CRIMEWAVE 5150: ONLY THE BEGINNING
photography by alex the brown
What earned Long Beach rap duo Crimewave 5150 the attention of the local police force? Few can say for sure, but there are plenty of rumors that the local Vice Squad has a special file on Dez Yusuf and Mook. Maybe it’s the rage and youthful angst in their lyrics and the hold that has on the music scene—or it could be the natural response to their regional hit “F*ck LBPD.” On the heels of their self-released debut full-length Menace, we talked with Crimewave about Long Beach, their expectations as independent artists, their effortless bridging of genres, the expression of anger in music, and what constitutes truly DIY antics in 2017. They perform on Sat., June 3, at the East End Block Party in Santa Ana and on Sun., June 4, at Alex’s Bar. This interview by Senay Kenfe.
We’re here with Dez and Mook—JSNMSK in real life. But you don’t like being called JSNMSK.
Mook: It’s not that I don’t like being called JSNMSK. I just want people to acknowledge that that’s something that I am, but that’s not WHO I am. I don’t wanna be specifically defined as a character. I don’t want people to feel they got to know me because they know me as JSNMSK.
It’s interesting—you’ve been operating under a few different aliases. Why?
Mook: I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about why I do shit. I do shit specifically because I like it, so I will go out of my way to create a whole world for it to exist in. I don’t wanna just be like a one-man wrecking crew of all these things because … there’s too much of the long game to play for you to try and get it poppin’ as this world-renowned renaissance man who can do everything. I try to keep shit specific to the energy I feel at the time. Sometimes I feel like JSNMSK, sometimes I feel like Dirty Waterz—I get to nurture all those things almost from an unbiased point of view. I don’t have to feel obligated to do those things. It’s easier to have different names for different projects.
Dez, how do you feel about your partner in crime?
Dez: That nigga crazy, man. He’s always got some new idea we gonna put a whole lot hours into it, and then he put it on the shelf! Nah—I mean, it’s tight. He has a lot of ideas. He inspires me when I get bored with shit. He likes to challenge me to make different types of music: ‘Go make some shit like this … if you CAN! If you can, nigga!’ It’s his form of hypnotism. He already knows I can do it. He just wants it like he wants it! Before Crimewave even existed, I was down to help him with his efforts in other types of music just to see it grow. He’s a very creative individual. When some people got it, they just got it.
What’s it like being a musician in Long Beach? Particularly as a rapper, but overall—
Dez: It’s weird.
Pros and cons.
Dez: Before it was always segregated. I’ve been playing music here since I was a teenager. So that’s interesting. A lot of segregation before—a lot of people just thinking you were corny if you were trying to rap. And now a lot of people are embracing it and it’s breaking down barriers, but also it could end up being corny if you don’t limit your access to people—or limit people’s access to you.
What do you mean?
Dez: People have seen Mook rap with Furcast, so now everyone’s like, ‘Oh, let’s get all the rappers!’ Because it brings a different crowd or a different aesthetic to their performances as rock bands. And I’ve done it and I’ve done it for years, and I’ve been doing it but it’s very specific. And now it’s like … we can’t be rapping with every band, you know? Now I get multiple questions a week—will you come and drop a verse?. Being a musician in Long Beach has definitely changed. I think people are finally starting to realize there is some prejudice here against the Black artists. I see people becoming allies in a way. They’re doing what they can. Some people don’t know what the fuck to do because they just started realizing that it’s a real thing even though it’s been talked about for some years. Now that people are seeing that, they’re like, ‘Oh shit.’ It’s first of all making them point a mirror at themselves, and then making them get up and try to incorporate us. I understand us rapping with them is their way of trying to incorporate us, but there’s better ways to go about it. Or just you know—demand that their favorite spaces have Black music, Black musicians. I don’t know—it’s all interesting. But it is definitely a hodge-podge of people, I fuck with that. People of all colors and different backgrounds.
Do you feel like the organic growth of Crimewave would have been possible in L.A. in the way it’s working for you now here in Long Beach?
Mook: It’s been really grass roots.
Dez: I’m not phony enough for L.A.! I don’t kiss a lot of ass, and I don’t tell people they’re hot if I don’t they’re hot. I definitely respect anybody doing their shit and working on their craft, but there’s some shit I just can’t let fly.
