Lil Rob landed a Billboard Hot 100 hit in 2005 with “Summer Nights,” one of two singles from the Chicano rapper’s sixth studio album, Twelve Eighteen, Pt. 1. Released via Upstairs Records, the track would become a quintessential summer anthem for countless fans of Lil Rob’s “feel good music.” It’s nothing Lil Rob necessarily expected.
Growing up in San Diego’s La Colonia de Eden Gardens neighborhood, he became enamored by the funk stylings of Zapp & Roger, The Gap Band, S.O.S. Band and later, the electro of Egyptian Lover. His father, who left when Lil Rob was just five years old, had been in an oldies band, so his musical fabric started coming together at an early age. Rob also had another brother who was a DJ. As a teenager, Rob would go to house parties with him and he’d have the chance to jump on the decks when his brother needed a break. That’s where he started rhyming, too.
But Lil Rob really had the chance to hone his craft holed up in his bedroom, where he’d write for hours. In the early ‘90s, he began performing as Lil Rob & the Brown Crowd. His first single, “Oh, What a Night in the 619,” was later featured on his 1997 debut, Crazy Life (although the title was shortened to “Oh, What a Night”). As his career began its ascent, he signed a deal with Upstairs Records, a relationship he’s fostered since 2002. In fact, the label is behind Lil Rob’s first album in nine years, All To The Bueno.
Frankly, Lil Rob is lucky to be here. In 1994, he was shot in the jaw and his chin was shattered. If the bullet had traveled just a few inches north, the consequences could’ve been much more dire.
“My town was more family-oriented, so when one of my friends got into something, it was just like helping out part of your family,” he tells AllHipHop. “It was nothing crazy compared to what I’ve seen since I’ve grown up and out of the place where I was at. There’s a lot more dangerous places, so I was lucky enough to have it be just crazy enough to tell my stories and not too crazy not to live through it.”
Even with Lil Rob’s Chicano pride, he decided gang life wasn’t really for him. As the years ticked by, he ultimately renounced any of his gang affiliations and called for “Brown Pride” and unity among his fellow Chicanos.
“I’m proud of my heritage and proud of my culture,” he explains. “Like when I say brown and I wear a brown bandana and say I represent ‘Brown Pride,’ I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I don’t mean it like that. Ain’t nothing racial about me. I’m just proud to be brown and that’s what it is. I am proud to represent the people I represent.”
And that’s evident in his catalog. His latest single, “Moment In Time,” is directed by famed Chicano photographer/documentarian Estevan Oriol. Much like “Neighborhood Music” and “Summer Nights,” it puts a spotlight on his heritage while pumping out that same positivity that got him noticed in the first place.
“That’s just what I want to put out there right now—feel good music, real good music, real hood music but nothing too crazy,” he says. “We said something about uniting and it’s not really uniting with just my people but just good people in general—no matter what color you are.”
Now in his late 40s, Lil Rob has clearly done some growing up. He’s a father, husband and someone who genuinely wants to see the world become a better place. Simultaneously, he knew coming back with his first new music in nearly a decade couldn’t have been better timed. Not only is it the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop, but Lil Rob’s uplifting music is also needed right now.
“We’ve been doing a lot of these shows and pretty much everybody always asked me when I got some new music,” he says. “I did a few features for Spanish Fly and some other people, then listening to the people asking me where my new music is. It was just about that time to put something out by myself. It’s just me and my producer Fingaz, who did ‘Summer Nights’ for me. It’s me on all the verses. No features. No nothing.”
All To The Bueno is scheduled for a November 3 release and features 10 tracks of quintessential West Coast lowrider raps that revel in uplifting personal narratives over an array of timeless rhythms. Watch “Moment In Time” above and stream it here.