© Koury Angelo/Red Bull Content Pool
The L.A.-grown, multihyphenate artist carves out his own lane—and makes no apologies.
Living in L.A. can feel like a vacation—the sun-soaked days, towering palm trees, vast mountain ranges and beautiful beaches. It’s lovely for many people, but in South Los Angeles, there is a different existence, one that is distracting and dangerous and surrounded by gangs. This was the reality for the multi-hyphenate rapper, singer, songwriter and producer Blxst, who grew up near 75th Street and Central Avenue.
"When I was young, living with my mom, my school was eight blocks away from my house,” says Blxst. “It was literally between two gangs, where anything could happen on any street.”
The twentysomething artist has been singing for as long as he can remember, but September 2020 marked the release of his debut EP, No Love Lost, on Red Bull Records. In just a week, the collection, which seamlessly blends rap and R&B, picked up 4 million streams and reached 75 million streams as of January. The deluxe version, which dropped in December, features bonus tracks with Ty Dolla $ign, Tyga, Dom Kennedy and Bino Rideaux. And in early March, he dropped a surprise EP, Just for Clarity—a two-track project featuring collaborations with the rappers Russ and Drakeo The Ruler. His versatility, DIY ethos and singsong, melodic funk sound have been compared to the “King of Hooks”—the late hip-hop legend Nate Dogg.
I was skating every day, like to the point where I thought it was going to be my future—until I got a reality check and broke my ankle.
Growing up, Blxst dreamed of playing in the NBA, but he eventually fell out of love with basketball. To escape the trappings of South L.A. street life, he relocated to the Inland Empire with his dad.
The Inland Empire—or “the IE”— is a short drive east from Los Angeles, but worlds away from South L.A. Known for its harsh deserts, mountain towns and sprawling suburbs, the IE is where Blxst picked up a new love—skateboarding.
“I was definitely invested in skateboarding,” Blxst says during a phone interview on MLK Day. “I was skating every day, like to the point where I thought it was going to be my future—until I got a reality check and broke my ankle. That led me to picking up a laptop. I started recording myself and taught myself how to make beats when I was around 16 years old.”
The change of scenery allowed Blxst to hone his craft and his sound, but more importantly, learn how to be his authentic self. “Living in the IE was the complete opposite of South Central,” says Blxst. “It was more suburban. The school system was strict, but it also made me keep to myself. I didn’t really know anybody out there, so that’s how I fell into the pocket of being home and just creating music.”
For Blxst, the decision to lean into his music career eventually paid off, but it wasn’t without contention from some of the people who were closest to him. After the release of his first single, “Who Would’ve Thought,” in 2016, and his 2019 breakout hit, “Hurt,” Blxst’s rising success and the amount of time he spent focused on his work caused some friction with friends and family.
“Sometimes people around you can’t understand,” Blxst explains. “It takes separation for elevation. Being away from everyone gave me a different perspective, a sense of discipline. I decided I wanted to do things for myself and have a different dedication towards my music.”
With this newfound focus, Blxst teamed up with R&B sensation Eric Bellinger to produce the 2018 track “By Now.” In return, the singer appeared on Blxst’s single “Can I.” Picking up on this momentum, Blxst joined forces with Bino Rideaux for the collaborative Sixtape in 2019. To date it’s generated nearly 5 million total streams, flaunting fan favorites such as “Selfish” and “Bacc Home.”
It's cool to feel. It's cool to love. It's cool to be who you are.
“I felt the pressure early on trying to build my foundation,” Blxst says of his career beginnings. “I didn’t even know where I was going to lay my head at a certain point. I was just trying to follow through with the plan, just strategizing and executing and believing in myself.”
It was around this time that Blxst came to a difficult fork in the road, where he had to make a choice between the people he loved and chasing his dreams. “That’s what a lot of No Love Lost is about,” Blxst says. “It’s saying ‘no hard feelings’ to my loved ones, to my friends—that I had to take time away from them to be self-sufficient and support myself. Sorry, not sorry.”
But it’s also that type of perspective and self-assuredness that’s led Blxst to find his own lane in an already crowded hip-hop space. “I create music for the soul,” Blxst says. “No matter what genre it is, it’s going to be intentional. I create what’s missing in the game. I feel like people are missing that love connection, that honesty, that soulfulness, and I want to be that.”
As he wraps up work on his first full-length album, set to be released later this summer, Blxst continues to stand firm in his own truth as an artist. “[My music] is about being authentic and being real with myself,” he says. “I’m opening up and giving the listener an opportunity to know that they’re not alone, no matter what emotion they’re feeling. I just want to be able to show people that it’s cool to feel, it’s cool to love. It’s cool to be who you are.”