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Visionaries of Long Beach and Venice: LMNO and Evidence

Long Beach's legacy in music has been well established, notably by Snoop Dogg, Sublime, and Warren G, to name a few recent examples. Another name to add to the list is LMNO (Leave My Name Out), from the famed So Cal hip hop crew the Visionaries. Born James Kelly, the lifelong Long Beach resident graduated from Poly High School in 1992, just a few years behind Snoop Dogg and Cameron Diaz.

"After the Fact," on Up Above Records, is LMNO's new album, produced by the Venice-based MC and producer Evidence of Dilated Peoples. The dozen songs on the new record come from a pure hip hop sensibility because both artists involved have earned their stripes and then some. Though Evidence is celebrated by many for his vocals as "Mr. Slow Flow," from his "Weatherman LP," he is also an equally skilled studio wizard behind the production boards. Born in Venice as Michael Perretta, the former graffiti artist (also as Evidence) grew up in the Los Angeles musical underground. This week L.A. Letters takes at look their new album and takes a cruise around Long Beach and Southern California with one of its most prolific hip hop artists of the last generation.

Before exploring the new album, it's necessary to explain the backstory to shed light on some little known underground West Coast hip hop history. LMNO is a humble artist that may or may not be under the radar, depending on how long you've been around or whether or not you like hip hop. Besides his work with the Visionaries and Evidence, he's also recorded with celebrated producers like Madlib, Kev Brown, J Rocc from the Beat Junkies, LD, OhNo, and many others. A musical prodigy of sorts, LMNO was a close associate of DJ Speed from NWA while still attending Poly High School. LMNO even appeared in the video of legendary artist "The D.O.C." in 1989 when he was 15.

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Around this time LMNO met Kikuo Nishi, aka KeyKool, the Japanese-American MC and producer from Torrance. They met after being drafted by Ice-T to be members of a hip-hop group called "United Nations Committee." They became friends and worked on collaborations throughout the early '90s. The first beginnings of the Visionaries was on Key-Kool and DJ Rhettmatic's 1995 release, "Kozmonautz," recognized in the hip-hop history books as the first hip-hop album made by Asian-Americans. KeyKool went on to create the seminal West Coast independent hip hop record label Up Above Records during this time.

Perhaps only Ozomatli can match the Visionaries as the quintessential multicultural Los Angeles musical act. The line-up is comprised of Filipino DJ Rhettmatic from Cerritos (also from the World Famous Beat Junkies); Japanese MC KeyKool from Torrance; LMNO the Caucasian kid from Long Beach; 2Mex the Chicano MC from Mid City Los Angeles; Dannu, a Filipino-American MC with roots in San Diego; and Lord Zen, an African-American MC from Mid City L.A. (also a member of Writer's Block with Dannu). The Visionaries came to rise at the same time as backpacker hip hop, and their do-it-yourself spirit makes them an iconic group in West Coast hip hop history.

Detail of cover art for ''After the Fact''

In the song "Yearbook" from the new record, LMNO reflects on days gone by. "I ditched high school to go to college campus," he says, referring to a time while he was still at Poly in 1991 and KeyKool was at UCLA. He recalls, "Gas was a lot cheaper so we'd all put a few bucks in whoever's tank and go ... KeyKool picked me up from Poly and we went to see Cypress Hill for a free lunch time show at UCLA. Cypress didn't play, but Tim Dog did. He had security all over the place because he'd just dropped 'F*ck Compton.' I ran into Tyus Edney there too, it was a good day." Two decades later LMNO and KeyKool remain close.

LMNO's street smarts and lyrical originality traces to his youth in Long Beach. "I grew up on Lime and Bixby in Bixby Knolls. It was a midway point for the city, saw a lot, we weren't in a bubble at all -- bless the LBC! Poly was good and bad in 1992, pre- and post-riots."

