Around the start of the new millennium DJ Bonds and DJ Breeze formed a promotion team called Elements Entertainment. Their platform, Club Elements, showcased the brightest stars in underground Hip-Hop of that time. Elements shined a light on the underground rap scene in Los Angeles with performances by artists like Dilated Peoples, Jurassic 5, Freestyle Fellowship, and Souls of Mischief.
The crew also brought in artists from other parts of the country to perform at Club Elements like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Jeru the Damaja, and Pharoahe Monch among others.
Nearly twenty years after the end of Elements, Bonds and Breeze took off their DJ hats and put on their director’s hats to bring people a glimpse into the history of Elements and the overall underground rap scene in Los Angeles with a documentary called “Where We’re From: Rise of L.A. Underground Hip Hop.”
Where We’re From will be released on digital and on demand platforms on August 24, 2021.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to DJ Bonds and DJ Breeze about the relationship between the underground and gangsta rap scene in L.A., why Club Elements ended, and their new documentary, Where We’re From: Rise of L.A. Underground Hip Hop.
TRHH: Off the top, the film “Where We’re From” highlights the diversity of L.A. Hip-Hop and it reminds me of my hometown of Chicago. Chicago might be internationally known right now for drill music, but we also gave you Common, Kanye, Chance, and Lupe. Los Angeles is associated with gangsta rap, but the underground scene has been thick for a long time there. Was there a division between the gangsta rap scene and the underground scene in L.A. or did they coexist?
DJ Bonds: That’s a good question. Reflecting back, I would say it was a little bit separated. I’m going back down memory lane right now and wondering how many times I might have seen a Cube and Pharcyde show. I don’t know if I could say that happened back then. We’re the guys that danced in a circle. We’re the guys with the funny haircuts like Cube would say on “Jackin’ for Beats.” I’m that dude he’s talking about. It’s not like I didn’t have a cousin, friend, or relative that didn’t bang. It was a part of growing up in L.A. You always had someone that was associated with that scene or that culture. On the music tip, I guess there was some division. Breeze, maybe you have a better way to reflect on it.
DJ Breeze: For me personally, in the beginning, and I don’t mean the early 80s, but even the era that Bonds and I are covering in this film, I remember going to Water the Bush and early Unity’s, which were underground events, and running into Ice-T. In the beginning there was no division, but it seemed like once the Biggie and Pac thing got going, that’s when the division kicked in. Volume 10’s biggest hit is considered a gangsta song, but he comes out of Project Blowed. It just seemed like later on it start dividing, when earlier on it didn’t.
Like Bonds just said, we had family, relatives, or friends. If you’re from L.A. you’re gang affiliated, no matter what. Either through family, friends, or school, you just somehow were. I always ran into cats who banged, but really had an appreciation for underground stuff and vice versa. It wasn’t what we were doing, but we always listened to N.W.A., Above the Law, Compton’s Most Wanted, we love that stuff too. Early on there was no division. As the Biggie and Pac thing happened, that’s when it seemed to kind of divide.
TRHH: Again, that reminds me of Chicago. People see Common as this guy in the movies now, but he’s gang affiliated. He’s a 4 Corner Hustler. People would not believe that, but everybody here is connected in some way. The Otherwize story with Dr. Dre stood out to me because it was sort of like a microcosm of the L.A. Hip-Hop scene. In hindsight, do you think he made the right decision?
DJ Breeze: As far as not doing what Dre asked him?
TRHH: Switching it up.
DJ Breeze: No, I don’t. No, I don’t. I think he should have did it. That’s how I feel. I think he feels that way too. I don’t think he made the right decision. I love underground music, I prefer that, but, I don’t think he made the right decision.
DJ Bonds: In making the film, that part could have been like 20 minutes long. We interviewed Bishop Lamont, DJ Khalil, and Defari. The way we cut it, it was too long and we had to shorten it. There was this conversation about dumbing it down and wanting to perform for the folks in the barbershop. The underground scene a lot of times is everything but black people in the crowd. On the stage it’s black and brown, but in the crowd it’s everything but brothers up in there. It was an interesting conversation about wanting to make things for people in the barbershop, because in the barbershop you have that skill-set of wanting to talk about things that are positive and not talking about the negatives like drug selling, women, and all of that, dumbing it down in a way. There are certain folks that saw it as dumbing it down and certain folks who saw it as song making. It wasn’t about dumbing it down, but how do you make a great song that will last for generations? It might be something that will end up on bonus footage or something like that, but there is a lot of stuff that we got. We can only show so much that was in the actual final cut of the doc.
TRHH: Do you believe that Live at the BBQ was the inspiration for festivals like Rock the Bells and later Paid Dues?
DJ Bonds: I would say yes, and why I’m saying yes is because of Paul Tollett, who basically created Coachella. The very first Coachella happened in ’99. We did our event in 2000. He was gearing up for another run at Coachella. He was like, “I know we lost a lot of money on this, but I lost a million dollars on Coachella and I got this awesome plaque for it.” He showed me the plaque and was just like, let’s just keep it going. We never got a chance to do a part 2, but he was involved in the early stages of Rock the Bells and being involved in the other festivals as well. I’ll take that as saying that was the beginning because of Goldenvoice’s influence in doing festivals. We were one of the first ones to do it in that style.
