The members of Four Finger Ring know what it’s wish to be misplaced. Previous to becoming a member of forces as although they have been the Voltron of OC hip-hop two years in the past, every one was on a path paved with disarray and self-destruction. As they wandered the halls of their very own personal purgatories, shadow boxing with demons of doubt and melancholy was a day by day routine. A decade into their careers as revered OC rappers bred the kind of frustration that comes from giving all of your self to one thing with out being positive it might ever love you again.
Positive, hip-hop had given them a objective, some loyal followers, numerous excursions and modest success. Nevertheless, by their mid-30s, the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel of paid dues nonetheless appeared out of attain.
It felt virtually as darkish as the journey we just lately took by means of their downtown Santa Ana headquarters. However as an alternative of swallowing them entire, this new recording studio provides them extra life than they might’ve imagined. Flicking on his telephone’s flashlight app, rapper Nu3tron shines a beam of sunshine by means of the shadows. His cohorts—Mic Moses, C4MULA and DJ Zole—path behind him single file via infinite twists and turns and up three flights of stairs in a 30,000-square-foot construction that from the surface resembles a plain workplace constructing. However when the home lights lastly come on, it’s as if we’ve landed in a random episode of MTV Cribs.
“It’s like the fun factory,” says Moses. “This place is insane. You’ll never find a place like this ever. It’s crazy because of all that stuff going on, so it creates a vibe unlike any place I’ve ever worked in before.”
Buzzing fluorescent bulbs reveal a wing of the constructing that’s been reworked into an indoor-turf soccer subject. A number of steps to the fitting, and also you run right into a mini basketball courtroom that sits catty-corner to a steam room and jacuzzi which might be underneath development. A restaurant-sized kitchen and eating space with a mezzanine overlooks the sector. From the rooftop, you get an honest view of downtown. Rows of empty workplaces for now double as space for storing, rehearsal rooms and apartment-style dwelling quarters. Subsequent door to the studio run by their label, Lip Drum Leisure, is a commercial-quality manufacturing studio with a inexperienced display stretched to the ceiling, hinting on the constructing’s former life as a TV information studio in the ’70s.
Although it’s inconceivable to stroll via Four Finger Ring’s new digs and not using a slack-jawed sense of awe, the constructing was in a postapocalyptic state of disrepair earlier than it was taken over by Lip Drum and two different funding companions, every of which has companies contained in the constructing.
“Before we got here, homeless people would break into the basement and sleep in here,” Nu3tron says. The within of the constructing—which lies in the shadow of Santa Ana’s Civic Middle, the Males’s Jail and Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse—feels worlds away from something resembling the slate-gray oppression of the judicial system as the area continues to evolve.
“It’s an active construction site,” Nu3tron says pointing to the soccer area. “One day, I showed up here, and this used to be a concert hall area with a couple of basketball hoops, and then the next day, it was an indoor soccer field. So things around here change really fast.”
The plans for an expensive website are shifting virtually as quick as Four Finger Ring’s momentum, as their quartet of veteran artists start to interrupt out.
Up to now decade, few rappers have devoted themselves to OC’s hip-hop scene greater than C4MULA, Nu3tron, Mic Moses and DJ Zole. Every of them has been rocking in numerous crews, labels and teams because the early aughts. In 2016, their collective focus started to vary. Their journey as a gaggle introduced all 4 of their types to the world; melding into one cohesive sound, they bridge the hole between early millennium backpack rap and right now’s alchemy of lure, pop and dance music.
“I think we gave an option to kids who don’t wanna conform to the sound of now because it’s being forced down their throat,” Zole says. On any given day, the group’s monster turntablist and producer seems to be the a part of a metallic guitarist together with his brown, back-length hair and wooly face.
With their superb, three-story enjoyable home in Santa Ana, the group went from native standing to brushes with viral fame, rapping for big crowds and dealing with revered artists starting from ’90s hip-hop legends the Dove Shack to Huntington Seashore darlings the Soiled Heads. Nevertheless far they’re destined to go together with Four Finger Ring, their bond as associates is what will get them by way of the hardest occasions. True-life tales of jail time, drug habit, melancholy and near-death experiences permeate their rhymes amidst polished hooks and celebration jams. Their sound doesn’t have to look anyplace however inward for an id. The willpower of this lifelong crew permits their music to maintain punching ahead till their knuckles are bloody and a dent is made.