In his 2003 song "1888" LMNO celebrates Long Beach lyrically. "Bixby and Lime, Broadway and Pine, F & M Bank Building, trip on its design, the death of the Pike, the birth of Pine Square, Long Beach State, Spielberg went there." Anyone from Long Beach that listens to "1888" will instantly recognize the many references, from Tony Gwynn, the Wrigley District, Queen Mary, Snoop Dogg, and Sublime. "No matter where I'm at its home sweet home, I take Long Beach with me everywhere I roam."

LMNO loves his hometown, and represents it as well as the titans he celebrates. "Long Beach seems to do good for some odd years," he says. "Then not so good otherwise, but there's an unconditional love for and from the city regardless. We're 'close far' to everything from L.A. to O.C., which is good. We have great history. I never stop learning new things about the city."

In the new song "All Things Pass," LMNO says, "Venice and Long Beach, now you know you in trouble," representing the respective hometowns of Evidence and LMNO. They first met around 1996, as Visionaries and the Dilated Peoples were both playing their first big shows around town and releasing early singles. They began their occasional collaborations around this time, with the 12-inch single "Radiant," and they've been in contact since.

Evidence is one of the West Coast's most accomplished artists as both MC and producer. LMNO says, "[Evidence] really produces a record with you every time. It's a real building process and it's a good time."

The song "LMNO" is an Evidence-produced track, from the 2004 album "Economic Food Chain Music." The lyrics employ a clever use of acrostic lines within the rhyme. At the beginning of the track you can hear Evidence say, "Yo LMNO! Get on this mic and tell these cats what those letters mean, man!"

The song uses different combinations of "LMNO" in acrostic variations:

Lost My Negative Outlook
List My New One
Levels Maxed, Noise's On
Levitate, Meditate, Narrate, Orchestrate
LandMap, Navigate, Officiate
Let's Make Needles Operate
Life Manifests Necessary Obstacles
Landmark Next Off Ramp

and several other combinations arranged acrostically. LMNO's ability to flip acrostics is why some called him "Acronym Jim," also the title of a song on his first solo album in 2001.

The success of the individual tracks they have made together over the years led to LMNO and Evidence's latest collaboration, "After the Fact." LMNO shares insight on the collaboration process: "Evidence was saying 'we need to make something different,' and I told him about a dyslexic song I've wanted to do for years, and we went straight to his studio and made that on the spot, it was fun! The whole album was made on the spot."

In "Dyslexic," LMNO uses wordplay and paronomasia to switch word order and create a diatribe of tongue twisting verbal acrobatics. The video of the song was shot backwards, matching the clever dexterity demonstrated in the song. In "On With The Show," the tone of reflection is countered with forward vision, "We come a long way, we got a lot further to go, so it's on with the show."

"After the Fact" also features guest appearances by Evidence, his partner Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, and Stones Throw Records artists Oh No and MED. Soulful professionalism oozes from the record, and the production really showcases LMNO's verbal veracity and the verisimilitude of his lyrics.

LMNO's oeuvre is among the most prolific discographies of not only West Coast MCs, but MCs everywhere. Dating back to the early '90s he's been consistently recording. The Visionaries have recorded four albums; he's finished over 17 solo albums and made countless cameo appearances. In 2010 alone he completed 10 albums. I asked him about his writing process. "I write when I get to the studio session, or when I get the beat via email, I like to listen to where the beat takes me, then write that, versus write a verse that I have to cater to the beat, the other way feels more natural for me."

When he's not touring or recording music LMNO takes camping trips with his family in places like Doheny State Beach, Paso Robles, San Simeon, and Half Moon Bay. He says, "That recharge is necessary as charging any electronic device."

As his name "Leave My Name Out" indicates, LMNO is not about the fame or selling records. He loves to make music that uplifts people and greatly enjoys doing it. He's toured the world and developed a large dedicated cult following because of his sincerity and conviction.

Salute to Evidence and LMNO for their new record, and years of service to Southern California and musical fans around the world. They are musical leviathans creating timeless soundtracks in the geography of international and L.A. Letters.

Top: Photo from LMNO Facebook.

About the Author

Third-generation Angeleno Mike "The Poet" Sonksen is a poet, journalist, historian, tour guide, and teacher.
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