Things are going exceptionally sweetly for rap legend Suga Free, who headlines Velvet Jones this Friday, July 29, with Rappin’ 4-Tay as part of the Pimps & Players Bash. “If I get any happier, I’m gonna pass out,” he said in a recent phone interview. It’s the little things these days that keep Suga Free content: his health, fixing cars, and gardening, as well as raising more than 60 tumbler pigeons, a pet passion he has nurtured since the age of 10. “I’m a low-key person,” he said. “I’m never in the light all the time.”
His gentler qualities may come as quite a surprise to fans, who over the decades have come to know a rapper incomparable in his blend of wit and true-life grit. Famed for his verses describing life as a pimp on the streets of Pomona, the California native has earned admiration across the hip-hop world for his sharp, poignant, and often hilarious rhymes about the ups and downs of the procuring profession. He has distanced himself from those days and discourages others from pursuing his particular pimping path — “The message that I give my brothers and sisters is that there’s other ways of doing this,” he said.
Suga Free said he’s happy to see the progression of women’s rights in this country, what with Hillary Clinton poised as a presidential candidate. “Times have changed, man, and it’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “Women have been running this shit all along; the man is just a front.”
It has taken Suga Free a lot of time and self-determination to earn his reputation, a process he looks back upon with pride. Growing up, he was the sole member of his family to carry ambition, he said. “In my household, you never really saw nobody reading a book or studying something or having ambition to do anything. I felt like a fuckin’ oddball because I wanted something in life,” he said. He became a self-employed businessman by the age of 26. Listening to and acting upon his own desires and dreams posed what he calls “the challenge of self,” the challenge of being honest to his own deep hopes.
Part of what has made Suga Free such an enduring figure in the game is his unfailing optimism toward himself and others who share similar dreams. “No matter what we go through, no matter what our neighbor’s life looks like, your life is what you make it,” he continued. “The Lord says nobody’s perfect. Alright — nobody’s perfect. But right under perfect, there’s excellent; right under there’s superb; under there’s astonishing. You name it, it’s there — and these are options. What kind of life am I living to where I’m gonna be afraid to pick excellence? What type of lie’s been fed into my head where I’m scared to be astonishing? … I can’t see how someone wouldn’t want the best in life. And I knew that music would do that for me.”
From his 1997 album Street Gospel to 2015’s The Resurrection, Suga Free and his longtime music partner, the legendary producer DJ Quik, have managed to create a career of hip-hop excellence — and the fans have been continually inspired. “I get a lot of fans come up to me, telling me that I’ve helped them in so many ways. That was shocking to me in the beginning; I didn’t know how that was possible,” he admitted. “I helped myself with my lyrical content, and it’s nice to know I’m helping somebody else, as well.”
Suga Free hopes his rhymes continue to elevate listeners and inspire them to rise to a better place in life, no matter their upbringing or circumstances. “Once you make it up in your mind that you’re gonna do something and you’re gonna do it no matter what, you’re a success right there,” he said. “No matter what it looks like to anybody else: As long as you know that you got a gut feeling that what you’re doing is right, then go for it.”
Suga Free and Rappin’ 4-Tay play the Pimps & Players Bash Friday, July 29, at 8 p.m. at Velvet Jones (423 State St.). Call (805) 965-8676 or visit velvet-jones.com.