Quitting the Band
Rhyme spitter LOS rejected the reality show life
While it seems most MCs claim they were writing rhymes in the womb, Liberty Heights native LOS confesses that he “got into music late.” Until he was 18, LOS’ primary passion was basketball. But the murder of his father, a basketball coach at a high school LOS had planned on transferring to, led the teenager to another school—and down another career path. “That’s where I found music, because every day at lunch, dudes would be spittin’, freestylin’, battlin’,” he says.
Despite the late start, 25-year-old LOS (pronounced like the last syllable of “Carlos”) looks the part of a hip-hop devotee during a conversation at this writer’s apartment with MTV Jams on in the background, headphones hanging around his neck with a pen and pad close at hand. When a video by one of his favorite MCs, Lupe Fiasco, comes on, he momentarily stops the interview to give it his full attention. Still, in his ripped jeans, do-rag, and gold fronts, he looks more like a regular kid you’d see on a Baltimore street corner than the latest MC signed to Bad Boy Records.
In 2000, about a year after he began rapping seriously, LOS recorded his first mixtape and began making the rounds in local rap battles, eventually making trips up to New York with his friend Kelly, who introduced the fledgling rapper to several labels, including Roc-A-Fella. The label’s partnership of Jay-Z and Damon Dash was already disintegrating at that point, though, and fortunately LOS got a tip-off that saved him from trying to board a sinking ship. He signed on with local label Da Bloc Inc. in 2001. “It’s Baltimore shit, it ain’t New York, it ain’t Roc-A-Fella,” LOS says. “I got my home base, so fuck all that. I’d rather build from here.”
Da Bloc’s next signing was Skarr Akbar, one of the Baltimore underground’s most respected MCs and someone LOS had looked up to. “I knew [LOS] before [he signed to Da Bloc], ’cause yo tried to battle me, and I shitted on him real bad,” Akbar recalls. When they linked up later as label mates, though, LOS had improved, and Akbar gave him the nickname “Pitbull,” for his vicious demeanor in battles. He even used LOS as his personal hit man to dispatch challengers. “When niggas used to try to battle me, I’d sic him on them, and he’d just chew ’em up,” Akbar says. Despite remaining friends and collaborators, Da Bloc splintered somewhat when Akbar left the label in 2005, all while LOS was making some major moves of his own.
In 2002, when hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs took control of the Making the Band reality show franchise for MTV and held open auditions for a new rap supergroup, LOS saw an opportunity to test his own skills. “I was like, ‘I’m just gonna go and do it just for the hell of it, just to see if I can make it all the way to the end,’” he says. When he did make the final cut to become one of the six members of the group, LOS opted out. And because he didn’t sign any of MTV’s release forms, a bare minimum of his footage ended up in the show’s first season.
Although Da Band, as Diddy later christened the group, released one moderately successful album, LOS’ decision has proven to be a wise one. Bad Boy disbanded the group at the end of Making the Band 2’s third season, and in October 2005 LOS got another chance to audition in front of Diddy, this time as a solo artist. “He was actually gettin’ his nails done,” LOS says. “He’ll look another way to see if you can demand his attention, and that’s how he determines who’s a star, who’s not.”
At first, the distracted CEO didn’t even recognize LOS, until the rapper ripped through a performance of “10 Minute Million Dollar Massacre Freestyle,” a marathon mixtape track in which he rhymes relentlessly over nearly two dozen different beats. “At the end of that, he said, ‘Don’t I know you?’”
Once Diddy realized that he was facing the same kid who walked out on Making the Band years earlier, LOS recalls that the exec told him, “‘I was gettin’ ready to base my whole show around you. And you left.’” In 2006, LOS signed on with Bad Boy as a solo artist, just as the long-running label was experiencing a string of pop hits. Meanwhile, the label’s legacy of hard-core East Coast lyricism, as established by Bad Boy’s first and still most famous artist, the late Notorious B.I.G., is in a state of disrepair that LOS is positioned to restore. When Diddy recently previewed Bad Boy’s 2007 releases for the press at Sony Studios though, LOS received nary a mention, indicating that it may be a while before his moment in the limelight. In the meantime, Da Bloc has begun gearing up promotions for its franchise artist, including an extravagant homecoming event for LOS at Rams Head Live that was held June 2, where he performed with Bad Boy label mate Cheri Dennis.
One of the rockier episodes on LOS’ path to Bad Boy, a 2004 dispute with local street DVD company One Love Films, prompts the rapper to shrug, “If someone ain’t hatin’ on you, you ain’t doin’ somethin’ right.” After a minor disagreement, director Skinny Suge lashed out at LOS by ridiculing him on the infamous Stop Fuckin’ Snitchin’ DVD. Unfortunately for LOS, that low-budget documentary led to national headlines, broadcasting Suge’s unflattering portrayal much farther than anyone expected. LOS recorded a dis in response to Suge, but ended up getting arrested on the way to a club where he planned to perform the song. He now regards that incident as a blessing in disguise, giving him a chance to squash the beef before it escalated. Although some of the negative talk from Snitchin’ still lingers, the MC points out, “Now everybody wants to know, ‘Who is this LOS this guy is talkin’ about?’”
Answering that question remains the biggest challenge facing LOS’ career. Without a radio single or even a solo mixtape in underground circulation, he’s still a relative unknown in Baltimore, even when compared to an unsigned artist like his friend Skarr Akbar. Instead, LOS has been quietly busy in the studio, building up a huge backlog of material for his Bad Boy debut, Young, Fly, and Hungry. “Skarr can’t afford to just lock himself away and work and build up a project,” LOS says. “He has to be out, because he already has a tremendous following.”
Meanwhile, LOS can lay low and prepare to represent his hometown in a way he feels only he can. “This is home, Baltimore City, 20 million times harder than The Wire—make sure you put that in there,” he says, before detouring into a discussion of the dearth of cast members on the HBO show who truly dress and talk like someone from the ’hoods of Baltimore.
In Baltimore, radio play has traditionally been seen as the only steppingstone to a record deal, but LOS takes pride in having taken a different path. “I can always say at the end of the day, I didn’t follow the trend,” he says. “I didn’t go and do the things that people thought you had to do to break into Baltimore music. I didn’t go get a beat that sounded like whatever, to get on 92Q to play because of whoever.” And when he smiles, clearly relishing the shock his peers must have felt when he seemed to land a deal out of nowhere, LOS thinks back to his first love: “I went straight from high school to the NBA.”