“It’s not too complicated,” rapper C4MULA says. “It’s not us thinking about what’s the next hit song; it’s hearing a beat and releasing our skills. It’s us saying, ‘fuck it’ and putting our hearts on our sleeve for the world to hear. If they like it, they like it; if they don’t, they don’t.”
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C4MULA. Photograph by John Gilhooley
As a lot as they make the most of the within of their recording area, loads of their creativity happens outdoors it. They routinely collect on the steps of the studio’s courtyard, the place concepts are shaped between cigarette puffs and vape clouds. Throughout every day breaks between marathon recording and mixing periods for songs for his or her current mixtape Neverland and forthcoming album Monsters Beneath the Mattress (out Friday), transients, druggies, skaters, and suit-and-tie enterprise individuals dart previous them. What began as a handful of tracks on their 2018 debut full-length We Are the Four grew into an almost 100-song catalog and a continuing stream of movies. One of their newest, a video for the track “WiFi,” garnered greater than 20,000 views in lower than 24 hours. A part of the rationale, aside from teaming up with Lip Drum label head Mike “Gaines” Mussallam for an additional advertising push, is the natural following they every earned as MCs. The power they’ve as a gaggle derives from not letting any prior success come between them.
“I think the reason why there’s not as many groups nowadays is because of the trust factor and egos and narcissism,” C4MULA says. “Because your ego is so big that you can’t share a room with other motherfuckers and their ideas. Some of us have learned how to build collective ideas without shouting or shooting one another.”
It’s a mentality that goes deeper than rap and positively deeper than their present undertaking. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Four Finger Ring MCs have grown up collectively in the scene as a part of an period in OC hip-hop that birthed a Zulu Nation-style consortium dubbed Committee Fam. Underneath the Committee’s umbrella, members of varied teams, cliques and crews would come collectively often to relax, beatbox, battle rap and plan hip-hop occasions across the county. On the time, Lip Drum founder Gaines was simply one other gifted beatboxer who was granted entrée into the group; he ultimately turned one of many three chief members.
“We used to hold these meetings in the park—there’d be, like, 40 of us, all the other cliques and crews,” Gaines says. “We’d have a little jar go around and collect like $47 between 50 dudes and drink 40s and smoke blunts in the park in Orange off Prospect.”
Now 40 years previous, Gaines has retired from performing, however he used cash from his enterprise ventures in advertising to fund a label that would assist help a few of the artists he grew up with, particularly C4MULA. Recognized for the power to eviscerate crowds and rival MCs together with his caustic bars and stoner wit, Gaines noticed the lanky, bespectacled rapper born Andrew Bowman as a particular expertise he might construct round. On the time, nevertheless, C4MULA was signed to United Household Music, a label run by Johnny Richter of Kottonmouth Kings; the 2 parted methods earlier than the label ultimately shuttered.
“I created [Lip Drum] with the idea that I needed to get behind C4,” Gaines says, sporting a ballcap and chain inside a convention room on the Lip Drum lab. “He’s too ill, too dope, but people hadn’t gotten behind him the right way.”
On the time, although, C4MULA’s issues have been the results of the rapper getting in his personal method. Years of arduous drug use, dealing, incarceration and a bout of homelessness derailed his life to the purpose that Gaines decided to take C4MULA beneath his wing and let him crash at his home in Costa Mesa. C4MULA’s drug habit had him turning to petty crimes to help his behavior and dwelling in his automotive.
“I had a sleeping bag, a blanket and a gun,” C4MULA remembers. “My gun was my last resort to get dope or use it however, according to the situation. There were times when I either wanted to rob somebody or blow my fucking brains out. It was crazy, bro; I was a crazy person.”
In the summertime of 2017, they staged an intervention with C4MULA and his household, then helped him right into a 30-day rehab facility in Colorado.
For Gaines, a part of Four Finger Ring’s early attraction was their potential to convey some help to a gifted man who was clearly on the finish of his rope. “Even though I love the music and chemistry that Moses, Nu3tron and Zole bring to the table, another huge attribute they bring is that support and the brotherhood, so it’s a win-win-win-win-win,” Gaines says.
