(2016 - 2019)

In 2016, a friend personally introduced me to a rap group that had formed more than a decade earlier. They were prolific, lyrical, and sometimes profound in their songs about life in East Oakland. As performers, their shows were wild and uncontained. Crowds would push onto the stage, blending artists and audience into a unified throng of energy. Off stage, there was a lot of laughing and an effortless networking that could rival San Francisco’s tech world just across the bridge.

As a Midwestern suburbanite that grew up listening to Motown and punk, I felt like an outsider. But the spirit of their music felt familiar, and the people behind it embraced curious newcomers. Over time I photographed a few album covers, came to recording sessions and release parties, met a lot of adjacent artists, celebrated birthdays with kids and friends, shared personal gossip and joints, and put their tracks on heavy rotation at home.

There were darker times too. One evening after a show, gunfire struck one of the artists as he left in a car. Fortunately, it was non-fatal and lodged in his arm. I went to the hospital with him, his wife, and two young sons for his outpatient surgery and took photos in the waiting room. He made a full recovery, and calls that fateful day his other birthday. There have been too many others in these circles who were not as lucky and, in separate incidents, killed.

These are the major highs and lows that come with living here. The joys and tragedies that write songs and fill photo frames. The reason I yearn for the city when I leave it, and resent it when I come back. I have lived in Oakland nearly twenty years and have my own joyful experiences, but also interactions with gun violence, because of this town. While my time photographing these artists was relatively short, the memories endure – probably because they felt very close to home. This monograph will forever be too narrow in scope and time to justly portray the rappers I came to know and their city. Nonetheless, it is my Oakland Tribute.

Copyright Laura Ming Wong © 2024