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Hackwriters
The International Writers Magazine: Long Beach & 21st Street

A Tourist in my own Town
• Justin Dupée
My Fantastic Voyage through the Streets of Hip Hop’s Past

As I hook a left onto Anaheim Blvd I try and imagine how different the street might have been twenty-five or so years prior. A young Snoop had just finished high school and the world, or at least Long Beach, was his oyster.

Regulate Cover

I imagine him driving down the same street, not a superstar, just another Eastside resident living his life. I can only speculate, but I have the feeling not much of this neighborhood has changed since back then. Cop cars peer out of alley ways, Cambodian business owners pull up the screen in front of their shops, smoke wafts up from freshly grilled carne asada next to a business simply named Bodega #4. This is where the Eastside begins, the infamous part of town the entire world learned of when the sounds of Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Warren G and their ilk first hit the airwaves. Not too long before, the city of Compton had been put on the map by NWA. Soon after, Snoop and his boys followed suit, and Long Beach would never be the same again.

Before I go any further I would like to clarify something. I am a white male in my mid-thirties who grew up just south of here in the suburbs of Orange County. I am not nor will I ever claim to be “street-wise”, nor am I an expert on hip hop but thanks to the internet I was able to glean a fair amount of information about this area in a short period of time. I also live in Long Beach now and have for the last ten years, and I even lived on the Eastside my first few years here and -- depending on the map you look at I still technically do. I also work as a social worker in Long Beach and thus have some inside knowledge about street life that others may not be as privy to. With all that said I still didn’t, until recently, know a lot about where the stars of my adopted hometown grew up.

This whole fascination with my unknown adopted hometown started when a friend of mine sent me a picture of 21st Street and Lewis from the G-Funk classic “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg (“So I hooked a left on Two One and Lewis”). It occurred to me that there were probably other landmarks from these songs that were right under my nose and I hadn’t realized it, or paid close enough attention to the songs, or my geography. Like any good music nerd I am a sucker for pointless information that will get me nowhere in life, so the only logical thing to do was to spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over and researching this topic. Google and Spotify made this pretty easy though and soon I had what I needed.

There were, some places of course that I was already familiar with like Poly High School (Snoop, Warren G and Nate’s alma mater and topic of songs from both Snoop and other LB natives Tha Twinz) and VIP Records where Snoop’s iconic “What’s My Name” video was partially filmed at. I was pleasantly surprised that my street, Cherry Ave, was mentioned in a LBC Crew song and thus was an appropriate place for me to begin.

I continued careening down Anaheim Blvd until I got to Orange Street where I hooked a right toward 21st Street, the street with arguably the most prominence in those songs from yesteryear. It should be noted that I passed by 16th and 19th street on my way, which have both been name-dropped by some of Long Beach’s less known artists. After crossing PCH my nineties senses begin to tingle and I noticed two things. On my left was Martin Luther King Jr. Park, or “King Park” in Snoop’s “21 Jump Street” and Warren G’s “Streets of LBC, “where they would hang out and smoke weed.
Snoop Dog

As I drove past there appeared to be two young African-American males doing just that and my heart warmed at the idea that little had changed. On my right was Long Beach City College which is not to my knowledge referenced in any hip hop songs but was the site where I boarded the shuttle to Nate Dogg’s memorial service in 2011. The proximity of this pickup spot had little meaning until now.

Poly High Finally, the moment arrived and I got a tingle down my spine as I turned on to 21st street. Up until now I had not been able to actually picture it in my brain but was sure that I had driven down it at least once or twice in my ten years living in the city. While I did recognize it I quickly realized that I had actually never been down this street and suddenly I felt like a tourist in my own town. If the neighborhood leading up to 21st Street had probably changed little over the last 25 year, this street definitely remained right out of the past.

This was unquestionably the ghetto. I drove slowly, not wanting to look like a poverty gawker but also wanting to be able to take it all in. The homes were rundown and decrepit looking. Graffiti clung to walls like moss on a tree. A man stood on a corner, holding a forty in a brown paper bag and smoking a Black and Mild. The concrete was cracked and the windows barred. And then suddenly, there was Lewis and I hooked a left. Sadly, there was no one playing dice nor was there a car full of honeys driving in front of me. But I was here and I circled back around to make the drive again, but this time to continue down 21st through Snoop’s professed hood. I took 21st down to Atlantic (or “dipped down Atlantic” as LBC Crew did in “Get UP 2 Get Down”) toward Poly High School and turned left onto PCH toward the elusive Eastside Motel (“The next stop is the Eastside Moteeeeel” Nate Dogg).

Officially, there is no Eastside Hotel in Long Beach.

Gerry McBride, in his recent tweets in which he takes a similar course as mine via Google Maps and retells the tale of “Regulate,” suggests Warren and Nate probably went to the Rocky Motel as it is both cheap and is the lowest rated in the area. This is a good guess but my experience working with the homeless population here has led me to believe that it is actually the Colonial Motel that is the Eastside Motel.
Colonial Motel

This is the place on the side of town to get sex workers and drugs, plus it is still quite cheap and has an interesting and rotating cast of characters lurking about the grounds. They also shoot low budget pornography here. I consulted with one of my clients who is much more in the know than I am, who is older, from Long Beach and moonlighted in a once prominent Samoan hip hop group in the early 90s. He confirmed that “back in the day” the Colonial was indeed referred to as the “Eastside Motel” and was the place referenced in the song.

VIP Records logo After pulling in briefly to the motel I hung a right on the last leg of my trip toward VIP Records. I didn’t stop and go in though. Maybe I should have but while the sign is still there, the location has changed and it didn’t quite feel the same. The whole thing suddenly felt very anti-climactic and I wondered, “Is this the end?” Just then a car drove past me, windows down and blasting “Gin and Juice” at rather high decibels and at that moment it felt as though the ghosts of Long Beach’s hip hop past had been fully exercised. I turned back onto Cherry heading home, feeling a little less like a tourist in my own town.

© Justin Dupée July 2015
justindupee at gmail.com
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