Rising rapper visits Bend

Iamsu! brings his West Coast hip-hop to Domino Room

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin / @frequencyblog

Published Mar 21, 2014 at 12:05AM

If you go

What: Iamsu!, with P-Lo, Skipper, Jay Tablet, Marcus Cain, Chandler P and more

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, doors open 8 p.m.

Where: Domino Room, 51 N.W. Greenwood Ave., Bend

Cost: $15 plus fees in advance, available at www.bendticket.com, www.ticketswest.com and Ranch Records (541-389-6116) in Bend, $20 at the door

Contact: www.facebook.com/actiondeniroproductions

When Iamsu! — a rising hip-hop star from Richmond, Calif. — answers the phone to chat with The Bulletin, he’s in El Paso, Texas, for no reason other than to spend the night while traveling from a tour stop in Tucson, Ariz., to the massive SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas.

SXSW is over now, but at the time, the 24-year-old rapper and producer — born Sudan Williams — and his crew, the HBK Gang, faced a busy schedule of high-profile gigs in Austin thanks, in part, to the increasing popularity of members Iamsu! and Sage the Gemini. The duo’s laid-back paean to twerking, “Gas Pedal,” cracked the top 30 of the Billboard singles chart in 2013.

Not that highly anticipated performances could fluster the unflappable Su, as he’s colloquially known.

“The way I go about things, I just go into it with no expectations,” he said. “I just go to have fun, be with my friends and just perform and have fun.”

A tour video of HBK’s Lone Star sojourn that was posted to YouTube on Monday confirms that fun was had; it shows the crew dancing, playing pool, dancing, eating pizza, dancing, skateboarding and more dancing, often through a smoky haze.

This is West Coast hip-hop in 2014, where the gangsta aesthetic of the ’90s has given way to a party-friendly strain of rap that values minimalist beats, melodic synths and (sometimes) raunchy lyrics. YG and DJ Mustard — an MC/DJ duo out of L.A. — are the current leaders of this hedonistic movement, but upstate, Iamsu!, Sage and the HBK Gang are the heads of a new hip-hop class in the Bay Area, where good times have always won out over tough-guy posturing.

And Su, who will visit Bend Saturday night (see “If you go”), might be the most promising character in the whole bunch.

Tall, charming and quick with a smile, he grew up in a “super musical” household where his mom sang and drums and piano were always nearby. (Su plays both instruments.) He discovered hip-hop on a trip to the Great America amusement park when “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” by Snoop Dogg and 2Pac came on the radio.

“I just fell in love with that sound and what they were doing and that whole movement,” he said. “(My mom) wasn’t listening to rap every single day, but she would buy Outkast CDs … and let me listen to them on the CD player in her room.”

When he finished high school, Su entered California State University-East Bay, where, over the past couple of years, he had to move from the classroom to online courses after his music career took off and fellow students began to recognize him. (He planned to return to school for his senior year this year, but is now taking a break to focus on music.)

Su’s catalog, so far, features a handful of well-received mixtapes, most notably 2012’s “$uzy 6 $peed” and 2013’s excellent “Million Dollar Afro,” a collaboration with L.A. rapper Problem. He’s been racking up the guest spots, too, appearing in songs with big stars like Wiz Khalifa and E-40 and producing hits like LoveRance’s “Up!”

Su’s latest single is “Only That Real” featuring Sage the Gemini and one of the planet’s hottest rappers, 2 Chainz. The song comes from Su’s upcoming debut album “Sincerely Yours,” scheduled for release in May.

With more of the hip-hop world watching than ever before, Su, as is often the case, isn’t worried about the album landing with a thud.

“I know there’s always a chance of failure, but I know that I don’t wanna fail so bad that I’m gonna work hard enough to not fail, you know what I mean?” he said. “I just make sure I keep all that negative energy out of my life and out of my mind. I only focus on the overall goal, and that’s being successful.”

That said, he’s refreshingly honest when asked if he feels the pressure mounting as his career approaches a pivotal point.

“A lot of pressure. It has to work,” he said. “I don’t see it not working. I’ve worked too hard and it has to crack. This is my moment and I’ve got to take full advantage of it.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0377, bsalmon@bendbulletin.com