Truly good music, regardless of genre, finds its own level. It can’t be denied. It can’t even be defined, really, because it defies category and shuns labels. And when it’s really good, it not only connects with listeners where they are, but it leads them in a bold, new direction. Indeed, it puts them on a path to the future. For Grand Hustle artist Yung LA, being “futuristic” is a way of life.
“Its all about individuality with me,” says the 22-year-old rapper born Leland Austin (thus the “LA” in his handle). “I’m a trendsetter expressing my uniqueness. At the end of the day I know who I am and I’m doing something different, too many rappers these days conform.”
That’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear the word “conform” come out of the rapper’s mouth. Displaying a style all his own, don’t expect to see Yung LA trying to blend in with his contemporaries. As he likes to say, many artists have painted a picture in the rap game; but now’s his time to put brush to canvass, and he’s using colors all his own to create something not seen or heard before. His debut CD, Futuristic Leland, is the first masterpiece of many to come.
Even in his humble beginnings, bouncing between the notorious East Lake Meadows and Thomasville Heights communities in Southeast Atlanta, LA has always been in a different lane. While his childhood friends aimed to look like each other, LA literally flipped things wearing his clothes backwards like his favorite rap duo growing up, Kris Kross. So it comes as no surprise to see him now rocking a Mohawk haircut with accompanying cameo designs.
“Its the White Boy, Black Boy swag,” he brags, mentioning that he doesn’t hire a stylist to pick out his attention getting outfits either, he does that himself. Nor is he weighed down with pounds of heavy jewelry in an attempt to wear the Hip Hop uniform of the day. “We’ve always had flavor in the inner city, the world just gets to see it now. It’s a new day and a new trend. Folks are tired of seeing the same thing.”
Being tired of seeing, hearing and even saying the same thing is what shaped this talented artist. True to his moniker, LA got his start rapping at the very “yung” age of six. Encouraged by his aunt who was in a rap group herself at the time, the little MC became the toast of the family by rapping a custom-made rhyme she wrote just for him. When he grew tired of that rhyme, he started mimicking whatever he heard on the radio.
Displaying a discipline that holds to this day, the then youthful third-grader use to copy down the lyrics of his favorite rap stars to help better understand the writing and creative process. This led to him mastering the ability to compose his own rhymes and infuse them with an energy reflecting his life in the ATL and paving the way to his futuristic sound and style.
Through his teenage years Yung LA balanced his new love of rapping with his first love of sports. When he wasn’t hooping with the junior varsity squad in 8th grade he was learning how to record music. But when he made the football team in high school but couldn’t play because of sub par grades, LA focused full time on tackling the microphone. It didn’t take long to get some hits, and his athletic background proved useful in another arena.
“Sports played a big part in my creative development,” says LA. “It taught me examples of hard work, dedication and passion–all things I brought with me into my music career.”
Coming from a city whose rap spectrum ranged from Outcast to Lil Jon, LA had to create a style that stood out. The melody driven one he came up with drew attention almost instantly. “I developed a different sound,” understates LA. “The delivery is smooth, finesse-like without taking away from the lyrical message. You don’t have to be hard all the time to make a point. I think this ability helps me reach a wider audience of music lovers, and further sets me apart.”
Also setting him apart is his humble demeanor, which attracted people from all over who wanted to help him win. Among them were producer/rapper tandem Zaytoven and Gucci Mane. With them he grew a penchant for freestyling all of his rhymes, hardly, if ever, using a pen and pad. After working in their shadows, performing at numerous open mics and appearing on local mixtapes, as well as dropping his very own, Crush The Block in 2006, LA’s improvisational flow caught the hear of Grand Hustle recording artist Young Dro.
“Dro pulled up on me in Thomasville,” LA remembers about the fateful day in 2006. “I didn’t want to, but my friends convinced me to rap for him. So I just sat down next to him and started ripping. He said he was going to come back for me, and he did.”
After meeting the rest of the Grand Hustle family, LA landed a deal with the powerhouse label in May 2007. The first shot “Ain’t I,” featuring labelmate Big Kuntry King, became an instant anthem on Atlanta’s underground circuit. The song, originally a neighborhood chant, turned into an even bigger hit when Dro and Grand Hustle honcho T.I. hoped onto the remix. Now, with his buzz growing and a thirst for a new star in Hip Hop, Yung LA’s Futuristic Leland is poised to become the must-have CD for anyone seeking to catch a ride to the future of rap music.
Creatively, LA is closely involved in the production of his project, working with such producing giants as KE, Ben Franks, Jim Johnson and his long-time collabo partner Zaytoven to ensure that the sound and flow connect just right. (I know have some of these names spelled wrong cc)
“It’s what we do in Atlanta, but I’m putting the Hip Hop in it,” says LA about his album. “The beats are futuristic; each song is different.”
Promising to mesh his unique rap talents with lyrical dexterity, Yung LA is ushering in a new sound and look to Atlanta Hip Hop if not Hip Hop in general. Tracks like self-explanatory “Mohawk” gives listeners a step-by-step walk through LA’s need to stick out in a crowd. The semi-autobiographical “Caught My Daddy Wit It” has him opening up about the adversity he and so many other youths in Inner City, USA face after losing fathers to the street life via death or jail. And “36 O’s” is LA’s ode to hustling, a skill he observed up close and personal via his family’s bootlegging to help make ends meet.
“There’s different ways you can come off and let people know about your struggles,” he says. “You didn’t always have to be the one doing it, its your surroundings that make you think about things differently, so that’s what I do in all my songs, try to present something differently.
He supports that philosophy with songs like “Elroy You,” a soft-tempo track that initially sounds like a typical “for the ladies” record but has enough left-field language to turn into something new. (For you history buffs, the term “Elroy” is lifted from the landmark Hanna Barbara cartoon “The Jetsons”–Elroy is George Jetson’s son).
“You’ve got to brand your language,” says LA who explains “Elroy You” as “futuristic loving.” “It’s all about being new, that’s what keeps the music interesting.”
Then, with tracks like lyrical exercise “Crush,” LA shows that while he’s good at “swag rap,” he’s much more than a so-called swag rapper–he’s a MC first and foremost. As stated above, labels don’t apply here.
“I’m not boxed into one genre, I like to spread,” he says. “That’s what’s gonna help me, I have a universal sound. When I use the term “swag” I’m just talking about my swagger, or the attitude and confidence I bring to everything I do.”
Whether it’s his dress, hairstyles or his E-40-esque way of coming up with new slang, LA’s swag and flavor, or “swavor” as he likes to call it, will be taking the music world back to the future.