Blxst leads the new wave of L.A. hip-hop

On a muggy early September afternoon, the cavernous Hollywood Palladium was unnaturally empty.

Inside, South Central hip-hop artist Blxst (pronounced “blast”) went through a soundcheck ahead of his second sold-out show at the 4,000-seat venue. In the middle, he and his band rehearsed their rendition of “Die Hard,” the Kendrick Lamar song in which Blxst begs for another chance, even though he’s missed every one before. Live instruments illuminated the track’s layered melodies, and each time they reached the climax of a section, emotion swelled. But Blxst was not satisfied.

He and a stage manager huddled with violin-loving grandmaster Vic, ordering him to “freak out right there” in Lamar’s absence. They rewound the song and Vic unleashed a captivating solo, racing through octaves and punctuating it with well-timed ricochets.

The song ended and Blxst gave a subtle nod of agreement.

Later that evening, his reactions weren’t so reserved. As he sauntered onto the stage to sing “Gang Slide,” which served as the theme song for Issa Rae’s reality show Sweet Life about emerging Black LA creatives, crowd phone lights ricocheted off his gleaming teeth and the smile gave away his joy upon returning home after trekking across the country. He was just as happy to welcome a parade of LA heavyweights onto the stage, who stunned audiences with their collaborations (and their own biggest hits): Ty Dolla Sign, YG, Tyga, Kalan.Frfr, Bino Rideaux and Dom Kennedy .

“It’s your time, Blxst,” YG exclaimed.

Blxst has been running the Los Angeles soundtrack for at least a year. He’s done it by taming the city’s momentum to suit his own laid-back groove, accentuated by the muted synths and punchy drums that have become synonymous with his sound.

His music blares from car speakers across the city. He was the connective tissue in LA’s diverse landscape – collaborating with global superstars like Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, but also artists with strong local presence like Rucci, 1TakeJay and Kalan.Frfr.

But Blxst, 30, is aware his hometown is only one piece of the puzzle. His tour took the new sound of LA across the map, and he’ll soon be taking it overseas for the international leg of the tour.

“When I first went to London, the love was so real that it made you want to move to those cities,” he said backstage at the Palladium. “But LA made me who I am. I could never turn my back on the city.”

Blxst, whose real name is Matthew Burdette, was born in South-Central LA as the youngest child alongside three sisters. His grandparents were strict Jehovah’s Witnesses and kept a tight leash on the household with his parents.

His time in Los Angeles had its “ups and downs,” but that was cut short when his parents split and he moved to the Inland Empire. Life moved slower out there and he became a self-proclaimed music nerd.

“I used to go on YouTube and watch all sorts of s—,” Blxst said. “I would type ‘Kanye West in the studio, Jay-Z in the studio.’ I’m just trying to see how they came up with their ideas.”

Blxst’s mother tutored him about neo-soul pioneers, while rap came from a sister and uncle (who were in a group together). When Blxst decided he wanted to rap too, his uncle tutored him, introduced him to the studio, and told him to look up a new word in the dictionary every day to improve his vocabulary.

He started producing with a trial version of Fruity Loops (now known as FL Studio). The dream began to come true when he scored a spot on Hitta J3’s “Do Yo Gudda” in 2013, a local hit that garnered a remix featuring Kendrick Lamar, YG and Problem. The skeletal ratchet jump was a distant cousin of Blxst’s eventual brand, but the song kept spinning at parties across the city, giving him confidence that he could turn his passion into a career.

“That was all I needed,” he said. “It lit a fire.”

Blxst’s true identity as an artist came into focus in 2017 when he fell in love with the Rhodes keyboard and added chords to his production. He produced Kalan.Frfr’s breakout hit “Right Wit It” (which also got a YG remix), and in 2019 his own star skyrocketed when he released “Hurt,” heralding the vulnerability he was about to bring to his future releases would pour.

Love and betrayal inspired much of his 2020 EP No Love Lost, his formal launch as a solo artist. The deluxe version of the EP followed, including “Chosen” featuring Tyga and Ty Dolla Sign, which peaked at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became his first platinum song.

“I’d never really done a party record,” he said. “Typically, my songs are conversational and speak to a specific woman. This one felt freer.”

By 2021, the movement was larger than Los Angeles. Out-of-town artists had caught the eye, and he’d appeared on songs with Rick Ross, Nas, and even Dame DOLLA, aka NBA superstar Damian Lillard.

Blxst’s sound continued to expand in April with his debut album Before You Go, where he enjoyed his newfound success while playing with brighter sounds and fuller instruments.

But Blxst’s biggest moment of the year came shortly after, when he was featured on the fourth song of Kendrick Lamar’s much-anticipated album Mr. Morale & the big steppers.”

A few months earlier, Blxst had received a text message from an unknown number claiming to be Lamar’s manager, Anthony Saleh, and almost left it unanswered.

“I called my attorney and said, ‘Do you know Anthony Saleh?'” Blxst recalled with a laugh. “He said, ‘Yes, he’s official, get in touch with him.’ So I hit him back and he told me Kendrick would call me in five minutes. [Kendrick] FaceTimed me, and as soon as I heard him say, ‘What’s up,’ I thought that must be Kendrick.”

“I was in Miami listening on an iPhone because I didn’t have speakers,” he added, hearing the last song for the first time as it was released. “I tripped, brother. Hearing your voice alongside a legend is insane. You grow up with these artists and they find respect for you. What more do you want?”

A man performing on stage.

Blxst performs at the Hollywood Palladium.

(MaccThaShooter)

Blxst has done all this while spearheading Ecfe, the company he owns alongside Victor Burnett and Karl Fowlkes, which is home to a record label, clothing brand and investment arm. The company’s name is a nod to the bird that soars alone and appeals to the company’s do-it-all mentality.

“The eagle is the highest-flying bird that doesn’t fly in flocks,” Blxst said. “I take that as confidence.”

Burnett had long made a name for himself as a party promoter in Los Angeles, dating back to his teenage days. In 2017, he had just designed the merchandise for the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me and was at a production facility in Culver City with the film’s lead actor, who invited Blxst to a studio session.

The two developed a relationship and Burnett gave Blxst free studio time in exchange for beats and graphic design, which he shared with other artists and used for his own brand. As the partnership solidified, the team prioritized vertical integration, keeping the various facets of the creative process in-house as much as possible.

When it came time to sign a deal in 2020, they turned down major labels to partner with Red Bull Records, an independent label that echoed their strategy.

Blxst credits Burnett and Fowlkes with helping him see how he could develop beyond being just an artist.

“Traditionally, artists aren’t particularly vocal in the first half of their careers,” Burnett said. “A lot of people started investing a little later, trying to get into the music department. We decided to attack both at the same time because we understood that our cause is important.”

Family is also at the heart of Blxst’s vision. Balancing his responsibilities to his partner and their 4-year-old son was the most difficult part of his time on tour.

“It helped me become more present,” he said. “Ensuring that the time I spend with him is truly intentional, not just physically but mentally as well. It is so important. Those real connections will indeed shape his future.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-09-21/blxst-kendrick-lamar-die-hard Blxst leads the new wave of L.A. hip-hop

Sarah Ridley

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