In the midst of DTLA’s historic Jewelry District sits a relatively new venture, by the name of Jumpman LA. To the untrained eye, it’s a standard yet flashy storefront dedicated the Jordan brand, filled to the brim with signature sneakers and flashy apparel. Walk through the imitation elevator, up the hidden flight of stairs, and through the hallway to the actual elevator, however, and you’ll find a rooftop basketball court straight out of Harlem, outfitted with a Jordan-themed scoreboard and a massive sound system oscillating between classic Dom Kennedy cuts and new Frank Ocean singles.
Once you’re there, you’ll find that they won’t let you onto the court until you’re wearing a pair of Jordan sneakers (and a Jumpman-branded practice uniform). You’ll find overseas professional athletes, the latest Jordan endorsees, and influencers with a connection inside the building. And on this sweltering Thursday afternoon, you’ll find a rapper from Long Beach by the name of Seafood Sam, draining 3’s and throwing down alley-oops like Long Beach’s own Russell Westbrook.
“The homie SAMO, and Blue [The Great],” Sam says about how he ended up on the court. “I guess he got a plug, because he just dropped his Jordans. This is all of our first time coming here.”
Before music came into play, basketball was a way of life. Seafood Sam hails from Northside Long Beach, Carmelitos to be exact. He and his friends would hoop almost daily, and still get a game in whenever possible. At the age of 11, however, his family moved about a mile away to a house on 56th & Linden, where music started playing a bigger role in his life. His two older brothers gave him a wide listening palette, one educating him on Biggie and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, the other putting him onto Maroon 5 and Nelly Furtado.
In 2008, his world flipped upside down when his close friend, Jabari Benton, was killed in Long Beach at the age of 15. Unable to attend the funeral, he dropped a song on MySpace to pay tribute to Jabari, and impressed people in his circle with his lyrical talents. The song would soon receive significant attention on the platform, but even still, it took several years before he started taking the craft seriously.
On this day in 2019, he’s at the Jumpman courts in celebration of his friend’s long-awaited collaboration with Jordan’s flagship sneaker. In a way, however, you could say it’s Sam’s own celebration as well. Nine days before our meeting, Seafood Sam released his latest album Dior Velour to the public. While his latest project was the sonic equivalent of the feeling of wearing a du-rag — hence the title, Du-rag Dreams — on Dior Velour, he steps into his alias, a man by the name of Elroy Sweetwater.
“It’s some player shit,” he says. “That’s Bishop Elroy talking. The chill dude, the smooth mack daddy.”
In real life, Seafood Sam distances himself from the persona, despite his mother’s claims that he could “talk the clothes off a mannequin.” On the album, though, it feels effortless, whether he’s rhyming over languid saxophones or well-worn vocal samples. The album’s creation was equally natural; it came together in only three studio sessions, while songs like “Deep in the Game” happened almost instantaneously.
“We went to the studio, and right off the bat, me, Red Bag and [Huey] Briss made ‘Deep in the Game,’” he says. “That was before even meeting [Damablanca]. They played the beat, Briss started freestyling and we went in.”
Seafood Sam’s presence throughout the album is not unlike a heavy, two-handed sword. There’s a weighty tone that adds a layer of gravitas, as he talks up his own talents in a relative monotone. Where his voice remains a constant, the versatility appears in the lyrics, touching on family dynamics and true-to-life stories. Album outro “Grandma C” is one such juncture, where Seafood reasserts his grandmother’s belief in him on a shimmering hook.
On this song, he gives life to his beloved grandmother, but she’s only one of many whose spirit appears on the album. “Everyone in my family comes out in my music,” he says. “If I’m ever on some, ‘I’ll beat your big homie up,’ that’s me speaking from my big brother. If I’m speaking on some calculated shit, that’s the other brother [in school]. If I’m on some smooth player shit, that’s my dad.”
His own rap pseudonym is a nod to his family, as well. Seafood’s brother Master passed away at the age of 8, a haunting memory from his time spent on 56th & Linden. While watching Kung Fu Panda one day, Seafood discovered that Sifu was Chinese for Master, and decided to use the translation as his artist name. At first it went over too many heads, until a random night flipped the phrase into something less meaningful, but much more catchy.
“We were watching Edward Scissorhands, and the homie SAMO was just like, ‘Seafood!’” he says. “We laughed at first, but then it just stuck. I know what the root really means, but Seafood doesn’t really mean anything special. It’s meant to be Sifu.”
Seafood’s family plays a major role in his art. His little brother had aspirations of being a rapper before his untimely death, and Seafood feels a part of him is living out that dream in his place. It’s only right that his family’s reaction to the album would mean the world to him, and it was one family member in particular who’s response knocked him off his feet.
“My dad is in the Marines, big cool, quiet and to himself,” he says. “He’s real lowkey. He heard the album, that’s his mom I was talking about on ‘Grandma C.’ He was tripping out. And then he’s gonna tell me, ‘aye man, you know I started writing a little bit.’ That had me dying! I made my dad want to rap, that shit was the best.”