“I don't just talk nonsense and garbage,” says Lil Rob, a rising hip-hop artist from La Colonia in Solana Beach. The rapper, whose tattoos represent his initials, paints pictures of his neighborhood and vivid scenes of it's street life.
The sun is shining, and it couldn't be brighter / I'm rolling down Valley in Cali in a candy lowrider, the rising hip-hop star raps on one of his new tracks, “Just One of Those Days.”
Though the native son of La Colonia (aka Eden Gardens) doesn't sugarcoat the trouble he saw growing up in the traditionally Hispanic corner of Solana Beach, it's obvious in his songs that this is a place he would die for.
Which, in fact, he almost did.
“I got shot when I was 18, up the street,” Rob (born Robert Flores) is saying one bright spring day, as he sits at a picnic table in the neighborhood park.
The violence happened on Valley Avenue, the same street mentioned in the song, and one known to outsiders mostly as home to such venerable restaurants as Fidel's and Tony's Jacal. It started when he and some friends confronted interlopers from another town that early morning in 1994, and were greeted with gunfire, although no one was hit right away.
“So we went straight after them,” Rob, now 34, says with a shake of the head. “I don't know what was wrong with my mind, to do that. To actually go. And have, like, a gun war. Thinking this is a little kids' game or something.
“And I got shot in the face.”
His jaw shattered and his life in jeopardy, Rob emerged from the ordeal a changed man. Eventually.
“Yeah, it took a while,” he admits. “After I got out of the hospital, I was still, 'You guys didn't kill me. You guys didn't get me.' But nowadays, when I think about it, it's like: I didn't even know those dudes. I just knew they were coming down here for some trouble.”
Though Rob had barely started making music at the time, the experience helped shape a way of thinking that's become a trademark of his music. It melds hip-hop with the mellow flow of old-school R&B, and even elements of the blues. Though the raps often deal frankly with topics like drugs and sex (his San Diego Music Award-nominated “Bring Out the Freak in You” definitely earns a hard “R”), songs like the melodic “Summer Nights” celebrate the simple pleasures he remembers growing up – “lowriders, parties, backyard barbecues,” as he puts it.
Rob grew up in a musical family – his dad was in an oldies group, his brother DJ'd, his grandmother sang in a mariachi band. It's also a family with deep roots in La Colonia. He still lives in the house his grandfather built out of leftover wood from the Del Mar racetrack, where he worked.
At age 16, Rob started recording his raps, getting the word out on homemade two-song cassettes, telling stories about a lifestyle he wasn't seeing much on MTV.
“When I was a kid, I was waiting to see someone like me onstage, I guess,” he says. "Showing what we do and how we do it. That's how I do my rap.”
“People think I'm selling out or whatever because I'm doing different things,” he says.
But “there's no way,” he insists. And if the songs don't make the point, Rob himself does:
“I'll never forget where I came from and who I am.”
Ooh Baby Baby - Lil Rob