The story of Spanto and 2Tone of Born x Raised is one about two guys from a version of Venice that doesn’t exist anymore who have defiantly carved out their own lane in the fashion industry. Alongside the recent re-emergence of Los Angeles rap, they’ve lead the new vanguard of West Coast brands changing the way people look at streetwear. But as the brand has flourished, Spanto has spent the past three years fighting cancer. Still, he and Born x Raised continue to survive.
We talked to Spanto and 2Tone in their studio about the perils of gentrification, the importance of storytelling in streetwear, and how their past ultimately shapes what BxR’s future holds for them.
When was the first time you remember hearing the phrase “born and raised”?
Spanto: I can tell you exactly where I got it from.
2Tone: Tell ’em, Spanto!
Spanto: It’s a good ass story. In the early to mid-’90s, when Venice was an open air drug market, we sold all the crack on the Westside. I’m from Venice 13. There was this dude who was black, but he basically grew up like us. He was kinda Mexican, you know what I mean? He used to smoke rocks.
It was probably summer of ’96 or ’97, and there was an alley that we used to sell dope in. It was like a homeless camp with all these people. But anyway it was noon and bright as fuck, maybe like 100 degrees out. He copped a 40 from me. I had a lot of dope back then so I broke off a big ass chunk of rock and I was like, “Here you go, you got this.” He took a big ass hit, took off his shirt and was like, “It’s fucking hot out here dog!” When he took off his shirt and turned around, he had on his lower back, real fucking big, this Old English that was a on our side of the fence style. It said “Venice,” but all fucked up and screwed like someone did it with a nail said, “Born and Raised.” That was the hardest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I was probably 14 or something. From right then and there, it just stuck with me.
Then when gentrification first started to happen in 2000, 2001—it didn’t start full fledged like it is now, you would just see little trinkets of gentrification start to filter in—I would tell people, “You weren’t born and raised here. You didn’t grow up like us.” That’s kinda where it came from, more like a frustration thing.
Spanto, did your time being locked up change you as a person?
Spanto: Nah, being locked up was normal. To most people it’s not normal, but to us, in our culture… It’s sad to say, but most kids go to college or whatever, but we went to Wayside. We’d have to go to jail for the summer, or a year, or whatever. The last time I was busted though, was the first time I had been in jail as an adult. Because even when you’re 18, you’re a child. But this last time I was 27, and I had deputies that were younger than myself, telling me when I could eat, sleep, and shit. Dudes with braces and acne. I realized this is not gangsta. This is not cool.
I ended up going to the hole. Someone got stabbed in my dorm. He got stabbed in the face, actually.
Spanto: He spun and ended up falling on my bunk, got blood all over my bunk. Then the deputies asked whose bunk it was. I was like, “It’s my bunk.” Then he told me to roll my shit up and that I was going to the hole. I was like, “Ehhh, fine.” Ended up going to the hole for like two months. They didn’t charge me with anything, but it was disciplinary. I had already been aware of streetwear or whatever, but in there I said when I get out, I’m gonna start a brand and call it Born x Raised. I got out and started Born x Raised.
“I was gangbanging in the early ’90s, so this is my culture. I’m not borrowing it from anybody. This is just me.”
How do you draw inspiration from Venice as a whole?
Spanto: All of that shit growing up—everything from growing up in the crack era, to the tattoos, to the leftovers of the punk rock scene, the heavy localism we had with surfing and skating—we have a weird sense of hometown pride. Everyone is really really proud to be from Venice. Even now with the change, all these people are like, “Fuck yeah! We’re from Venice!” But I don’t share the same kindred spirit anymore because I’m very proud of what Venice used to be, but not what it’s become now. I fucking hate it. I don’t even like to go home. I go home and I’m like, “Fuck this place. This place sucks.” When I look at streetwear owners or brand owners or artists, they all borrow from somewhere, like, “Oh, I studied this,” or “This season I like this.” It’s always somebody else’s idea, someone else’s culture. I don’t borrow from anybody. It comes from myself.
There’s no “appropriation” or recycled inspiration coming from random stuff.