“I always used to think people who are your friends are back scratchers—you scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours,” C4MULA says. “But when I didn’t have shit, these dudes had me covered. They literally picked me up outta the gutter.”
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Nu3tron. Photograph by John Gilhooley
Within the period of social-media hype and superstar of the “Yungs” and “Lils” of the world, the hip-hop group isn’t what it was—and neither are lots of the private connections between rappers that bonded it collectively. The legendary conglomerate of the most well liked lyricists from the identical neighborhood who drift collectively at simply the proper time is the template the members of Four Finger Ring knew.
“We used to have discussions about this shit growing up—‘which member of Wu-Tang or Bone Thugs is better’ type of shit—and we’re getting comments like that on our videos now,” says Moses, the calmest, most even-keeled of the crew regardless of his insanely quick rapping type.
Nu3tron’s melodic hooks and assured, punk-rock swagger; Moses’ rapidfire bars; and C4MULA’s tortured, gifted lyricism are stirred collectively by Zole’s soulful beat manufacturing. Bombastic new songs such as “Lucky” and “Fuck Your #ashTag” might fill a stadium whereas emotional tracks such as “Raven” and “HARRP” (a track for the victims of 2018’s pure disasters across the globe) are extra fitted to bumping on an extended, contemplative automotive experience house.
These are the type of data Nu3tron has all the time strived to make, from his days as the entrance man of the rock group Capital Kill to his years spent as a solo artist and a member of rap duo LD and Ariano’s HB-based Technicali crew circa 2007. Again then, his aspirations have been solely matched by his work ethic and wish to succeed in individuals the old style method, by means of hand-to-hand CD gross sales at exhibits and festivals. That ultimately carried over to his U.S. and European excursions, throughout which he’s nonetheless adamant about assembly followers and having extra actual interactions, although it’s quite a bit simpler now that he doesn’t need to push his music on individuals.
“I remember sitting back at [hip-hop festival] Rock the Bells and looking at all the people with my $800 worth of CDs, and I waited until right after the Visionaries performed because I had a track with [rapper] LMNO on it, and I realized that’s nothing,” he says. “There’s, like, 60,000 people at this thing, and I didn’t even get 2 percent of the people here. Nowadays, we’re attacking virally versus back in the day, when we used to do a lot more footwork.”
Four Finger Ring: C4MULA, DJ Zole, Nu3tron and Mic Moses. Photograph by John Gilhooley
A part of the success may be attributed to their typically being booked on the hashish live performance circuit. Whether or not it’s changing stoned lackadaisical crowds into followers at Hempfest in Seattle or rocking exhibits such as Kush Inventory in LA, their capacity to make associates with West Coast legends who headline these occasions is efficient. For instance, after acting at a current hashish occasion headlined by Dogg Pound rapper Kurupt, Zole was approached by Bo-Roc of ’90s G-funk group the Dove Shack at a close-by fuel station. “Zole was getting some snacks at the cash register, and this huge black guy comes up behind him and says, ‘Yo, homie, are you from Four Finger Ring? What’s your name?” Nu3tron remembers. “He said, ‘I didn’t even need gas; I just saw y’all at the show, and you fuckin murdered it, and then I saw you here, so I stopped and wanted to give you props!’”
Bo-Roc requested for his or her quantity and took a pic with them. “Then this other guy who was a fan of his came up behind us and said, ‘Yo, lemme get your number!’” Moses remembers. “And he just took a picture, and he goes, ‘Yeah, sorry my phone’s dead, dawg.’ And jumps back in his car!”
That wouldn’t be the final time the group encountered the West Coast legend. Shortly after that, Bo-Roc invited the group to carry out with him at Kush Inventory, the place the Dove Shack have been headlining. When Four Finger Ring confirmed up, pageant safety refused to permit them to park in the artist lot. One name to Bo-Roc, and the rapper was yelling at safety to let his new homies inside. “Bo-Roc got in his face, and he banged on him, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m fucking Bo-Roc. This is my shit; I’m headlining this motherfucker. Open the fucking gate!’” Moses says.