TRHH: It was nice to see the Biz Mark footage in there after his recent passing. Was there something that you really wanted to be in the film but it just couldn’t make the cut?
DJ Breeze: To add on to what Bonds just said, we have so much stuff that we wanted to add, but it doesn’t fit with the rhythm of the film or the context of the film or the context of the story of what we’re trying to convey. It just would have went left-field all of a sudden, but it’s still a beautiful story with so much beautiful content. There was a lot of that from almost every interview.
DJ Bonds: I think Quasimoto would be the best example.
DJ Breeze: Thank you! That’s a very good example. We also did a sneak preview a year or two ago and we cut 15 minutes off of that film, just to make a better film. It was ultimately about making a great film. One thing that we learned as directors that we heard from other directors is you have to compromise. You don’t always get what you want as a director. We learned that on this film. There’s so much that we couldn’t use. The Quasimoto is a great example.
DJ Bonds: We have the first and only performance of Quasimoto recorded. It was his album release party. Stones Throw hit us up about throwing an official album release party. Madlib hit us up and was like, “Yo, if you could make a fuckin’ suit for Quasimoto we could do it. I’ll perform on stage with Quasimoto, but you gotta make the fuckin’ suit.” Peanut Butter Wolf was like, “Fuck it, I’ll do it!”
DJ Breeze: Long story short, it wouldn’t have fit in with what we were trying to say and convey in the film. It is what it is. That’s just one example, but like Bonds was trying to say, hopefully we’ll get to put this out at a future time as something else.
TRHH: What’s your favorite show that Elements put on?
DJ Breeze: We did 14 shows in one year at the El Rey. Each one has a special moment for me, but I guess if I had to pick one, that second show that Bonds and I did is the one that really put us on the map. We had Pharoahe show up as a surprise guest right when Internal Affairs was coming out. He was hungry and so was the crowd. We packed in 1500 people in a place that only should have packed in 1000. To see all of those 1500 people jumping up and down to his music, we did it. That was my favorite show. I remember coming out of that show and as the show ended everybody breaks out. I broke out there and I saw another promoter out there by the name of Q Bwoy, Q Bwoy Anthony who throws Jamaican Gold out here, shout out to him. I was drenched in sweat, adrenaline rushing, and I’d been there since noon, so I’d been there for 14-16 hours. All he did was tap me on the shoulder and say, “You guys have arrived.” I was like, “Okay.” It didn’t hit me until later. The next few days the phone wouldn’t stop ringing and that’s when we really got busy. I would say that was my favorite show personally, I don’t know about Bonds.
DJ Bonds: That’s up there. It’s memorable. I would second that. I’m not mad at that, at all.
TRHH: Would you say that the pursuit of money ruined something that you originally started doing for fun?
DJ Breeze: No. Maybe it was somewhat of a factor, but there were many factors that ended it. I think one thing that promoters don’t talk about or think about is timing. Toward the end of Elements, the industry was shifting. That’s when it was really going into the digital era and the Serato thing was really kicking in. You had this huge explosion of change. That has an effect on music. Bonds and I worked our asses off as promoters, but it’s all about timing. These acts were Dialated, J-5, Self Scientific, Fellowship, along with the Rawkus relationship that Bonds helped developed. We became their west coast stage. You had all these acts like Mos Def coming out with his first solo album, Kweli, and all these artists and we just happened to be the stage for these guys. It’s all about timing, I think along with us being burned out [laughs]. We did 14 shows in one year and the Live at the BBQ thing really took a lot out of us and we didn’t recover. Being burned out and the music thing changing had a lot more to do with it.
DJ Bonds: The business side of things for me. Twenty years later I get cats that say, “I used to jump over the fence to get in!” At the time I was doing this for my son and to get as much money as I can. It’s like, when you say with glee and joy in your voice that you were sneaking into my event for free how do you think that makes me feel? We posted the trailer and someone literally put “I used to give the security guard some weed to get in for free.” They posted that shit in the IG comments. In my mind I’m like, “Yo, you’re the reason why shit like that don’t happen no more.” I said that to say, if you’re reading this right now, support your local promoter, support your local artists, pay. Don’t always try to get on the fuckin’ guest list.
TRHH: Do you think Hip-Hip in general has too much of that “put me on the guest list, hopping the fence, or illegally downloading albums” shit?
DJ Bonds: In the beginning though it wasn’t like that. I rode my bike to Tower Records to spend my money to buy the new EPMD. We know how to support, we just forgot. For the older heads and for the newbies, we just gotta motivate them to be in that lane.