Mook: Really to consider L.A. as what type of a place it is … we could look at it as the place it is for the music culture or the music scene, or we could look at it as a real place, you know? I view L.A. as a real place. We’re part of L.A. county but I’m not from L.A.—I’m from Long Beach, and I make shit specifically for people from here to be proud of or connect with or identify with, as far as the landmarks in our music that we talk about or the experiences a lot of people know about, the shit that we reference … It’s really more about a hometown pride thing. The music scene in L.A., there’s a lot of transient people in there—there’s nobody that really builds on the culture of L.A. music. I don’t think anybody can really tell you what an organic L.A. scene looks like or sounds like. Most of the people who go to L.A. and start scenes or cultivate it or curate it aren’t from there and they have no way to contribute to the culture. So if anything, this is only possible because we kept it here as a home base.
Dez: I’ve seen a lot of rappers—musicians, rappers, whatever—leave Long Beach and claim L.A. or still live here and claim L.A. because they think that puts their broadcast out further into the world. I never agreed with that tactic. I never thought it was cool. Represent where you’re actually from. I grew up here, I didn’t spend that much time in L.A. … I go to L.A., I have friends in L.A., but I’m not gonna go rep L.A. Yeah, this is L.A. county but Long Beach is a whole different world. A different experience. You can do everything in the world here. You don’t really have to leave Long Beach. I know people that don’t leave! People that have probably been to L.A. only once or twice in their life, which is weird. You can have a gangster experience here, you can have a punk experience, you can have all different experiences in Long Beach. It’s diverse—even though it’s not really at the same time. I don’t know how to explain it. You can get into as much trouble as you want to get into.
Mook: The universal culture of being here is maybe being presented as one universal culture, so it don’t really have too much diversity as far as what’s represented—or it’s not really done in a real respectful way.
So what’s it like—
Dez: Growing up here or living here?
Both, I guess. You guys are both from here.
Mook: Me, I could really say … what it’s like to be from Long Beach—that encompasses living here and growing up here—is that one thing about Long Beach people that a lot of people don’t really understand is that it’s a really really Long Beach thing to be unimpressed by a lot of shit. [laughs] A lot of shit that we just specifically don’t fuck with because of how close we are to everything. We have so much stimulation from L.A. being right there and Orange County being right there—we got surf culture here, we got gangster culture, we got rock ‘n’ roll—
Dez: —skate culture—
Mook: —and there’s levels of all of it. And I think that the highest level of people are really respecting the fact that they from here and they don’t really fuck with a lot of shit if its not authentic. With so much shit being disingenuous the way it is … being from Long Beach, we make people earn respect for shit. We’re not gonna just fuck with some shit or bandwagon on some shit. And that’s also why I think that it’s possible to make the shit happen the way we make it happen here because it don’t really take much for people to understand some real shit when this is they first introduction to it—when it happens with so many examples of shit that’s unimpressive, you know? Or shit that’s not real or authentic.
Why do you think your shows are so youth dominated? And why does your music connect with so many people from different backgrounds?
Mook: We do a lot of character building with people. We really are out here. People see that we aren’t really rapping about flashy cars and jewelry and living some expensive exquisite lifestyle. We really make this relatable to people because if I’m not driving no foreign car, I’m not gonna rap about it. And that’s not really to come at niggas who do. It’s just that everybody represents what they wanna see. And people wanna see real shit, we gonna rap about some real shit, and that’s all you can take away from it—real shit. There’s no bullshit in there for you to eat up—there’s no fat on it. You don’t have to chew around the fat. It’s straight to the meat.
Dez: I feel that keeping it relatable does a lot. And not trying to overstep. Just because my background and his background are completely different doesn’t mean we can’t converge and create something. I don’t try to be him, I just try to be me. That goes a long way. That levels the playing field on where you can relate to us—and we both listen to so much different music and play different types of music, and that allows people to relate to us. We’re accessible—we’re not too inaccessible. We don’t give ourselves completely away, but we’re accessible. People can link with us and talk to us. I mean … I HAVE driven foreign cars, but I’m not gonna rap about it. I’m not trying to shit on the peasants! No, just kidding. [laughs]
Within your music … it’s clearly rap music but there’s very much a relationship with the angst and anger people traditionally find within punk or hardcore. There’s this energy people connect with punk and hardcore, which is a lot of the background you come from, Dez. How do you channel that into Crimewave?
