It’s slightly before 3 PM on a sunny Saturday afternoon at South L.A’s Jim Gilliam Park. There are children jumping in a bouncy house, families grilling, and people shooting hoops on a basketball court next to a parking lot. A few hundred feet away, the Baby Stone Gorillas are standing on a shady patch of grass, bantering with their ten-person entourage, smoking blunt after blunt. Bottles of dirty Faygo and half-filled styrofoam cups idle at their feet. Three out of the four present members of L.A.’s most popular new rap group are wearing merch emblazoned with menacing-looking animated gorillas.
A kid, no older than 13, wearing green Chuck Taylors and what one of the Baby Stone Gorillas refer to as a “Pooh Shiesty mask,” emerges from the bouncy house area and saunters towards the group to share his admiration. “Y’all really made it out the hood, huh,” he says, flashing a gleaming smile. He poses for photos with the rappers and starts throwing up gang signs, to which one of the guys, out of a presumed sense of moral responsibility (or maybe because there’s an interviewer in their midst), tells the kid to put down. When the subject of the guys joining the kid in the bouncy house comes up, another BSG member chimes in that he can’t because he’s got his “grenade” on him.
“A lot of people know us [now],” group member P4K mentions. “We go a lot of places, some people endorse us. Like ‘Here you need something to eat? We got y’all.’” All the guys seem unable to fully encapsulate how life-altering their quick ascent as the city’s premier new rap group has been. P4K continues, humbly, “We ain’t rich like that. But we in a position to make sure we straight right now you know. Like make sure our moms got it… we makin’ sure our moms are straight.”
If you look for it, you can see a small fence separating Gilliam Park from an incline that leads upwards towards the manicured greens of Baldwin Hills — the upper-middle-class section that has long towered above the poverty-stricken “Jungles” area where the Baby Stone Gorillas were raised. The Jungles were originally named for the tropical banana trees, palms, and begonias that once flourished in the area, but the neighborhood has since been known by the same moniker for its violence and gang culture. The area is the territory of the Black P. Stone Nation (usually referred to as BPS), one of the largest gangs in Los Angeles.
“Lions, tigers and bears: It’s really like a jungle, you know,” member Top5ivee jokes in reference to growing up there.
A year removed from releasing their first music video, the rap group from Baldwin Village are already positioning themselves to become major players in the modern canon of L.A. gangster rap. They make quintessential shoot ‘em up street rap, full of vicious threats aimed at rival gangs, mournful prayers for lost ones, and challenges to anyone who wants to test them. Song titles include “Military,” “Die By My Troopers,” and “Body For Body.” The style is nothing new, but their particularly creative barbs and the charismatic back-and-forth flows make the music feel visceral. If you approach them the wrong way, they might shoot you. If you approach them the right way, they still might clown you for wearing an ill-fitting hoodie, just as one member named EKilla does over FaceTime to a friend at the park: “I mean look at my n****, he suffocating, he can’t even breathe.”
Their style has begun to draw all sorts of attention; they recently inked a distribution deal with Empire and released a debut album, BABYST5XNE GORILLAS, on the label in early March. A gritty statement of purpose, it brims with snappy threats, pays homage to classic L.A. rap beats, and boasts a sharp humor. They’ve followed it up with two sub-30 minute tapes that teem with the same confident and funny punch-ins but differing sub-styles of L.A. rap beats. They have made music with some of the city’s biggest power players including RJMrLA, Wallie The Sensei, Saviii 3rd, Rucci, and Big Sad, among others.
“It’s crazy, damn like these motherfuckers I be really listening to and shit, we really be doing songs with them now,” says EKilla. Ekilla was the first to try his hand at rapping, and he roped his buddies into it since he had always heard them bouncing around bars in more casual settings. They looked up to other rappers from the Jungles growing up and list off a few — Take Money, the late Nfant, and Red Chuckstaaa — but all of them individually mention they never envisioned themselves actually following in that lineage.
The Baby Stone Gorillas consist of five members, all between the ages of 19 and 23. Despite his unassuming demeanor, P4K’s raps can terrify you through the screen and knock the fitted clean off your head. He has a penchant for spelling things out: “I’m from the A-U-G-U-S-T side of the J-U-N-G-L-E-S,” he says while twisting fingers. But he also exhibits an endearing gap-toothed smile and light-hearted charm.
EKilla Off Da Blockk is the most chatty, and has a giddy energy about him like a kid who ate too many Skittles. You can clearly make out his hearty laugh as the crew banter and joke about crashing cars and bad fits, alternately hollering at girls on the other side of the parking lot. Everyone starts cracking up when one of the hollerees yells back that she’s got her kid with her.
