Six Sev has tied his identity to his community in a way that few artists have. He’s a regular at Harun Coffee, the black-owned coffee shop in the heart of Leimert Park. He’s spearheaded screen printing workshops at Crenshaw High School, encouraging students to design their own clothes like he did with his iconic Slauson Supermall hoodie. And of course, he infused his own name into that of his district on his debut album, Sevshaw.
Before you even press play on Sevshaw, his second allusion to the Crenshaw District is staring you in the face. It’s on the album cover, a snapshot of the USS Endeavor passing through the streets on its way to the California Science Museum. Look closely and you’ll see the beauty of the vibrant community on full display — in the faces of the people meandering through the frame, in the partially obscured Dawah Bookshop just behind the towering space craft, in the dog riding a bike down Crenshaw Blvd. as if it was just another typical day in the life of man’s best friend.
Sev took the photo on that fateful day in 2012, and at the time he didn’t think much of it. “It’s always shit happening over here, it was like ‘oh, they’re bringing a spaceship through today,’” he says. It wasn’t until years later when he was flipping through his mother’s iPad that he realized the significance of it, and saw how it fit the themes of Sevshaw.
In the literal sense, the photo represents the ongoing gentrification altering the fabric of the community. “I have my own theory, I feel they brought that spaceship through to cut down the trees,” he says. “There were trees all down Crenshaw. The week before they brought the spaceship through, they cut down all the trees to make room for the ship. I’m trying to put 2 and 2 together, like they probably brought the spaceship, just to cut down the trees and make way for the train instead.”
Looking at it from a figurative, more uplifting lens, however, he chose the photo as a way to symbolize a new chapter in his own life. “It’s about taking off,” he says. “It’s like the song “Spaceships” by Kanye, that’s one of my favorite songs. I can relate to that, about working a job, and wishing I was doing what I really wanted to do.”
He delves further into that last idea on “Rodney King,” a standout track from the album. In a deadpan, emotionless voice, he outlines the bleak reality of working 10 hour, minimum wage shifts at the Santa Monica Promenade, hustling his way over to Lemonade for food on his 15 minute break. Add in grim clips from Rodney King’s famed press conference, with the police harassing Sev for jumping train turnstiles, and it’s a sobering yet accurate depiction of many young, black creatives in Los Angeles.
“I got fired, because I wanted to focus more on my craft,” he says. “I struggled for a long time after that with no job, until I did the collaboration with the Super Mall which helped me keep afloat. But I know it’s a lot of people working jobs and trying to make a career happen at the same time. I just wanted to give them something to relate to.”
“When you’re rapping
hypothetically, you can come
with all kinds of crazy
lyrics…When you’re talking real
shit, you have to keep it more
grounded. But, it makes it
Throughout Sevshaw, there are many more instances where Six Sev’s life intersects with his community. He dedicates a song to “Sachi House,” for giving him free meals on the days where his bank account was thinner than his appetite. “Make Crenshaw Great Again” touches on his experiences as a student at Crenshaw High, as well as skyrocketing rent prices in the area. And of course, it’s impossible to avoid the fingerprints of the late Nipsey Hussle, to whom Sev pays tribute to on almost every track on the album.
He pledges his allegiance to the Marathon on the aforementioned “Make Crenshaw Great Again,” quoting lyrics from “Victory Lap” and rapping “Nipsey up in heaven, we already lived our hell.” On “Who Shot Nip” he vents his soul while the choir from Kirk Franklin’s “Melodies from Heaven” rains down from above, before Sev interpolates Kanye’s “Big Brother” on the hook to honor to his own musical hero.
“I was at a baby shower when I heard the news that he passed,” he says. “Ironic.”
Even before Nipsey’s life was cut short, he was already shifting the content of Sevshaw. Sev recalls a conversation between him and Hussle that made him adjust his lens as a writer, and focus on the content of each bar. “I was in the studio with Nipsey and he was like, ‘niggas be rapping good as hell without saying shit,’” he says. “It made me change my whole approach to how I was rapping.”
He acknowledges the trade-off that came with it, however. “Sometimes I feel like I lost my lyrical shit by being more real,” he continues. “When you’re rapping hypothetically, you can come with all kinds of crazy lyrics. Like, Kendrick’s verse on “Control.” When you’re talking real shit, you have to keep it more grounded. But, it makes it resonate more.”
When all is said and done, however, he’s more than proud of Sevshaw. He calls it a masterpiece, and for good reason; the amount of energy and thought he puts into each choice on the album is evident. Still, now that it’s been released into the world, he’s more than ready to move on; and embark on a new chapter in his musical journey.
“I’ve been working on it for a year and a half, but the concept has been there for four years,” he says. “I just never felt the sound was right. I got with my friends, they have a group called Chill as Fuck, I found my sound with them. But Sevshaw’s been the concept for so long. Now that I released it, I’m just ready to move on sonically.”