gun to feel safe. Through the years, San Francisco has been the poster city of gentrification, which has pushed many of the city’s poor out of the region. But ZayBang shows the grit and storytelling of a City original, with standout tracks “Beat the Odds,” “In the Rain,” and “Back to Back” with frequent collaborator Lil Bean. With AllBlack and Offset Jim repping the East Bay, ZayBang has enough clout and talent to hold up San Francisco’s place in the local scene.
The Los Angeles–based singer, songwriter, and producer made some noise three years ago, appearing on Playboi Carti’s “Flex” from the rapper’s self-titled debut in 2017. Since then, he’s collaborated with Syd and MXXWLL. His latest project, HIGH TIDE, is the perfect soundtrack for a summer love story, highlighted by tracks like “12345 (Get Real)” and the Ty Dolla $ign–assisted “Perfect is Boring.” Kali’s music makes you want to drop the top and drive along the beach with your boo-boo and coast.
Woods started as a poet in her native Chicago and released her first chapbook, The Truth About Dolls, in 2012. She’s most known for her collaboration with Chance the Rapper on the hit “Sunday Candy.” Last year, she released Legacy! Legacy!, whose song titles paid homage to prominent Black figures including Eartha Kitt, Jean-Michel Basquiat, James Baldwin, and Muddy Waters. Before the pandemic, she was on tour with Grammy Award–winning singer Raphael Saadiq. Last month, she released a two-pack of tracks entitled “Sula.” Her influences include Black poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Nikki Giovanni, which is evidenced in her songwriting ability. Her songs evoke independence, strength, and vulnerability that make for an all-purpose listening experience.