5Much, the most soft-spoken and likely the highest member of the group during our interview, has a deft and melodic touch, drowning the style in a syrupy vat of auto-tune similar to incarcerated Watts legend 03 Greedo. Top5ivee brings a relaxed energy but seems incredibly attentive: His slithery raps smoothen out the texture of the group’s music. In person, he measures his words so that they have impact when he does speak. The fifth member, Lil Chief, isn’t here. He only appeared in one of the group’s videos before being incarcerated right as their music began to blow up last summer.
It’s clear the guys are always cooking up bars, or rehearsing their previously recorded songs. “I don’t go nowhere without my strap,” one of them melodically warbles mid-conversation. While telling a story about crashing his Dodge Charger, P4K breaks into lyric mode, rapping “do the dash, crash, and smash it and get another one” before explaining that he really totaled his Charger three times. The way they tell stories, everything in their lives feels a bit like an action movie — with lots of onomatopoeic sound effects and scene-setting details that bring you right into the stories.
If you’re looking for an encapsulation of the group’s appeal, look to the group’s second-ever video, the fittingly titled “Baby Stone Gorillas.” Racking up over 1.4 million YouTube views, the song made them realize that a rap career was possible. It’s set in the same park, named after a former Dodgers legend, where we’re conducting our interview. The song starts off with an old clip of someone asking a 15-year-old P4K if he’s a gangbanger. Then it cuts to the present when he barges in, unloading a clip: “Military Choppa with the scope go boom boom boom, had a n**** runnin’ from the stick like Duck Duck Goose.” It’s accompanied by a cold stare towards the camera and a bunch of finger-twisting.
The rest of the group take turns rapping about the gangbanging lifestyle — upping the murder rate and attempting to put their rivals on the news. The styles of each member fit smoothly with the next, and they have a lot of space to operate in the hollowed out, and minimalist L.A. menace supplied by RonRonTheProducer — one of the largest tastemakers and engineers of West Coast street rap over the past half-decade.
Their music contains a palpable sense of danger, with rap tunes that would intimidate anyone on the wrong side of a beef. But it also has a playful streak that makes it feel like the product of a shit-talking and raucous studio session. This aspect comes across loud and clear on this Saturday afternoon at the park. The members have all known each other since they played in the sandbox; this natural chemistry in the booth is a product of the same type of back and forth jabbering that only comes from intimate friendships forged through talking trash on the basketball court, smoking pounds of Cali weed, and clowning on each other the way that only best friends can do.
When asked about what their dreams were before they started rapping — or even if they thought about rap as a viable option — the guys are at somewhat of a loss. Top5ivee says, “I’d probably still be doing that shit like gangbanging, trying to figure out a way, like, how to make it out.”
5Much pauses for a while and speaks slowly as the words come to him one at a time: “I don’t know. Shit. I knew I’d be doing something positive though.”
EKilla chimes in that “for sure a n**** thought of a future, but how a n**** was livin’, I ain’t gon’ be sure, like I’d have to change up some shit, before I didn’t have a future.”
This bleak outlook speaks for so many of the residents in the section. Developed in the ‘40s and ‘50s as large blocks of one and two-story homes for young Angelenos, Baldwin Village was initially a middle-class and 100 percent white neighborhood. But both environmental and policy factors through the late 20th century led to the area becoming the impoverished hub for gang activity. Throughout all of Los Angeles, realtors established what’s known as “racial covenants,” where certain areas were restricted for Black people, forcing them into smaller enclaves around the city. Though these covenants were technically deemed illegal by the California Supreme Court in 1948, their impacts linger through other levers that realtors pulled to get around the courts.
According to the Los Angeles Times, after the 1948 ruling, “the most common way realtors kept neighborhoods all-white was through ‘racial steering’ — lying to minority buyers that a home had just been sold and expelling or freezing out of the business any broker selling to a minority.” Among other strategies, this was extremely successful in effectively segregating L.A. Black people were funneled into the “less desirable” areas, and much of South LA, including Baldwin Village, fell into that category.
The California Department of Public Health measures what they call the most climate-vulnerable areas of the state; Census Tract 2363.02, which encompasses most of The Jungles, was ranked as having the highest vulnerability in all of L.A. County. The largest urban oil field in the country (over 1,000 acres) sits right next to Baldwin Village, and residents living in the area routinely report symptoms of dizziness, nosebleeds, headaches and asthma. As part of later gang crackdowns in the area, the LAPD cut down many of the trees the area was known for in order to clear visibility for helicopters and raids. Trees and canopy offering shade from the heat have continued to disappear, as construction projects over the last ten years have “required” their removal.