DJ Breeze: Bonds is right. To add on to what he was saying, it’s true, but I think he’s speaking on when it was really raw. Similar to punk. When punk started it was really raw, same thing with Hip-Hop. Now it’s an industry. When I’ve been to other shows whether they are R&B, rock, or reggae, it’s the same shit [laughs]. It’s the same people talking about, “Hey, I’m on the list.” I’ve seen rocker dudes wild out like, “I’m on the list!” It’s the same shit. Once it becomes an industry it becomes that. I think what Bonds is saying is true. What we take for granted is our era, we got to see the beginning. We never saw the beginning of rock or reggae, but we saw the beginning of Hip-Hop. My son loves Hip-Hop now, but he’s never going to get to see the beginning. Bonds and I come from this era where it was considered the devils music. That’s what’s a trip to me. I think of that era that he’s talking about as when it was so innocent and raw. We were doing it literally just to do it. Now that it can make you money and get you a house, it becomes a whole different culture after that.
TRHH: I think that has changed the quality of a lot of things too.
DJ Breeze: Pros and cons.
TRHH: Well, let me ask you guys as DJ’s, what’s your opinion of Serato?
DJ Bonds: I totally love it. I’m cool with it. What you can do with it if you’re dope, you ever seen Craze do a set? The homie DJ Revolution, he was the first one to break out Serato at Elements, and we’re talking 2002. We ended Elements in late 2001 or early 02, but then we tried to bring it back and do one or two shows. He brought it out at a Beatnuts show or something and no one had ever seen someone use a computer. People were like, “where’s your crate at?” He was blowing minds 20 years ago. So, eventually you still got the mindset of how to rock on vinyl and skills and all of that. Depending on what you do with it, it’s dope as fuck. Now any emcee whose sales aint going so well can become a DJ and take money out of folks pockets who really got skill-sets and shit. At the end of the day, it’s a good tool.
DJ Breeze: It’s a great tool. I wish Serato or Rane would still push vinyl. When they first came out they were like “you don’t need records anymore.” Slow down. Record digging is part of our culture. It’s a great thing. I think it’s a great tool, especially for me as a producer and I’m doing cuts over a song and I’m using a rare MC Lyte record. I don’t wanna ruin my rare MC Lyte record just to put some cuts on a song. It’s a great tool in the studio and it’s great for touring. Cats used to haul crates for touring. I’ve done that, and that’s nuts. It’s a great tool, but respect the culture. Digging is part of the culture. You don’t have to say “you don’t need your records anymore.” Say “convert your records and keep them at home safe.” That was my only gripe with it. I think it’s a great tool.
TRHH: Why is it important for Hip-Hop fans to see the “Where We’re From” documentary?
DJ Bonds: I think it’s important to shine a light on artists, DJ’s, and dancers in our culture that don’t get enough shine. It is crazy to me that we had DJ’s on stage with four turntables every single Sunday, we had a circle with people doing backflips, break-dancing, but also grooving, you had ladies in the house looking good, you had a back patio with people smoking weed and freestyling, and you had your graf writers. The culture was there and gravitating to each other every fuckin’ week. Now I’ll maybe have a DMC competition for DJ’s, or an open mic battle with no beat underneath, or you’ll have a break-dancing competition. Everything is separated and segregated. We’re not in the same room no more. If anything, I hope it motivates and inspires the culture to go back to that – all of the elements being in the same room.
DJ Breeze: To add on to that, I don’t wanna give too much away, but in the trailer, we’re primarily known for gangsta rap. That’s a huge part of our culture, but that’s not all we do. Hopefully after this film people will know what Elements was about, people will know who Bigga B was, maybe they’ll look up who Rob One was, maybe they’ll look up who Mark Luv is. These are names that are synonymous with L.A. Hip-Hop culture. These are names that influenced us and we’re constantly seeing the west coast influence on the rest of the world. It’s not just the gangsta stuff, there are incredible lyricists out here. Nobody ever talks about Erule, nobody ever talks about Myka 9, and these are incredible artists that have been holding it down for so long and need to get their shine. Like Bonds was saying, I think it will inspire people. Hip-Hop always inspires. Whether it inspires a kid to deejay, emcee, or do some beautiful graf writing, so be it. I just want people to know it’s not just what the west coast is about, we’re about more than that.
DJ Bonds: I think if people like Hip-Hop they’ll like this story. I think they’ll dig it. It’s almost like a niche thing – west coast, L.A., underground Hip-Hop. We have enough stories in there that if you’re a fan of Hip-Hop you’ll enjoy the film.
TRHH: Even if you’re not a fan of Hip-Hop you’ll enjoy it. It’s well done. I loved it.
DJ Breeze: Thank you. I appreciate that. Originally, we wanted to make a film about Elements and what we did. But eventually we were like, “this is bigger than us.” Nobody knows what Water the Bush was, or what Unity was, or what Brown Rice N’ BBQ was. People are finally becoming familiar with what Project Blowed was an its significance. So, this has to become familiar to the rest of the world. Like cats like you in Chicago. It’s beautiful to know that. Hopefully we can reach some people with this.
DJ Bonds: I feel like there’s an Elements in every city. There’s people who have somewhat of a similar story as ours. For those promoters out there, you did something for your culture, you took an L a couple of times with people not paying, but you threw that Common show or that De La show and took that risk to produce Hip-Hop in your city, and for that, salute.