Earlier than they knew it, the members of Four Finger Ring have been backstage, buying and selling blunts with the Dogg Pound. “I never had nobody bang on someone like that; not even my tight homies would do that shit for me,” Nu3tron says from a sofa in their recording studio, his tattooed palms and ring-covered knuckles gesturing wildly as he tells the story. “That’s what blew my mind!”
Except for making buddies with West Coast legends, Four Finger Ring have additionally been capable of lean on members of their OC circle who’ve gone on to greater issues. On Monsters Underneath the Mattress, the monitor “Lucky” was produced by LD (now recognized as the longtime DJ for Chic With Rome). “Fuck Your “#ashtag” was produced by Ariano, and tattooed stoner-rap captain Chucky Chuck signed on to rap a verse on “No Guys No Glory.” The 2018 single “Stay Cool” options vocalist Jared Watson of the Soiled Heads and was produced by Jim Perkins at Roshambo Sound.
The aggressive nature of hip-hop and OC music, in basic, leads some artists to develop into haters or refuse to be supportive of each other’s craft. However the ones who wind up being probably the most profitable are those that are probably the most right down to help their fellow native artists. “The people who really wanna work will fly with you and walk into the depths of hells with you,” Zole says. “We don’t wanna necessarily keep OC the way it was when we came up in it, but keep Orange County vibing and positive. When the ‘OC hip-hop scene’ comes up, sometimes there’s a question mark associated with it like, ‘What do you mean “OC hip-hop”?’ However there’s been a scene right here for many years.”
DJ Zole. Photograph by John Gilhooley
Because the founding member of the award-winning, OC-based hip-hop crew Speach Impediments (the mayor of Placentia as soon as gave them a key to the town), Zole was the spine and the sound of the group, which began in 2003. Because the group progressed, he blossomed right into a touring DJ for nationwide acts and was ultimately picked up by revered hip-hop label Rhymesayers. He deejayed all over the world, with a mean of 200 exhibits per yr, for the likes of Summary Impolite, Environment and Brother Ali. Although which may sound just like the apex for any DJ out of Fullerton, Zole (born Kevin Boyd) was shortly dropping himself in a spiral of medicine and alcohol, just like what was occurring to C4MULA. Round January 2011, issues obtained even worse with the demise of a pal from a drug overdose.
“I was a mess,” Zole recollects. “I stuck around on the tour circuit, sometimes not even showing up to shows and just taking the money, getting on a plane and partying in some other spot. But I was getting ready to dump it all.”
Round that point, he’d accepted a recording-engineer job in South Korea. As he was getting ready to pack his luggage and depart OC behind, he began getting calls from his longtime pals and present group mates. Zole thanks Gaines and Four Finger Ring for main him house to OC, his restoration and a reassessment of his profession in hip-hop.
“I’m not even close to the dude I was before,” he says. “It was killing my career, and it was killing me. I was in psychiatric clinics, and I couldn’t contain my life. I was a lost cause; I was done, and these guys saved my life. I can’t and chose not to do anything career-wise without these guys. If I cut my skin open, I’ll bleed 4s.”
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Mic Moses. Photograph by John Gilhooley
Because the group prepares for his or her album to drop, the years they’ve spent beginning over at the moment are paying off. Poised to ship a venture that may introduce them to the world is just a part of it. Being the hip-hop lifers they’re, the mixed power of their convictions permits them to take pleasure in what they’re doing, whatever the consequence.
“From the very beginning, when we decided to be a group, Nu3tron and I talked about it, and that was the main thing” Moses says. “We said, ‘Okay, this time, let’s just have fun with it. Fuck all the other shit—just have fun, and all the other shit will come later. Let’s not go in with any preconceived notions of other bullshit that’s going on.’”
It appears to be working. The expansion manifested by means of every music has Four Finger Ring dwelling on the sting of each beat and having fun with each second. Will it ever be good? In all probability not, however extra essential is their struggle to maintain perfecting themselves. They usually all perceive they’ve a greater probability of doing that collectively.
“It’s about taking away the ego part and getting down to the nitty gritty of ‘Is this a good song?’” Nu3tron says. “It depends on how you look at it; if you’re the guy always trying to get your idea off, then it would work against you if you can’t work with people. But I think that’s what makes us beautiful. My goal when we’re writing a new song is to make everybody have their moment.”