Spanto: Nah. I see these kids getting in heated arguments on Instagram over where things come from and where they originate from. People get on me about the font thing like, “If you don’t know, this was borrowed from early ’90s gang culture!” Helloooo stupid, I was gangbanging in the early ’90s, so this is my culture. I’m not borrowing it from anybody. This is just me. Everything that we do with BxR is directly tied to my life and our story. That Oakwood street sign [hanging in the studio], I sold eight million ounces of crack on that fucking street. I decided to take home the sign. It’s mine, it belongs to me.
Did your Venice homies support you when you first started your brand?
Spanto: In the beginning they laughed at me, but that’s like with anything. Because you know, it takes a while to penetrate. It takes a while for someone to wrap their head around what’s going on with any new idea. They used to rip on the way I dressed and the shit I was doing, but now they’re like, “Aye homie, can I come through?” I tell them, “Hell yeah, I got you.”
So how has gentrification personally affected you and 2Tone’s lives?
Spanto: It basically destroyed everything. Growing up, the way my life was structured, it destroyed my whole vision. Everything we were fighting for was taken from us. But at the same time, in a perfect world, I would still be at Oakwood Park. I’d still be doing what I was doing as a teenager. A good thing can’t last forever. I will never budge, I will never sway. I’m not saying there’s any good parts of gentrification, because there’s not, it’s just colonization. It fucks up families. It shits on people. It’s a modern form of colonization. History repeats itself. The only good thing that’s ever come out of gentrification is that every now and then you’ll get a good restaurant.
I grew up in Austin, which is one of the gentrification capitals in the US, and everything’s gone.
Spanto: Venice is a whole different animal because it’s not people trying to be hip or swanky, it’s big money that’s moving in there. We have a revved up form of gentrification that’s there now. It’s something that I don’t think another part of the world has experienced, and it breaks my goddamn heart. GQ voted [Abbot Kinney Boulevard] “the hippest block in America,” and I think it’s the worst, shittiest block in America. The polar opposite. It’s fucking garbage.
2Tone, what was your initial reaction to Spanto’s “Gentrification is Genocide” stickers?
2Tone: I was at a tradeshow and it stuck out because someone was trying to say something. Coming from the same place, gentrification has always been something I’ve watched happen. I was pissed off about it. The logo and design was strong too, but it was the message that got my attention
Other than actual physical gentrification, have you seen a gentrification of ideas so to speak, like people appropriating the culture?
Spanto: Yeah, it’s so far gone. I go home now, that model of thought is like a myth. It’s completely erased. It’s ancient almost.
To touch on some of the projects BxR has done recently, how did you link up with YG?
Spanto: It’s simple. There’s a dive bar on the Westside, there’s like one left, Lost & Found—only place where normal people, or the leftovers, congregate. But on Christmas, that’s where people from San Mo High [Santa Monica High School] and Venice High go to. It’s all people that we grew up with. This big tall glass of milk named Rory, he hates me, but I love that guy. He was like, “Hey, you’re Spanto right?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He goes, “Well, I manage YG.” I’m like, “Aight, sure you do.” Gave him my number, he showed up the next week to the office with YG and we shot the shit across the board.
I just like Los Angeles culture. There’s not many people that tell it, and many people tell it wrong. [YG is] from Compton and I’m from Venice, which might as well be a world apart. But if you look at it on an actual map, it’s only like five miles away from each other. So it’s not that different. I thought it was a good fit.
I was surprised to see the long list of all the music videos that 2Tone’s done. When did you start directing professionally?
2Tone: The Get Busy Committee. I was actually in the group for a minute. I was friends with those dudes for a while. I always used to tell them, “You should check this and that out.” I was giving them direction and producing in a way. I don’t know how to produce music as far as building a track, but I know how to direct things sound-wise and shit. I was always doing skits and prank calls on people’s albums. I think I was even rapping on some of the shit, but I wasn’t any good at it. I could write the shit, but I couldn’t deliver it.
We made a song together. I said, “Yo, I want to shoot a video.” I went to film school for a minute and dropped out. I shot that video, I think it was 2011. It was fucking crazy. For my first thing to shoot, it was really good. And I don’t like most of my shit. It worked and I was fucking hooked. I was not fucking with apparel at all.
