Blxst Wants to Take the Torch for L.A. Hip-Hop and Continue Nipsey Hussle’s Legacy
Show & Prove
Interview: Keith Murphy
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
It would simply be too easy to categorize 25-year-old Blxst as the latest rapping-singing product to break out of the West Coast hip-hop scene. Instead, the sleepy-eyed 1990’s baby, who has been compared to late O.G. hook king Nate Dogg and platinum-plus Compton phenom Roddy Ricch, is carving out his own lane. “The West Coast is really known for being gangsters,” Blxst says. “Now, we are experimenting. We are having fun with it.” The South Central, Los Angeles-born artist is also a beatmaker, songwriter and sound engineer. Blxst’s self-produced, 2020 debut EP, No Love Lost, was followed by an expanded deluxe edition late last year, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. He’s also racked up over 13 million Spotify streams of his mid-tempo come-on track “Chosen” featuring platinum players Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga, and garnered cosigns by hip-hop behemoths J. Cole and Nas. “That’s not regular,” a humble Blxst says of Nas name-dropping him on an upcoming song. “As much as I try to be humble about it, it’s hard to keep that in. That’s big.”
Yet, music was not his first passion. At age 14, Blxst (pronounced Blast) was moved out of the volatile surroundings of South Central by his concerned mother to live in the laid-back suburbs of Southern California’s Inland Empire with his dad. There he was consumed with fulfilling his dream of becoming a world-class skateboarding pro. “I was skateboarding for about two to three years, very heavy,” he recalls before laughing. “Then I broke my ankle. I stopped skateboarding real fast.”
Born Matthew Burdette, Blxst’s earliest memory of rap was not revered West Coast heroes Dr. Dre, Ice Cube or Snoop Dogg, but beloved Queens rap group A Tribe Called Quest. “My grandpa would rap [‘Bonita Applebum’] to me just walking around the house,” he vividly remembers of the moment he knew that hip-hop was meant for him.
The idea of music becoming a serious career option seemed remote until 11 years ago, when Blxst’s cousins played him a song they had recorded themselves. “They inspired me to want to try production,” he says. “I think what sparked it for me was how natural it was. The process of [making a track] was fun. It was as if it was in my DNA already. It didn’t feel like I had to learn it...it was already channeling through me.”
From there, Blxst soaked up recording techniques wherever he could find them. Most impactful, surprisingly enough, was a series of YouTube tutorial videos by singer-producer Ryan Leslie, who constructed tracks from scratch. Soon, Blxst found himself landing his own credits, turning heads in 2014, with Hitta J3’s “Do Yo Gudda.” His G’d up Cali production helped propel the song to become a local L.A. street anthem. When it was time to do a remix, Compton standouts YG and Problem promptly jumped on the cut. Plus, the conspicuous appearance of superstar Kendrick Lamar also on the remix proved to be a sign for Blxst that he was on the right path. “Yeah...that was heavy,” he glows of his experience working with the once-in-a-lifetime MC. “Kendrick is my all-time favorite rapper and he’s my sister’s favorite rapper. So that was big.”
Blxst, however, didn’t waste any time basking in his sudden leap to the big leagues. In 2015, he made the move from behind the boards with his solo single “Who Would’ve Thought,” showcasing a more sing-song style. He stayed on his grind, but by late 2018, Blxst was at a pivotal point in a stalled career that was reaping middling success. He had a newborn son at the time, now 3, and family to look after. Either he was going to stick with music or go back to civilian life. “You get to that 10-year mark and you start to feel like, Damn, is this music thing meant for me?” Blxst recalls of his struggles to cut through. That same year, he also established his own independent label, Evgle.
Sixtape, his 2019 collaborative EP with fellow South Central rhymer Bino Rideaux, would prove to be the career-altering break he needed. The buzz-heavy release captured the attention of Red Bull Records’ A&R team of Kenny Salcido and Charles Burks. They were floored by Blxst’s infectious production and melodic lyricism. Instead of signing him to a standard recording deal, the label entered into an exclusive partnership with the ambitious visionary in 2020.
“It was important for him to have a significant say in not only how his music was being created, but also how it was being marketed,” explains Greg Hammer, managing director of Red Bull Records. “He’s already had a great team around him... They’ve really been a huge driver of the creative process as well.” Why’d they sign him? “We love to align with artists who are a part of the making of their art,” Hammer adds. “We’re just happy to be along for the ride.” The union has been fruitful. “Red Bull understood my vision,” echoes Blxst.
There were more serendipitous moments to come. When R&B singer-songwriter Justine Skye organically posted Blxst’s 2019 single “Hurt” on her Instagram account that same year, the song, with its deceptively melancholy groove and somber lyrics about a young artist navigating through a minefield of apathy, self-doubt and fake friends, reassured him that a future in music was possible.
With Red Bull Records backing him, Blxst was finally able to translate his personal struggles of fractured childhood friendships and the slow unraveling of a love affair into a conceptual storyline of videos for his melodic tracks “Overrated,” “Be Alone” and “Gang Slide,” along with the bar-heavy “Pressure,” all featured on his No Love Lost EP and deluxe edition, released last September and December, respectively. For any critics claiming his music is soft, Blxst, who says he came up with his style because he hated his singing voice, is unapologetic. “Women drive the culture,” says the rapper, who released his Just For Clarity EP in March, is set to drop the Sixtape sequel with Bino this spring or early summer and is already recording his next studio album, due out this fall. “Anything that women enjoy men will follow after.”
Even as he continues to make music that reaches a cross-section of ears, he will never forget his ’hood beginnings. “I just want to dig deeper on who Blxst is and showcase that I’m willing to take the torch for L.A.,” the artist says. “I want to uphold what we stand for...that integrity and to continue the legacy that Nipsey Hussle instilled in us.”
Blxst’s marathon continues.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2021 issue including Cardi B's cover story, how rappers are legally making money from the cannabis boom and the social justice that comes with it, Snowfall's Damson Idris on how hip-hop impacted his life, A$AP Ferg reflects on the making of his Always Strive and Prosper album, Shelley F.K.A. DRAM talks about his comeback, Trippie Redd speaks on how Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert helped change hip-hop, Waka Flocka Flame checks in with us and gives an update on his Flockaveli 2 album in What's Happenin', Show & Prove interviews with 42 Dugg and Lakeyah, Erica Banks discusses the making of hit song "Buss It" and more.