“Gangsta life in the city. You know it’s hard to stay alive. Because we gotta do or die” blast from my 2006 Toyota Corolla LE. The album “Payback” by Brownside is on loop as I bend corners around the notorious Mississippi Shady Oaks neighborhood. Far from the streets of south central LA but still in a South Central state of mind because of the 2002 classic project, my homie Looney hops in my ride from the passenger side and immediately begins to bob his head. “Yo Blockk who that playing on yo radio”? I give him a utter surprised glance with a facial expression that screamed “Foo you ain’t never heard of Brownside”.
Where I’m from there weren’t a lot of Hispanics. Actually I don’t remember going to school or seeing one in all my years of being young. A lot of the kids I grew up with didn’t even know Mexicans could rap outside of SPM who because of his link to DJ Screw began to penetrate the southern rap scene. The only Mexicans I knew outside of him were Brownside. There ghetto stories and poetic narrative on gang life grabbed my ear at a young age. I can remember seeing the video Gang Related and being in awe at the rhymes being kicked by the late great Toker. The hard claps and the famous George Clinton & The Funkadelics “Flashlight” sample was like a musical narcotic to my adolescent ears. Toker in my opinion was a modern day Chicano Picasso, painting vivid pictures of him and his homies troubled LA life with a brush of melodies and hooks. I instantly became a fan and from the early part of 1994 Wicked, Danger, Trouble, Klever, and Toker had my attention.
While working on their debut album “Eastside Drama” the group suffered a devastating and tragic blow when member Danger was murdered during a drive by. This left Wicked and Toker stranded alone to complete their first real project. In true Brownside fashion they didn’t fold or disappoint, “Eastside Drama” became instantly a rap classic. Tracks like Creepin, Gansters Point of View, People vs Toker, and Payback depicted an era of gangster rap that remains unmatched and unduplicated. But the paramount song on the album has to be the gritty and deeply felt lyrics of Danger “Life on the Streets”. “It’s an everyday thang on the east of town. Times ain’t good but they want hold me down. I’m out to get mine and want get left back. I can’t get me a job but I can get a dope sack.”, this metrical translation of life for a young Chicano coming out of the Eastside Trece in the 90s by Danger is utterly Shakespearean. The song truly displays the ideology of a youth trapped in an endless cycle of poverty, drugs, and warfare.
In October of 2018 unfortunately Toker succumbed to the same violence that has plagued black and brown communities for so long. He was killed for unknown reason in the city of Rosarito, Mexico. Leaving behind a son (Lil Tokes) and wife and a community in mourning. His legacy will be one cemented in hip hop history next to his long time friend Eric “Eazy E” Wright who he bonded with while living in Compton, California. He left a catalogue of great music and ample amounts of fans to support it. As I rode around with my homie Looney we both stared out the windows in silence as Toker profound lyrics and Rich Garcia’s powerful vocals serenaded our minds “Somebody please. Give me just a minute. I never knew that this would be my last day” played continuously on repeat. We might have been black and we might have been from Mississippi but as we cruised that day we both were able to go somewhere we’ve never been before, somewhere that seemed almost mythical, we both went to the infamous Eastside Trece neighborhood we both took a trip that day we both went on a journey to the Brownside.