Dez: I was into hardcore and heavy music. And then I started going to punk shows with my friends as I got a little older because they were saying, ‘This is what THIS shit stems from. If you think this shit’s tight, come check out the punk stuff.’ When I was younger, I wanted to impress my friends. I was rapping the whole time but I was like, ‘Damn, I’m gonna start rapping about this shit.’ Because only like a few people will understand it, but it’ll be funny and it’ll be cool. So I started incorporating a lot of references. It was still regular rap music … but I couldn’t connect. I felt I couldn’t rap how I felt. I was angsty and I am angsty and angry and I had all these things going on inside me but I couldn’t really channel it. For a while I tried to go doing typical rap music but after my bands broke up and everyone moved on—people went to college and whatnot—I felt like rap was the only way I could keep playing music. Being in a band and having four or five people is extremely complicated. Even in hardcore punk—even though it’s the complete opposite philosophy—egos still get in the way. This is kinda my response to the rap game. Because I was jaded by that shit. It’s bullshit—a lot of it. Or the people in it are bullshit. So making more of an angry authentic music is just my response.
Why are you guys so angry?
Mook: It’s not the only thing.
All this growling and shit—what’s up with that?
Mook: Look—I’ll tell you why. Why I sound the way I sound. I can’t really tell you why Dez sounds the way he sounds because he’s his own man. But I can tell you why I might sound kinda mad. Basically what you were just talking to him about—the punk shit, that wasn’t in … that was what he liked! Everybody take what they like and do it. They find a way in, if they really fuck with it. … The singing shit is very tight to me, for me to see the way women reacted to it and even the way niggas react to it to—it was the same! They just recognized it, like, ‘Damn, that shit hard bro—what you doing is tight! That sounds different than the normal shit.’ And I would think to myself in the back of my head like … there’s a part of me that will really feel some type of way if I never had the ability to make people go nuts at a show. You can’t do that with the type of singing I was doing. You can’t make people go nuts. You can, but it’ll be on some whole other energy. It wouldn’t be like … warranted, maybe? But with this shit, I instantly seen a way to get as wild as possible right out the gates. That punk shit and the hardcore shit is not something I was thinking to myself that I wanted to emulate—I wasn’t thinking, ‘I wanna put some punk-sounding shit in this.’ I just really liked the fast shit we was doing—‘Bro, speed that shit up!’ I wanted it to be fast because if it was fast I could say a bunch of crazy shit in a bunch of crazy patterns. It wasn’t even about it being some punk shit. It just literally was the fact that it was fast and loud, which was … I know punk got its own reasons for sounding how it do and it’s political shit, and that’s why I was like, ‘Fuck it! I’m fucking with it!’ They really ain’t saying too much outside of what we saying when we really talk about how upset we are about shit—it sounds the same. We just talk about a whole lot of glitz and glamour shit too—about shit we don’t got. If niggas was really mad—like we are—about just shit … Like we started talking about gentrification hella early on when we started this shit cuz it was on 4th Street and it was literally at the beginning stages of being bad. We knew instantly it was only gonna get worse. And sure enough!
How do the politics of things like gentrification going on in the city impact the music?
Dez: The city likes to advertise themselves as this super diverse place. But usually only white people move to a place because of diversity. I’m keeping it real—you know what I’m saying? So the city advertises itself as this extremely diverse place—
Mook: As a selling point.
Dez: Yeah, but it’s never catered to the actual citizens that help make this what it is. There would not be a skatepark in Bixby Park if the Black and brown kids were not showing up every fucking day and skating on that shit whether the cops came or not. So what’d they do? They made a skatepark, and they’ve been putting skateparks in all these hoods. But it’s because these kids continuously skated, you know? I tried to do many a show at Bixby Park. I tried to go through the proper avenues, I told them what genre of music it is, I stopped getting callbacks even though I’m down to pay the fees or whatever … and then a whole rock fest goes down.
Mook: For free!
Dez: For free. I watched Fucked Up play at the park, and they’re called Fucked Up. It shows you where the interest is and what they’re trying to cultivate here. Long Beach hasn’t really acknowledged its people of color. They haven’t acknowledged the jazz scene that was here, they haven’t acknowledged the rap shit—they acknowledge Snoop Dogg. They wanna keep acknowledging Snoop Dogg.
Mook: They just let that nigga perform here for the first time. Ever! At a real venue—first time he ever did that. And that nigga’s an icon here. He made this city fashionable for a lot of the selling points they capitalize off of. It’s weird.
Is it true the Long Beach Police Department has a file on you?