“R&B is dead,” says Watts, California-based rapper 03 Greedo. The melodic-minded MC was answering an innocuous question about how his songwriting process might differ from that of an R&B artist.
“If you sing and you don’t rap, nobody wants to hear that shit. Nobody wants to hear no fucking Trey Songz right now. Nobody wants to hear fuckin’ Avant. Nobody wants to hear Case. Nobody wants to hear Ginuwine, they don’t want to hear Tank or none of that shit. They want to hear A Boogie. They want to hear PNB [Rock]. They want to hear 03 Greedo.”
Bold pronouncements like these pepper conversations with the 30-year-old Alamo Records signee. Recently, one got him into hot water with rap fans, when he told Billboard, “Tupac sucks.” Yet over the course of an hour-long conversation, Greedo seldom provokes without a point; one gets the impression he’s less concerned with trolling for attention than he is letting his unapologetic perspective cut through the noise, uninhibited by politics. In this case, his point was simple: The past is the past, and 03 Greedo is what the people want now, even if they don’t know it yet.
It’s this clear-cut sense of purpose which has transformed a small but growing segment of hip-hop fans into his cheerleaders. Greedo’s music is full of druggy vocal smears, blues-inflected street stories and wildly original songwriting. These songs, often released in massive clumps like 2016’s 40-track epic Purple Summer or this year’s relatively concise 21-track Wolf of Grape Street, seduce listeners through accretion, as the full range of his sound unfolds: crooned melodies, unpredictable flows and clever lyrics which speak at once to his core audience back home in Watts and to a broader audience who might miss out on the particulars but find themselves along for the ride.
Though his lyrics reflect stories from his old SoCal home (he recently relocated to Atlanta after signing his record deal), Greedo’s musical palette seems regionally limitless – his list of influences includes the Louisiana hip-hop popular with the state’s expats in the Jordan Downs housing projects, popular R&B singer SZA, a childhood diet of Anita Baker and Stevie Wonder, Nineties R&B, time spent under the roof of a friend’s Jamaican immigrant parents and a heavy dose of Pharrell Williams.
“Pharrell is the king, because that nigga went from making gangster shit with Clipse to fucking, when I go to Universal Studios with my daughter and get on the Despicable Me ride they’re playing like 10 of his songs.”
These diverse influences help explain his songwriting proficiency, despite a lack of formal musical training. “A songwriter grew up liking melodies and it’s stuck in their head,” Greedo says. “These are not just melodies we created, these are melodies that graduated from shit we already heard. I basically have a photographic memory with sound. That’s why the more I record, the better the music is.” His recording style reflects his restless attitude in life; he demonstrates over FaceTime how he paces in a circle while writing. “I one-take every single song,” he says. “Sometimes I freestyle. I write most of it, but I write it right then and there. It’s an instant thought.”
One style that never interested him, however, was a sound every West Coast rapper is inevitably saddled with: “I never liked G-Funk,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck what nobody talking about, that shit is fucking garbage. … It’s just like California be staying stuck in a fucking box.” Greedo, with his cosmopolitan approach to songcraft, sees a stark line between his art and this historical pandering, which he credits to the meddling of the music business. “There’s a new sound out here that is gonna expose how Los Angeles really has been this whole time. Make sure you put this: I have never sat in a lowrider. They expect me to be wearing Dickies and riding a lowrider – I guarantee one fucking director is gonna have that shit in they shit and I’m gonna be like, ‘You weird, what the fuck are you talking about.’ … I’m not living some fake life that other niggas be living, like, ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do that.’ My life was not the traditional life.”
Greedo lost his father when he was one year old, and a contentious relationship with his mother led to bouts of homelessness, stints living in Kansas and St. Louis, gang involvement, a shooting that shattered his leg, and a series of legal battles stemming from a lifetime in and out of the underground economy. These are the stories which often make up a rapper’s PR copy, and much of the ink spilled around Greedo’s music fixates upon his street bona fides and personal struggles. Yet his fights with the legal system seem to have had less of an impact driving up his small but burgeoning fanbase than they have on sharpening his creative focus, his sense that with this new opportunity he has a mission to complete.
“I’m here to lead the people that were lost. … ‘The skaters, the bums, the homeless people, the fuckin’ project niggas, the me-against-the-world-ass niggas, the gangbangers, the flockers, people that break in houses. The underworld people, I’m the leader of that. I want to go to these rural countries and have a voice that I know is powerful.” He remains intellectually restless, and wants to learn multiple languages, to release albums in foreign markets. “When I’m 46 and I just can’t let music go, I’ll have a fucking Portuguese album that they’ll be playing in Brazil.”
In the meantime, he’s preparing for the release of his official debut, Buy Sell Trade: Money Changed Everything. “In my country that’s the only thing that matters,” he says of the title, “and if you don’t understand that, you’re a fucking idiot. I said [on Twitter], ‘get to it in the land of milk and honey, then run for your life, leave this country.’ That shit went hella viral. When this album comes out…”
He pauses, contemplating. “My goal is to be like Nas and Pac without the boring shit.”