Warm Brew Keeps Hip-Hop Alive in West Los Angeles

By Daniel Oberhaus on October 3, 2018

Santa Monica is known for a lot of things—the once-seedy boardwalk, beautiful beaches, the Z-Boys, the Third Street Promenade—but hip-hop isn’t one of them. Warm Brew is quickly changing that. As the self-proclaimed Ghetto Beach Boyz,  Manu Li, Serk Spliff and Ray Wright are almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the beats poppin’ on Los Angeles' ritzy westside. After gaining rapper Dom Kennedy’s attention with “Wanna Get High” from the trio’s 2013 record The Ride, Warm Brew has found itself on the come up in a big way. 

Last year, the group signed to Red Bull Records, which it celebrated by dropping "Small Victories," and their latest full-length album is set to drop late next month with their new single "Psychedelic" out now. PRØHBTD hit up Serk Spliff after a rehearsal to talk about rapping under the influence (of cannabis, of course) and how to create a hip-hop scene from nothing. 

How did Warm Brew start?

We all met in ninth grade… sorry man... I'm pretty stoned. We all met in ninth grade, but we didn't come together as Warm Brew until around 2009. Ray and Manu were making music together, but the three of us didn't form until 2009. It was a solid five or six years of making music independently, maybe even longer.  We felt there was a void we could fill as a hip-hop group. There's something special about the essence of hip-hop groups, and we wanted to do that. It's a really special feeling. Like a Tribe Called Quest and great groups like that, we wanted to do something similar.

How does that dynamic work out? 

It's a mix of everything. My personal favorite is when we sit and write in the studio together. It's trust. We've been friends for so long, we consider each other brothers, but it's just trusting each other and knowing how it's going to work and sound good. I think we know how to weave our voices, just like our personalities. 

You have a recent style of hip-hop. How would you describe Warm Brew's sound?

It's our voices and it's a sound we've developed. We've taken our time to figure out our sound and how we sound best, but it's inspired by a bunch of different things. We don't just listen to certain kinds of music. We vary in the taste that we like. We all have different ears, and it's cool how it works out. 

Who do you find inspiring musically?

Definitely OutKast, that's one of my favorite groups. Big Boi is definitely one of the people I look up to with my rapping style. Really anything. DJ Quik is a big one right now for me, dudes like Kendrick [Lamar], but there's a whole bunch of 'em. 

You're all from the westside of LA, which isn't exactly known for its hip-hop scene.

We all met in the westside. We've bounced around different places. The hip-hop scene is something that's slowly growing and developing. I like to think that we're somewhat pioneers of it. There were people doing it before us, but I think we're just trying to elevate the sound to another level. Ultimately, we opened up a conduit so other people can do the same. It's something that's developing slowly on the west side of town. Slowly but surely. 

Has it been hard trying to come up in this musical environment?

We like to make music about our experiences. People call our music "beachy," you can tell we're from the west coast, but Santa Monica didn't lock us in. We've seen a lot of different things in a lot of different places. It was difficult because I'm sure people looked at it like, "Who are these guys?" That's a weird name—Warm Brew—the name definitely conjured up something weird, I'm sure. But yeah, I don't think Santa Monica locked us into our sound or anything like that. We really just rap about our experiences and the way we see life. 

Is there any story behind the name Warm Brew?

It's got a lot of meanings to it. When we were younger, we used to steal a lot of beer, and you always had to steal the warm ones. It's one of those things. It's got a bunch of meanings now that we've gotten older, but it definitely started off as a bunch of teenage kids drinking beer as much as they can, making some cool music. 

How does cannabis influence your music?

It's very synonymous with where we're from—the westside of Los Angeles—where the weed is definitely the best. It's very integral to the writing process. We're always smoking. 

Do you think there's any hope for legalization in the U.S. any time soon?

We gotta have hope. Hopefully when so and so isn't in that big old White House, we can finally get it legalized. 

What strain pairs best with Warm Brew's music?

OG, without a doubt. That's an easy one. 

How'd you guys end up getting hooked up with Dom?

It was just some homie shit, really. We've been walking around the same circles for a long time and then he heard our song "Wanna Get High" and saw the video for it. He enjoyed it, and then it just went from there. Our manager has known him for a long time. We all went to the same high school, just at different times. Los Angeles is a small city when you're doing hip-hop. 

Do you guys mess with psychedelics at all? I heard California is going to be putting mushrooms up for legalization soon?

I heard that, too. There's no way that's going to pass. If it does, that's going to be great. I'd be fighting for that. I find it hard to find, to be real. It will suck if it's legalized, though, 'cause they'll fuck the mushrooms up, you know? They won't kick the same way. 

Do you think that happened with the legalization of cannabis?

If they open it up like crazy with taxes and stuff, that'll suck. You can definitely tell the difference in the weed. I like the way it is right now in California. It's loose enough that they're not locking people up on it. Legalized in that way. 

Photo credit: Warm Brew website.

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