Is it sacrilegious to smoke weed inside a decommissioned church? This seems to be the central question for Baby Stone Gorillas on the set of their “Keep Goin” music video. Dress shirts for the video, the ticking clock on the church rental, our interview — these are afterthoughts for the burgeoning Los Angeles rap group as they exhale the only clouds under the blue sky and blinding sun above the church steps in Glassell Park.
When they’ve procured their forgotten dress shirts and ashed their blunts, EKillaOffDaBlocck (21), 5Much (19), P4K (20), and Top5ivee (22) saunter past dark wooden pews and up to the carpeted burgundy altar in the humble, aged, and mercifully cool building. They stand behind four soundless microphones and in front of a lone cameraman, preaching the gospel of perseverance that’s aided their rise since 2021’s “STL Caps & Jay Hats.”
Over the last year, the four childhood friends turned rappers have released a string of steadily improving and increasingly popular singles, the cumulative millions of music video views all culminating in “Keep Goin” and the other 22 songs on the group’s debut, BABYST5XNE GORILLAS (Baby Stone Gorillas / EMPIRE). They have the potential to be the biggest rappers to emerge from the Baldwin Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang-heavy and palm-tree-lined community that locals know by its foliage-inspired and far more evocative nickname: the Jungles.
“This project lets you know that we can do music,” Top5ivee says after the video shoot, with he and EKillaOffDaBlocck answering most of the questions. “It’s similar to the singles, but you can see the development in the songs.”
Like the singles that preceded it, BABYST5XNE GORILLAS is a tour of the Jungles from four scarred yet swaggering natives. Songs full of flexes and emptied clips are spotted with eulogies for the departed. Wear the wrong baseball hat on the block or in Jim Gilliam Park, and your family may be airbrushing your face on a Pro Club.
Unlike those singles, BABYST5XNE GORILLAS songs like “Keep Goin” and the Wallie the Sensei-assisted “Do It Up” display a greater polish, sharper songwriting and hooks. With beats from ubiquitous and renowned L.A. producers like Ron-RonTheProducer and Low the Great, the sound doesn’t stray far from that of contemporary L.A. street rap. It’s a post-Mustard bounce with drums that hit like slamming locker room doors and sparse keyboard melodies that oscillate between sunny and ominous. Beyond sonics, however, Baby Stone Gorillas don’t sound like their recent forebears. The sedated and coded slang of the late Drakeo the Ruler, the lean-addled and auto-tuned croons of the incarcerated 03 Greedo, the jaded and deadpan punchlines of BlueBucksClan—you won’t find them. Each member offers a singular and continually evolving voice, the four united by their unflagging energy, their intolerance for posturing, and their lives in the Jungles.
“I’d honestly say we’re a new wave. I’m confident in saying that.” Top5ivee. “We’re being us. Nobody could be us.”
If you’ve never walked through the Jungles, you might know the cul de sac as the street where Denzel Washington delivered his beleaguered “King Kong” monologue in Training Day. Or maybe you watched Waka Flocka Flame shake his dreads and shut the block down in the “Hard in Da Paint” video. For decades, this has been the fiefdom of the Black P. Stones, a Chicago-born Blood set founded in the late 1950s that eventually made its way West.
Listen to Baby Stone Gorillas songs or watch their videos and you’ll quickly glean the list of acceptable baseball hats for BPS members (or anyone who doesn’t want to be mistaken for the opposition). The group cackles when I ask if anyone would press me over my White Sox hat. “They’re going to look at you and walk right past,” EKillaOffDaBlocck says between laughs.
Each member of Baby Stone Gorillas has varying levels of BPS affiliation and tattoos of varying prominence and visibility. Some members had family directly involved, while others were swept up in gang life by their friends. “Where other people grow up, the life they live, the rules they follow, and the things they do come from that place. It’s normal to them,” Top5ivee says. “When we were growing up, it felt normal to us.”
Before they began making music, all four members gravitated toward Chief Keef, Lil Durk, G Herbo, and other paragons of Chicago drill. They liked the sound and the parallels between the violence in their respective areas. Locally, Baldwin Village rappers like the late Take Money (aka Tiny M) and Nfant (fka Lil Infant), who you can hear on the unofficial Jungles anthem “Really from the Village Remix,” blared from car speakers. Each member acknowledges their debt to them for paving the way.
Though 5Much is the youngest group member, he was the first to experiment with making music. He learned to play drums in church and began making beats while he was in juvenile detention with Top5ivee and EKillaOffDaBlocck. But everything coalesced at Red Rooms Studios in Hawthorne just over a year ago. Stepping into the booth for the first time in their lives, they recorded as a mix of duos and trios before finally coming together as a quartet to record “STL Caps & Jay Hats” over a beat they discovered on YouTube. The response was immediate and enough to attract the attention of Ron-Ron, who produced the subsequent local hit “Baby Stone Gorillas.” Single after single became bigger than the next.
“We didn’t have music on and DSPs. We weren’t thinking that hard on it. We were just putting it out on YouTube.” EKillaOffDaBlocck says. “We promoted it on Instagram and people from our area started listening to it. It was all local love, and then it blew up.”
Beneficiaries and victims of our insatiable digital age, Baby Stone Gorillas didn’t want to lose momentum while recording BABYST5XNE GORILLAS. They recorded a flurry of singles and shot videos for each one, releasing them as they recorded the album in a three-week marathon. “You only live once, so we’re taking advantage of our situation,” Top5ivee says.
EKillaOffDaBlocck, P4K, Top5ivee, and 5Much look exhausted when the video shoot ends. Maybe they’re still reeling from their previous weekend in Vegas, where Mustard shouted them out on stage. Or maybe they’ve smoked themselves into sedation in front of the church. Regardless, they have another interview that evening, studio time slated for later in the week, and more videos to shoot. They have to keep going until the May release of their next project.