The first thing you hear when you press play on Freestyle Fellowship’s classic 1991 debut To Whom It May Concern is a manifesto delivered by Myka 9, as his groupmates chant “We are the Freestyle Fellowship” behind him. First, he says “peace be with you” in Arabic; then, he declares his group, “the shining focal point in a multi-faceted gem of urban contemporary artists.” For the next 51 minutes, you’re entering their world. It’s a world in which rules are broken and standards are exceeded. From the beginning, The Freestyle Fellowship sought to dominate not just the underground, but the mainstream as well. As that album-opening manifesto puts it: We came here tonight to blow up. Strictly blow up.
This is the story of To Whom It May Concern, the rap album that laid the foundation for underground hip-hop in 1991. At the time it was recorded, Los Angeles was at a breaking point. There was growing, justified national outrage over the videotaped assault on Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. Jeffrey Dahmer had just been arrested, his refrigerator full of the dismembered body parts of Black victims. East Coast rapper Tim Dog had released “Fuck Compton,” and Dr. Dre had just left N.W.A. to strike out on his own.
And on Thursday nights, local MCs were testing their skills at an open mic night held in a health food market called The Good Life Cafe at the intersection of Crenshaw Blvd & Exposition Blvd. The night would produce some of the city’s most influential artists, and would be documented in a 2008 film by Ava DuVernay called This Is The Life. The home team at The Good Life was always, indisputably, The Freestyle Fellowship.