“VALLEJO! Stand the fuck up!,” read the first sentence of a Jan. 27 tweet from Vallejo rapper LaRussell. “We bringing trophies home this year! I don't always win but I always take the risk, they never cheer for you until it go over the fence,” he concluded, referencing his own lyrics.
Attached was a video of LaRussell behind a microphone, gassing an instrumental, one of many videos he's posted this year.
But this video was different. This was his Babe Ruth moment.
LaRussell metaphorically stood at home plate, calling his shot as he pointed toward the center-field fence. And then he proceeded to knock the cover off the ball. Again and again, all throughout 2021.
LaRussell went on to drop three albums this year, and built a heck of a fanbase along the way. In January, he had about 4,000 followers on Instagram. He's sitting at nearly 75,000 as of this article. One of his most noted songs, "Do That Lil Dance You Be Doing," has accumulated nearly 30,000 views since it dropped last December. He and the Good Compenny team have posted over 200 videos of LaRussell and other Northern California artists performing in their studio over the past year, and they've been widely shared; one video featuring Shanté singing Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind" was reposted by Snoop Dogg back in March.
Something major has happened just about every month of 2021 for LaRussell and Co.
In November, Too $hort pulled up to LaRussell’s crib and took photos with his family. Shortly after, LaRussell rocked the stage at a show with the godfather of independent rap music.
And in late November, LaRussell announced that he’s selling shares of his catalog to fans who want to build wealth as he ascends in notoriety. Meaning that people can buy an opportunity to receive royalties from his songs, earning passive income as his music is streamed.
It’s an unheard of move for a budding artist. But as he often says, it’s different.
While all this momentum was still building, I wrote a column about LaRussell and the Good Compenny team, highlighting his talent and the team’s unique approach to putting on others while growing themselves.
The article was published a day before he hit send on that tweet. Little did I know I was capturing the North Vallejo Bambino predicting the home run—or rather, the run from home he’d have this year.
But despite what seems like a meteoric rise, earlier this year LaRussell posted a video of him rapping from 10 years ago, back when he was known as Tota Shakur—evidence that his success didn't come overnight.
Listen to the lyrics in his most recent music, and you'll catch on to some of his common sayings, like “the flow is water” and “hopped in my bag,” along with one of the more notable laughs this side of Jadakiss.
But it’s the lines where he talks about his career being organic, getting it out the mud, building it from the ground up and clearly stating that his mom, dad and other family members and friends have supported his climb—that’s what stands out to me.
Seeing this support system in person was one of the highlights of watching LaRussell’s ascension this year.
In October, he hosted an event with a sliding-scale ticket price at Izzy's Event Center on Georgia Street in Vallejo. I stood stage left watching LaRussell rap his ass off with one mic and some instrumentals, not rapping over his own vocals like so many rappers do. At one point I checked my watch and confirmed that he had been spitting for over an hour straight. Plus he was cracking jokes, dancing, doing call-and-response, and taking requests from people in the crowd who know his catalog by song name and project title.
The ceiling was low and it was hot as a firefighter’s armpits in that joint, but he was rocking. Body odor and the scent of the smoke machine were overpowered by the smell of the platter of food on the table behind me. (The catering had come compliments of his dad, standing not too far from the food.)
On the other side of the stage, a couple of women bounced to the music with LaRussell’s mom. One in particular gigged a lil harder when LaRussell rapped, “go auntie, go auntie, go.” She got on stage, and sure enough, it was his actual auntie.
But it wasn't just family in the building feeling themselves like yee—there were fans, longtime friends and more. Tope, the producer behind one of LaRussell’s 2021 albums, Cook Together, Eat Together, came from Oregon for the show.
Two other artists who had big years were there, too. East Oakland’s Ian Kelly, who dropped K.E.L.L.S. Is Dead in January, was in the back. Not too far from him stood Stunnaman02, who dropped the album I Gotta Feel It a few days into 2021. That project features the smash hit “Big Steppin'," a song that's taken over the Bay Area this year.
Between numerous guest appearances on other projects and dropping multiple videos, Ian Kelly found time to record a cold set of bars with the Good Compenny crew earlier this year.
And with over 170 consecutive days of the #BigSteppinChallenge, filmed with folks from here to Hawaii, Stunnaman02 and LaRussell found time to take a bike ride and record some music as well.
From the food LaRussell's pop cooked to the way artists and community were cooking together, I saw what was going on. There's a culture of mutual support naturally brewing here.
“You can’t tell who I don’t know at my shows,” LaRussell tells me during a phone call earlier this month. “I’m hugging everybody and chopping it up with everybody, you feel me?” He says even folks who are new to the fold get a taste of that love. “I feel like a lot of my fans ain’t fans,” LaRussell tells me. “It’s very internal, especially how I navigate and run my career. I’m so accessible.”
But the success is putting him and his family in circles that most people never access. He tells me about his mom meeting Too $hort and his pops meeting L.A. Reid, as well as taking the crew and family along with him on his trip to New York for the Breakfast Club appearance. “It’s becoming our new norm,” he says. “The norm that you never expected to happen.”
The key to not getting overwhelmed by this success, he says, is “fucking with the energy and moving accordingly.” LaRussell says that when things first started taking off, he was overwhelmed, jumping at everything. Now he’s taking time and running his own plays. And his latest play is a rare one.
He's selling shares of his catalog to people to help them build wealth as he grows as an artist. "When I make a song, there’s a 100% revenue being made," says LaRussell, an independent artist. “I’m like fuck it, I don’t even need to make this much. So, let me give some to the (people) who support my music and stream it.”
He breaks it down like this: Imagine if you would've invested in Jay-Z's music in the '90s, and now he’s Shawn Carter. Boom, you win at life.
And then LaRussell introduces me to the idea of "one billion stream songs," tracks of his like "Do That Lil Dance You Be Doing'," that could very likely one day see a million, or even a billion streams. "Just 1% of that song can change your life," says LaRussell.
He's selling shares for $250-$1,000. He's adamant about it being for fans, saying that he's been contacted by investment firms and he's given then a firm "no."
He's had to deal with some naysayers, but that comes with being innovative. And the system isn't new. He says he's been dividing dividends with his own team and they've had no issues. "It’s only an issue when (potential investors) come in with malicious intent," says LaRussell, noting that he personally sources the offers.
"I talk to these people. I’m telling them what this is. This isn’t a get-rich-quick investment. Don’t give me no money if you don’t love my music and want to support me," LaRussell tells me. "This is about building community wealth. In the span of my career, I'm probably going to change the lives of thousands of people, you know?"
There he is, standing at home plate, pointing even further into the distance and calling his shot once again.
LaRussell tells me that the highlight of his 2021 campaign was easily the Breakfast Club appearance. It's not just that he got to speak his piece on a major platform, but the fact that when he picked up his daughter from school a short while later, one of the kids recognized him from that appearance.
"You're not really in the game until you do certain things," LaRussell tells me, gearing up for another sports metaphor. "You're not great in the league until you win a ring or get MVP. And Breakfast Club, for a nigga like me, from Vallejo, that was like my ring."
Knowing that in a few weeks, the calendar will flip and it'll be a new season, I ask the Croc-sporting lyricist: what’s next?
He answers with a question.
"What are all the things people accomplish in a year? How about a career? How many albums? Award shows? Platforms?" he asks, semi-rhetorically. His initial goal was to do all that within the next year. He thought about it, and now wants to do it in three months.
"I know, it’s one of those things that’s not really obtainable," LaRussell says in a rare grounded tone. "But it’s like, when you shoot for that type of goal, you can only end up better."
In other words: the 2022 season starts soon.
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