Photos by Estevan Oriol
The early 1980s saw a new era of rap music dawn in California. Hungry for the spotlight, it was not long before West Coast talent shined as brightly as their East Coast predecessors. Alongside heroes like Snoop Dogg, Ice-T and N.W.A., Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. played a pioneering role in the development of gangsta-rap. Consisting of six Samoan-American brothers (Ganxsta Ridd, Gawtti, Godfather, Kobra, Monsta O, and Murder One), Boo-Yaa boasts eight LPs, a slew of side hustles, and decades of West Side experience. Frank151 talked with Kobra about Boo-Yaa’s roots, their influence on rap culture, and what’s next.
Frank151: What’s Boo-Yaa’s connection to Samoa?
Kobra: That’s where the forefathers are from. A lot of them moved to America after World War One to come and better themselves and sprout out. Over the years, from the ‘60s, the ‘70s, until now, they’ve been coming just with bags, and hopefully they can find a life here in America. The American dream.
F151: Most of them come to Carson, California?
K: The mecca of Cali is the city of Carson. That’s where everybody comes first. Carson is kind of like the airport. That’s the drop off. Now, they’re spreading out further, from San Diego to Seattle, but they’re starting to move out to Utah and Vegas. The community is getting bigger and bigger.
F151: How important has family been for Boo-Yaa?
K: Our uncles and our family had a big impact on us. Really a tight-knit family. We were practically always at church, through the whole week. I can say that the church had a big impact on us. We went to school, but the impact also came from our family–trying to be like them and them struggling and working hard and looking out, being a really happy family. We would also bring a lot of kids in who were runaways and didn’t have the things we had. My father was a minister, but he was also like a counselor, trying to help all the kids that didn’t have a place to stay. All the runaways would end up being with me and all the brothers.
F151: You guys go way back with a lot of the people we’ve been interviewing.
K: It’s funny you say that. It used to be a joke that every Samoan was related. But as I got older, I realized it really is connected like that. In Samoa, they have a book and it goes from the Chief from the big family, to the small family. And they can detect what village you’re from, and that’s how they narrow it and see how you’re related to certain families from certain villages.
F151: Growing up, was most of your family still in Samoa, or were a lot of them around you in Cali?
K: Both. Like I said, we had a large family. After they came out of prison, my father and his brothers built a church–my dad being a minister, my uncles being deacons, one being a piano and organ player.
F151: That leads up to you and your brothers getting into music.
K: Yes. Playing for the church. It was natural. All the uncles played instruments, so we picked it up from them. They were really talented. I had one uncle who would teach us how to read music and another uncle who would teach us how to sing, always trying to bring the best out of us. When I was young, I saw how hard they worked. I saw that happening with us growing up, as Boo-Yaa. We always had to work extra hard, growing up with the Hispanics and the Blacks and the Whites, so we would fit in. We really didn’t have an identity back in those days. All people knew was that we were big kids. “Aw! Big Samoans!” It took a while for us, but we learned from the Black community and the Hispanic community. Now, we’re doing our thing and bringing our culture back into the community.
F151: Is it true that Samoans introduced a certain style of hair braiding to rap?
K: We were known for our long hair when we first came into the rap game. We wanted to grow our hair like our brother, who passed in ‘88. He would always braid his hair so that it would be out of his way when he went to conduct street. They used to call them “war braids.” When we play our music, we braid our hair and go into war on stage. Along with the tattoo image, it’s a strength.
F151: Would you say that rappers like Snoop and members of Bone Thugs picked up on that?
K: Yes, definitely. There’s a connection.
F151: In 1997 you released Angry Samoans, which was a little harder, a little more metal than anything you had done before. Was that spur of the moment, or was it something you had wanted to do for a while?
K: I think it was more the direction we wanted to go. Number one, we love metal. We just love how metal fans party. Metal and rap really got that funk. We like funk. Metal, it takes you a little higher. Like back in Europe, we’ll be a rap group, but we perform with a couple of metal groups and we see how the crowd lets their hair down, and they start slamming, and it has a whole different vibe. We just like to get in there when they start doing all those whirlpools. Plus, we love to party and have people rage. Let’s go this route. Why not? We always wanted to try some metal funk and try to hit those people and let them know how it is in LA. Suicidal Tendencies are from LA. Fishbone…those are a lot of our friends. They’ve been here over the years and they still tour. They still sell out and do their thing. We wanted to go that route too. Keep it hard.
F151: Where are your favorite places to tour?
K: We love Paris. We love Amsterdam. And Germany. In Germany they really like it hard. They like that old-school hip-hop; they don’t like none of that R&B singing. Out here in America, it’s a shame that you have to water it down. When you go to Europe, they want that Compton, N.W.A., in your face, Ice-T, Body Count kind of thing. So for Boo-Yaa, we always keep it retro in Europe.
F151: Are you working on any collabos?
K: Right now, we’re really excited. The music business has, from what I’ve heard, been kind of slow. But I don’t believe in that. Music is music. If you can make a crowd move, you won’t have no problem with sales. People are always trying to blame it on the Internet. I don’t believe in that. If you got what it takes, like Lil Wayne, and Kid Rock, a good friend of ours, and Game, another good friend of ours, who are selling, it makes sense. So for Boo-Yaa, we’re looking forward to working with them–Lil Wayne and Kid Rock and Game. Especially with the new generation. We wanna collab with them and make this music, and have some fun with it.
F151: What else does Boo-Yaa do, aside from music?
K: We have clothing, Ganxsta, named after Ganxsta Ridd. We started some other businesses. My brother Gawtti, he has a security company. Then I got my brother Monsta O, he does production. We got those little things. We have our bodyguard thing on the side for anyone who comes to Vegas. And just doing our family. We’re all family men. We have kids. Taking care of mom and dad, and keepin’ it pushin’.
F151: Anything final notes?
K: Right now I just want to thank Frank for giving us the chance to express ourselves to the world and to let people learn a little bit about the Uso Card and our people. It’s tremendous. I’m really happy about that.