I started talking to Spanto and he started asking me for advice. I said, “Sure I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, but we need to shoot a video for Born x Raised.” I was not going to be involved with it BxR at all. We shot the first video and I was like, “Fuck, that was great.” Born x Raised has allowed me to shoot some of the better stuff that I’ve shot because there’s no one over me and no guidelines. We do whatever the fuck we want, and it’s fun and great.
Spanto: When we first met it was like Step Brothers. We were just having so much fun, but it was before I got sick. We didn’t grow up together, but grew up a block away from each other for a decade. We came from the same bubble, the same time an era.
“I always talk about fighting cancer and shit, and being half dead for the last three years. I’ve been shot on three separate occasions. Fought life in prison, twice. Fucking still here.”
What was the concept behind the “This is Not An Accident” Summer 16 short?
Spanto: In the hood they always ride motorcycles and shit. You ever seen 12 O’clock Boys? It’s about in the hood in Baltimore. It’s basically about how they ride motorcycles and smash around with no helmets, illegally. Everything is like, “Fuck you, chase me, you can’t stop me!” It’s a way for an oppressed people to be like, “You’re not going to put me down, I’m gonna show out.” The hood has always done that—in Baltimore, they did it here in LA in South Central, we did it in Venice when I was a kid. It’s just a form of freedom.
I always talk about fighting cancer and shit, and being half dead for the last three years. I’ve been shot on three separate occasions. Fought life in prison, twice. Fucking still here. All that tying in together and our style of life, I don’t ever want it to die.
I think our culture is such a gorgeous culture. That kid Gil that’s in [“This is Not an Accident], the reason I met him is because I did time with two of his uncles. Four years ago he said he lived in El Sereno. I asked him, “What you know about Locke Street?” He was like, “What you know about Locke Street?!” I told him I know his uncle, he ended up doing life in prison. I knew his other uncle too, who I did time with. He invited me to his home actually, on Locke Street, which is a very historical gang neighborhood. Just watching that old style of life that’s kind of disappearing, and seeing what they had to go through, due to gentrification. If you listen to what we say, “This isn’t an accident. This will never die.” I’m trying to keep that alive, whether it’s through an actual physical sense or through storytelling. I’m gonna do my part to show this in the light that I wanna show it in.
What was different about this collection from the past ones?
Spanto: Summer? It’s just easy. We did football jerseys, which is kind of standard. When I was a kid, it was a fresh Dallas jersey or a fresh blue jersey in the summertime. Simple shit. This summer, it’s the last season that we’re doing printables. Moving forward, everything’s going to be cut and sew, custom made by us. Blanks, fleece, and French terry—I’m aging with myself. I’m making clothes I want to wear. We’re at a point where we’re able to do that.
We went to Japan with YG. We had a pop-up and filmed a video with YG. You know about Japanese streetwear? They came here in the ’90s, looked at our streetwear, and were like, “This is very cool.” They took it, bought our streetwear, and took it home. They made our streetwear and then sold it back to us, twice as good, so much better than ours. The attention to detail, packaging, and labeling, everything is super on point.
We sell to these really good boutiques and we sit next to this top tier streetwear and also higher end couture brands. And seeing my stuff sit next to that, I thought I have to step my game up. We have to make our stuff better. I want to go in that direction.
What do you attribute to going from a semi-small brand to being held in international, top tier boutiques.
Spanto: We’ve said this since the beginning, “It’s gonna be a real slow cook.” We’re not one of those brands to show up and hit the top, but to crash and burn miserably.
2Tone: The difference with us is that we’re telling a story. All gang members are all storytellers. Same with graffiti writers. Anyone involved in some sort of subculture spends a bunch of time standing around in a room telling stories. I tell people we’re like a band that doesn’t make music, but sells sick merch and makes videos. We’re not coming out, riding a fucking palm tree wave to get this money and get out. We’re just doing what the comes naturally and telling a story. And if you’re paying attention, there’s a thread.
Photography by Chuck Ejirika