Ron-Ron (real name Laron Robinson) is the beatmaker the West Coast’s most original gangster rappers turn to whenever they want to create anthems for their section. A keen student of Daz Dillinger, Ron-Ron’s beats possess a similar dark funk, combining bloodcurdling, horror-inspired instrumental loops with mischievous hyphy basslines that give off the illusion that electric waves are surging through your chest. He rarely uses samples, excited instead at the idea of creating something genuinely new.
“I didn’t have any studio speakers when I was first making beats, but just these regular ass house speakers,” the Watts-based producer said of his signature sound. “But this meant I was able to figure out how to make my beats perfect for car stereos. I call my sound ‘Traffic Music’ — it’s the soundtrack to a late-night car ride through the hood where you really want to signal your arrival. I guess my music makes you feel good but doesn’t ever lose that sense of danger.”
Despite working with a long list of LA rappers — Drakeo the Ruler, Shoreline Mafia, ManMan Savage, Ralphy The Plug, and Frostydasnowman — that all seem to sit in a unique space that unites the underground, the hood, and the mainstream, there’s one artist who occupies a particularly special place in Ron-Ron’s thoughts: fellow Watts native (and incarcerated gangsta rapper) 03 Greedo.
On the West Coast, Greedo (real name Jason Jamal Jackson) has firmly established himself as a cult hero, just like Mac Dre did back in the ’90s and early 2000s. His expansive music, which is an amalgamation of stoner rock, R&B, emo, funk, gangsta rap, and deep south trap, feels totally unique, with Greedo able to freestyle whole albums in a day. He’s amassed a loaded catalogue which contains at least two certifiably classic albums — The Wolf of Grape Street and God Level, two epics released within months of each other in 2018. Ron-Ron estimates the pair has 600 unreleased songs recorded together and that Greedo, more widely speaking, has around 8,000 songs in the vault. It means Greedo is able to flood the market from behind bars. (Just last week, he released a three song EP called 03 Inna Key.)
Greedo is also the definition of an underdog, having risen up from being homeless and addicted to drugs to taking West Coast rap into a new sonic direction. His versatility means he can switch between spitting slick punchlines about the weather seasons aligning with draughts in the drug game to singing tortured blues melodies about why being caught up in the prison-industrial complex will disrupt your ability to trust people. You never quite know which direction an 03 Greedo album will turn: the artist unsure if he wants to be the Ghetto T-Pain; the first Black member of Blink 182 (Greedo did a whole project with Travis Barker before it was cool too); or the Watts’ equivalent to Boosie Badazz. But this unpredictability ensures you’re always kept on the edge of your seat. This tornado of personalities is what makes Greedo so suited for Ron-Ron, who is always looking to step outside his comfort zone. Just as well, because if a producer or an engineer gives Greedo a beat that sounds like something he’s made before then he’s likely to curse them out.
“That nigga is just like the Terminator,” Ron-Ron said. “You need a lot of music ready to keep his attention. Greedo will then go into the booth and all he needs is to hear three seconds of my beat and he has a whole song figured out in his head that’s ready to go. He can make between 10 to 30 songs in a day and they’re all anthems in different genre styles and with complex harmonies. He could put out an acoustic album or the hardest gangsta rap shit you’ve ever heard. Whatever he is feeling in that moment comes out. It’s organic.”
I tell Ron-Ron my theory that Greedo — who once rapped “If these walls could spit bars / all of they songs be this hard” on “Never Bend” — is able to channel the good and bad energy of everyone who ever walked through or fell in Watts. It’s like an exorcist summoning spirits, and that’s why he’s able to rap whole songs on the spot. “Yeah, it’s definitely tapping into something [from the other side],” he said. “He’s a different breed, bro.”
Before the prolific Greedo was locked away for a maximum of 20 years on non-violent drug and weapons charges (he was originally facing 300 years, and is currently waiting to here from the parole board on whether he can secure an early release for good behavior), it was Ron-Ron with who he shared a particularly special connection. The pair grew up a few blocks away from one another in Watts: Greedo in the notorious Jordan Downs Projects, which was immortalized as a sadistic warzone in 1993’s Menace II Society, and Ron-Ron near 99th Street and Central Avenue.
“White kids in the suburbs looked up to superheroes, but the gangbangers were like Spider-man to us all as kids,” the producer said. “I guess we wanted to be like the homies because we were so poor and making money like them was pretty much the only way [to make it big].”
“I used to be stealing minibikes and doing all kinds of wild shit. From the moment I was outside at eight, my moms was worried I could get killed. Watts is the kind of place where you could get murdered just for going down the wrong road. Producing as a teenager with Fruity Loops Studio was a lightbulb moment and kept me on the right path, and me and Greedo clicked instantly because we both recognized that same struggle in one another.”
The first time the pair linked up was in Summer 2017, alongside producers BeatBoy and JoogSZN. The group made music in a tiny shed-like studio on Torrance’s Carbrillo Avenue. Windowless, it was a place where the weed smoke subsequently hit you in the face like the thick clouds of steam present in a Swedish sauna. In this cramped but intimate setting, the group soared, quickly knocking out the euphoric ode to sleeping with your enemy’s girlfriend, “Run For Yo Life,” an iconic song where Greedo successfully resurrected the horny spirit of Nate Dogg.
