Bruce Leroy’s (North)West Coast Hip-Hop

The Tacoma rapper’s latest makes a case for the PNW’s inclusion in the West Coast rap canon.

I’m from Tacoma, but man, fuck that,” rapper Darnell Hill—better known by his stage name Bruce Leroy—tells me in the back office of Tacoma’s ETC Boutique. “I go everywhere. I got homies that live everywhere. I’ve traveled to different places, so it’s not necessarily about Tacoma. If you listen to Home, everybody can relate.”

Leroy is returning to the hip-hop scene after a hiatus following his 2014 release 10 Feet. His new record, Home, out this Friday, is both lyrically and sonically an ode to his regional roots. “We are the West Coast,” he explains. “It’s not just Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Southern California. It’s Tacoma, it’s Portland, it’s the Bay.”

Home plays on Hill’s desire for the Pacific Northwest to be included in the West Coast canon. The instrumentals, produced by 1st Born, carry a golden-age feel with boom-bap drums at the core of his funky rhythms. Leroy’s sense of connection to the Coast also plays out in “If It Wasn’t for the West 2.” On first take, the whole premise of the song might go over your head, but a concentrated listen will help you decipher a hip-hop Holy Grail dedicated to a myriad of West Coast influences hidden in every line.

“If you just like the beat, and you’re saying ‘Streets is a mutha, blood is thicker than water/I’m conscious of my daughter, and this is for La Raza,’ and you just thought that sounded good, then that’s dope,” Leroy laughs, explaining that Streets Is a Mutha is a Kurupt album, Blood Is Thicker Than Water is a Mack 10 album and movie, and “This is for La Raza” is a Kid Frost song.

Leaving ETC, Leroy and I take a brief ride through Tacoma to listen to the music Hill is working on with Seattle Sub Pop signee Porter Ray. On Home, the duo comes together on the opening track, the Kendrick Lamar-referencing “Blacker the Bury.” The track explores issues of violence within urban communities. “Boyz ’n the hood be careful,” Hill warns in his verse. “What if Ricky lived to play for Pete Carroll?” Their distinct styles mesh impeccably—Porter with his sleek poetic flow and laid-back delivery, Hill with a flow that’s poetic in its own right, but with an edge of aggression delivered more like spoken word.

Through featuring local artists such as Ray, Home does more than just pay homage to West Coast classics. By connecting the dots between Seattle, Tacoma, and the larger West Coast context, the record attempts to add to the canon as well. Leroy teams with Khris P of Tacoma’s ILLFIGHTYOU on “Don’t Blow It,” the project’s lone stoner track. He brings Seattle native and Moor Gang general Jarv Dee into the fold on “6 to 10,” a six-minute track carried by wavy melodies and sparse hi-hats splashing in the background. “Really,” Leroy laughs at the end of our chat, “[the] overall theme is bars. I’m barring out on this muthafucka.” West Coast or East Coast, you can’t argue with that.