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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK
LA gangsters launch music careers
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

G-Cell (left) and Squeak RU
G-Cell (left) and Squeak RU are members of different gangs
Auditions have been held in some of the toughest gang neighbourhoods in Los Angeles to try to find the next generation of rap stars.

Veteran music producers scoured the streets and parks of areas such as Compton, Watts and Inglewood in the hope of discovering another 50 Cent or Snoop Dogg.

"Looking at the west coast market there were no artists that were brand new," says Robert W Lewis of Reputable Records.

"We wanted to be able to go back into the neighbourhoods and find talent that hasn't been tapped into."

Wannabe professional rappers turned up at auditions throughout the south Los Angeles area largely though word-of-mouth.

The organisers were determined that the project would offer opportunities to young musicians that stood little chance of being discovered by more mainstream talent scouts.

'Almost like basketball'

"Did you ever catch a black artist from one of the neighbourhoods of LA or New York or Chicago or Atlanta that was a rapper on American Idol?" says Mr Lewis.

"Our guys will never get a shot on a show like that."

Robert W Lewis
Robert W Lewis's record company is behind the scheme
Veteran music executive Charles "Big Chuck" Stanton, who has worked with artists such as Dr Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and The Game, was one of the judges.

"Everything usually starts in the urban area," he says.

"It's almost like basketball, a lot of talent comes out of the 'hood and it's just a process of going through the individuals and seeing who's head is right and who's willing to compromise one lifestyle for another lifestyle and buckle down and really get serious."

More than 200 hopefuls came forward from 34 different neighbourhoods. Most had affiliations with the region's two major gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, which have been bitter rivals for decades.

Guns banned

Strict rules were laid down banning guns and any form of violence.

The auditioning rappers were told the project would be called off at the first sign of any fighting.

"It worked out pretty good," says Mr Stanton.

"They realised that red and blue (the gang colours) make green. Now you've got a chance to change your life around and save other peoples' lives."

Red Rum
Rapper Red Rum was "just trying to stay alive" in his past
G-Cell, a 26-year-old from the inner city area of Inglewood, is one of the aspiring rappers.

"I'm from Avalon Gangster Crips, I've got 13 tattoos saying Avalon, that's part of me. My brother died for that," he explains.

"When you're young and you're doing it, it seems fun. When you get old and you get to look at things and you see the people that you grew up with dying and going to jail it's not that fun no more. It's more of a way of life.

"That's why I give props to Reputable Records for giving us a shot because they came into the 'hood and grabbed us really made some things happen."

Squeak RU, a member of a Bloods gang, is one of 27 rappers who have been signed up as a result of the talent search.

As well as contributing a track to a double compilation album, Rep Yo Set, due out in October, he is planning a solo career.

It is a far cry from his life on the streets. He recalls growing up with his mother, who became hooked on drugs.

"To eat I had to sell drugs, rob, steal or whatever - do what ever I had to do to survive. That's what my life consisted of."

'Violence, jokes and weed'

However, Squeak RU is reluctant to talk in detail about his life as an active gang member.

"There's a code we stick to, we can't let everybody know everything."

Jon Nokes
I've seen a lot of Crips and Bloods working together, singing lyrics together and I feel it has the chance to be a really big movement
Scheme backer Jon Nokes
Red Rum, another young rapper on the CD, says his days used to be filled with "violence, jokes with the homies and some weed here and there".

"Before this, I was just trying to stay alive, I had to hustle," he says.

The project, which has so far cost more than $1m (538,000) has been backed by British businessman and marketing expert Jon Nokes, who lives in California.

"Ideologically it's rescuing as many kids as you can from the inner city 'hoods," says Mr Nokes.

"I've seen a lot of Crips and Bloods working together, singing lyrics together and I feel it has the chance to be a really big movement."

As well as the CD, a documentary about the auditions will be released later this year on DVD.

"Most of them are stars but there are about three or four superstars, they just need to be polished," says Big Chuck.

"We showed them love and we showed them an opportunity," adds Mr Lewis.

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