The Pack’s story is one of a natural born hustle.
I’m under the belief that Bay Area soil breathes for anybody that feels it. It whispers to anybody that hears it. It has a heartbeat. And there’s something about that soil that communicates some unspoken message to those walking on it and paying attention. Young L, Stunnaman, Lil Uno, and Lil B come from the legacy of Too $hort and E-40 to name so few; two of the Bay Area’s most celebrated rap titans who once walked this same soil selling their stories and their voices out of the backs of trunks. So when The Pack told me stories about being in their early teens and already plotting, I can’t help but think of that soil. Before they even saw any kind of bigger picture, they were four young boys possessed by the history they walked on.
We sat down to talk about their latest tees, hoodies, and Vans only for me to realize the music didn’t come before the clothing. When Young L and Stunnaman were just 14 or 15 they would take the bottom of their Air Forces, coat them with bleach, stomp them on pairs of jeans, then splatter paint on top of that. Streetwear and rapper-owned brands hadn’t reached the level of saturation you see today nor were they as bold and outside of the box. The way the Wolves would tell it, there wasn’t any kind of master plan behind what they were doing. They just did it. Sometimes they would even fill water guns with that bleach and spray it on denim, Uno continued.
“We were spraying people with bleach with the guns too”
They were young, you have to remember.
Siri then interjected from L’s iPhone, “OK, I found this on the web: bleach with a gun.” After tripping over how crazy that was and how far technology evolved, that minor interruption helped accent how forward thinking those young boys were with so few tools at their disposal. Back then all they had was hustle. Then Myspace surfaced. The record industry was still operating by old rules and for the first time in the genre a group surfaced purely by way of the Internet.
You would think there was a master plan.
Uno jumped right into the story like it just happened yesterday. It was a Friday night. L was wearing a red Super Mario track jacket with some red and white low-top Vans when this sound popped in his head. They all heard about a deal for golds in downtown Oakland, $10 a tooth, and decided to drive out from Albany. L took three minutes at most to lay down that sound he had in his head before burning it to CD and mobbing out. They gave the beat the whip test and Lil B said it first. “Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers.” Uno, wearing some all white Forces, followed up with “wearing coke whites but my vans look cleaner.” These were just freestyles and as Stunnaman put it, at the time they didn’t even wear Vans for the fashion. They had other kicks more in line with that. Vans were just their go-to skating shoe and it was that skating culture that bound them all.
You would think they set out to change the lives of future generations of Black children.
Skateboarding wasn’t for us. Stunna remembers clearly the era they came up in. As kids, he and L were deep in the skate scene and its whole aesthetic was the polar opposite of Black culture. “It wasn’t cool” he said. “They were calling you Oreo, muhfuckas taking your skateboard.” It was a White boy thing and the fact that a Black kid entering such a space was so foreign to people goes to show the closed mindedness of that era. “Everybody made fun of the movement when we was kids,” Uno then said. “They laughed at how tight our clothes was…I mean, we wore baggy clothes too but like how punk-rockish or tight they were, how small the shirts was.” That’s when L chimed in.
“Being a skater, you almost look at everything different.”
Maybe my favorite thing about this interview was seeing the dynamic between these brothers. It is a dynamic you have to admire given the fact that they’ve been in the game for as long as they have and remained solid. L sat silent for the beginning half of the interview. The dynamic was clear. Stunna never intended to rap and was more into the A&R side in the early stages of their come up. The way he speaks controls a room and he’s able to relay his thoughts both in a business pitch and an artistic summation seamlessly. Uno remembered vividly more the folklore of their whole come up and could tell you any story in great detail and with emotional context. L kicked back and let his brothers talk, almost marinating on everything before finally deciding to chime in with what I believe was the most poignant moment of the entire interview. “Being a skater you almost look at everything different.”
“You already know your life is a certain…sorta…risky,” he continued. “Even when you’re young and in fame, you’re gonna feel like your life is at risk similar to being a skater…me and Stunna was always risk takers.” And it’s that daring quality, that nerve, that gave them a certain insatiable drive to offer the culture something different.
At one point they were all split up. L went to school in Albany. Uno and B were in Berkeley while Stunna was in independent study which gave him the freedom to whip around and pop up anywhere. In addition to flooding their schools with their product, they would hit up San Francisco, Concord, Manteca, Stockton and anywhere else to sell their CD’s for whatever price they could. Sometimes Stunna would roll out in his girl’s car, sometimes they couldn’t get a car and opted to steal cars to make those treks. They were “pulling up and leaving stolos everywhere,” Stunna described. There’s really no dedication more thorough than that.
Everything that happened from then on was just simple math. I want you to picture it. These four Bay boys rolling out to downtown Oakland to cop some golds, a CD popped into the player playing a beat that would change their lives and freestyling words that would do the same. It was a natural inclination to innovate, plus an immovable hustle, plus the absolute nerve to be themselves. You take that equation and add in the advent of Myspace, and the rest is history.
I look at these young Black kids today. I see how little is in the way of their path to do what they want or be what they want, and the pre-established blueprint provided for them. I see that and I can’t help but think of those four Bay boys whipping it out to downtown Oakland. We could talk about how colorful skating culture is today, we could talk about how few racial barriers there are in fashion, we could talk about how many young artists of color went on to finesse the Internet out of millions of dollars in what became a social media industry. You just simply can’t take any of that away from those four young men. Right down to the producer tags.
Big ups to The Pack!
Shoutouts to @jxrdns for the flicks.