Greedo liked how Ron-Ron’s beats started out with the melody, prompting attention-grabbing hooks before his verses had even begun. In Ron-Ron, Greedo found a producer who intrinsically understood song structure and knew exactly how to auto-tune his harmonies so he could achieve his dream of sounding like a Trap Phil Collins. It was a recipe for success — the pair would later release an album together, Loaded Up Vol. 1, in 2020 — but arguably their creative union peaked early on with the creation of “Rude.”
The obvious highlight from Greedo’s 2017 First Night Out project, which was recorded after the rapper returned from a stint in jail, “Rude” instantly grabs your attention with whistling sun-kissed synths that sound like Zapp reimagined for gangbangers as well as playful hi-hats that replicate the clap of a horse’s hooves doing the Crip Walk. Greedo sounds like he’s having fun and there’s clearly a spring in his step. The beat is infectiously joyful, lacking the musty, marcarbe atmosphere Ron-Ron’s beats typically carry; it, therefore, stands out as a jewel in his catalogue.
“It was just magic,” Ron-Ron said. “BeatBoy had made the melody and then I came in with the hi-hats, the claps, the bass; I made it more raw and hood ‘cause it was initially this feel-good kind of beat. It took about an hour, but working fast and off of instinct is how all me and Greedo’s best shit was created. Musically, we were honoring G-funk while also taking it somewhere completely new.”
“I don’t mean to be rude / I don’t mean to be out of line,” Greedo coos delicately, his voice slightly sad as he acknowledges his short temper and its possible environmental triggers. This catchy hook was improvised on the spot as Greedo kicked a female admirer out of the studio, reassuring her he wasn’t trying to be rude while also hurrying her into an Uber so he could get to work. “He got into an argument with this girl and the beat came on at that exact moment. On the spot, he turned his conversation [with her] into the hook and just started rapping all the verses. Pretty much one take. I’m glad I hit the record button. Look, I don’t know any other rappers who can pull off that kind of shit.”
Just as impressive as the improvisation was Greedo’s ability to make you root for the underdog. The melodic rapper talks his personal growth (“I used to snort cocaine, now I fiend for the cheque”) from homeless drug addict to entrepreneurial Watts’ cult rap hero. Like many of history’s great rap songwriters, he’s able to be intensely personal on a track designed for the strip clubs and it still never feels overwhelming, with Greedo’s openness around his losses only making the song’s wins feel more enjoyable.
“Greedo is a real different individual as he knows how to share his demons so people gravitate towards him and he can pull them in tighter,” Ron-Ron said. “His music really reaches the people with pain and makes them feel good about themselves. ‘Rude’ represents all that [so purely].”
In Watts “Rude” is treated like a “national anthem” according to Ron-Ron, with Greedo ingeniously forcing outsiders to empathize with the stress of growing up poor and its impact on your day-to-day mood via a melody you can easily hum in the shower. “He just makes it all look so easy,” Ron-Ron said. “When Greedo gets out, he’s going to come with a brand new sound. He is about to make his own beats, too, and produce for other artists. He’s just going to take over.”
On a more personal level, Ron-Ron feels he isn’t held up on the level that his musical output deserves. Despite only being 24, Ron-Ron has already shaped a new wave of hood rap on the West Coast. Atmospheric bangers like “Musty” by Shoreline Mafia, “10” by Drakeo the Ruler, and “She A Freak” by Ohgeesy and Greedo play every hour out of car stereos in hoods from Grape Street to Vallejo. Ron-Ron hopes his production will become more widely acknowledged in the coming years.
“When I drop a new sound people don’t seem to gravitate towards it as fast as they would if DJ Mustard did it,” Ron-Ron, who is also a talented engineer, said. “But as much as I’d like people to acknowledge [this movement] in historical terms, I also want to be seen as a producer rather than just a beatmaker. I am really trying to be on some DJ Khaled shit. The LA version. I want to get all the LA artists together on one song and for it to be composed by Ron-Ron.”
Whatever the future holds, Ron-Ron is just happy that he and Greedo managed to defy expectations and create a catalogue of songs that are now part of the fabric of their hometown. “‘Cause we came from Watts, it hits differently,” Ron-Ron said, talking of his and Greedo’s come-up like a Hollywood fairytale. “When we came up, just having $1k was a lot of money. Having nothing to earning something through music is a good ass feeling when you did it all yourself with no help, you feel me? In Watts, we now look at Greedo as a mogul. That’s where I am going to be too.”
Banner graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
Thomas Hobbs is a freelance culture and music journalist from the UK. His work has appeared in the Guardian, VICE, Financial Times, Dazed, Pitchfork, New Statesman, Little White Lies, The i and Time Out. You can find him on Twitter: @thobbsjourno.
A week ahead of the Stranger Things 4 premiere, on Friday, Netflix dropped an 8-minute… Read More
The Round-Up is Okayplayer’s weekly playlist of the best songs in the worlds of hip-hop… Read More
Legendary funk and jazz musician Bernard Wright, whose music has been sampled by Snoop Dogg,… Read More
Ravyn Lenae's new album Hypnos is a psychedelic journey. Latanya Alberto is officially back with… Read More
Black Star with their podcast and Kanye West with his Stem Player are among the… Read More