I’ve been spending time lately with Kelvin Anderson, owner of World Famous VIP Records in Long Beach, a ferociously independent record store.
Anderson’s store is a landmark, one of the places where rap began in Southern California, and a store that hung on long beyond others because it mastered the art of customer service, knowing what people wanted, and got them in touch with emerging artists who didn’t get any radio play.
But he’s downsizing now, moving from the space he occupied for 33 years and this will probably be his last year, the last independent record store around. “You can’t compete with free,” he told me.
Anderson was there at the beginning of one of the three great DIY musical forces to come out of LA. In Hollywood, it was punk in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, from Paramount came Chalino Sanchez and Mexican drug ballads, narcocorridos.
Anderson helped mid-wife gangster rap, which emerged in the mid-1980s and into the 1990s, from the garages of Compton then Long Beach came West Coast gangster rap — first with NWA, then with Snoop Dogg and his 213 crew. 213’s first demo was recorded on a drum machine in VIP’s backroom.
Anderson’s advertisement was getting new cassettes in the hands of those with big car stereos and ghetto blasters — “street promotion.” (Gangster rap was so punk rock.)
Yet I wonder whether these kinds of geographic movements of intense garage band creativity are as possible nowadays, even as technology has allowed everyone to be a DIYer, all from a laptop computer, and avoid entirely the control of major record labels. “It’s people’s attention span,” Anderson told me.
Hope to have a podcast of an interview with him (a first for me!) that’ll go with the story on VIP’s downsizing, which I hope will run in a few days.