The wealthier white Angelenos who initially settled in the Baldwin Village area started making their way towards areas with stronger neo-covenants in the ‘60s, and they largely abandoned Baldwin Village as home prices dropped off and more Black people moved in. Per Census data, the percentage of the population in the tract that includes Baldwin Village that identified as Black or African American was 0 percent in 1960. By 1970, it was 81 percent; ten years later, it was 93 percent. In the intervening decades, the percentage has shrunk as gentrification has slowly begun to creep in. As EKilla notes: “There’s people who lived here the longest who are moving out […] More Latinos, more white people, it’s changing dramatically.”
Nonetheless, the sense of community in the neighborhood runs deep and, for many residents, actually starts in ‘60s Chicago. There, a young boy by the name of T. Rogers felt that the Cub Scouts organization was not providing him the communal space necessary to flourish, so he turned to a newly formed organization called the Black P. Stone Nation. When he was 13, T. Rogers’ family relocated to the Jungles, where he founded the West Side set of BPS, which grew to about 500 members strong. They became affiliated with the Bloods, as in their early days the Piru Bloods helped protect members from Crips.
BPS is now one of the largest gangs in Los Angeles, which made the Jungles a frequent target for LAPD raids throughout the ‘00s. During our interview, P4K reveals that the late T. Rogers, who passed away last year at the age of 65, was actually his great-grandfather, and P4K’s government name still carries the Rogers at the end. “[He means] everything [to us]. Without him we wouldn’t be here. He is the set,” explains P4K, who has a large BPSN tattoo on the back of his head.
The relationship between the area’s residents and LAPD has long been fraught. In 2006, the police slapped a gang injunction on the P. Stones, banning them from congregating in public spaces. In 2008, they officially labeled the Jungles as a “Gang Reduction Zone,” which gave them extra ways to impede the residents’ civil rights. A few years later, Waka Flocka’s “Hard In Da Paint” video was filmed in the area. In the video, there’s a black screen moment with a text overlay that says “Due to the Los Angeles gang injunction, this production was shut down.” The area is also frequently raided by the authorities. In 2011, nearly 1,000 LAPD officers and FBI agents swarmed the area, leading to over 50 arrests, and countless trashed households.
The relationship between the cops and the community was captured in the 2001 Denzel Washington movie, Training Day. It portrayed the area as wild and reckless. The white cop in training remarked, “We’ll get killed coming in here […] they say don’t come in here with anything less than a platoon.” The Baby Stone Gorillas guys say they’ve watched the movie many times. In something straight out of a Boondocks skit, they claim that tour vans full of white people come through the neighborhood to show where Training Day was filmed.
“[At first] we thought it was a set up, like police. All these phones out, and a van pulls up,” EKilla says.
Remarks 5Much: “They pay for a hood tour.”
Talking about the perceptions of the neighborhood that came out of the movie, the group laughs and jokes about how all publicity is good publicity.
“Let ‘em know we dangerous, that’s good promo,” EKilla says with a mischievous smile and laugh.
For guys who came up in this dangerous environment — fucked up by government ineptitude, the crack epidemic, and mass incarceration propelled by Reagan’s War on Drugs — their newfound success feels surreal. It’s all happened so fast. In conversation, it doesn’t feel like it’s fully hit them how their lives are about to change. None of them had even stepped foot in a recording booth before 2021, let alone traveled around the country. Now, they’re hanging with DJ Mustard in Vegas, flicking up with Travis Scott, getting shouted out by Shaq and OVO, being brought out by larger rappers at music festivals and starting to headline their own shows.
They get really excited while talking about a recent show in San Diego. There’s a spark in their eyes as they recount what it was like. “That shit was lit, it was a lot of people there, at least to us,” Top5ivee recounts.
5Much chimes in: “It was the first time I was really, like, nervous, I don’t know. They was really there for us, you feel me?”
Close to the environment which raised them, the guys have a natural humility. They get excited when they hear multiple cars pass by playing their music from other parts of the park, and seem incredibly grateful for everything that’s happened in the past year. Top5ivee takes a moment to shout out “everyone who took they time and put their belief in us. It’s a lot, man. They took their chances on us.”
From stints in juvenile detention facilities to having fans run up and ask for pictures, it’s been a pretty hectic turn of recent events. “It’s still new to some people to think of us like rappers,” admits EKilla. The rappers they previously listed off from the neighborhood as having looked up to — Nfant, Take Money, and Red Chuckstaaa — mostly have YouTube views in the 100,000s (with a few exceptions). At the moment, Baby Stone Gorillas have 11 videos with over 500,000 views already, and almost every one sits over 300,000.
The grass beneath our feet in the park is browning. At one point, the members of the group stare up to the hills looming above, the expensive homes and manicured lawns of Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights, a stark contrast to the violent Section 8 housing in which they were raised. Flashing a knowing smile, Ekilla says, “It’s crazy like we gon’ get there one day, like we see those houses above us on the hills and we gon’ have us one of those! It’s motivational. It be like… manifest.”