SadBoy Summer: Santa Barbara’s Biggest Rapper Drops New Single ‘Palm Trees’

SadBoy Loko Speaks on New Label, Album, and Life After Lockup

SadBoy Summer: Santa Barbara’s Biggest Rapper Drops New Single ‘Palm Trees’

SadBoy Loko Speaks on New Label, Album, and Life After Lockup

By Ryan P. Cruz | July 14,2022

SadBoy Loko | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

SadBoy Loko has been through a lot in the past few years — spending most of 2018 through 2020 behind bars, and then coming home in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — but with a new album dropping in August, and a summertime anthem “Palm Trees” garnering hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, the Santa Barbara–born-and-bred rapper is making, as he says, a “major comeback from a minor setback.”

His newest single, “Palm Trees,” featuring Kap G and YBE, and its accompanying music video, are a look into SadBoy’s latest artistic and musical evolution, and a celebration of his newfound outlook on life. The vibe is reminiscent of the 2005 anthem “Summer Nights” by Lil Rob, with backyard cookouts; classic, chromed-out lowriders; palm trees; and a chorus that lends itself perfectly to cruising around town with the top down.

It’s a departure from some of the darker-themed gangsta rap of his earlier work, and for good reason. SadBoy’s stint in jail gave him time to reflect and be grateful for the little things in life.

“Jail vacation did me good; it humbled me,” he said. “When you spend two birthdays inside, you learn to appreciate things. Someone else out there in the world is going through worse.”

Humbled by his “jail vacation,” SadBoy Loko is optimistic about the future and grateful for the good things in life. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

In 2015, SadBoy made waves when he was signed to multi-platinum artist YG’s label, 4Hunnid Records. He was discovered after making the rounds in Japan, where Chicano-influenced car culture and lowrider aesthetics were popular among the locals, who would emulate the black-and-gray ink and “cholo” looks of Southern California gang culture in the mid-’90s.

“Put it this way: Japan is more infiltrated with our culture than Los Angeles,” SadBoy said. 

During this time, SadBoy released hit songs like “Gang Signs,” which amassed more than 67 million views, and “Bruisin’” with YG and Slim 400 (who was fatally shot in December 2021), which reached 36 million views. He went from living in a motel to touring alongside one of the biggest artists in the game, and as he got bigger, he started to evolve and become more socially conscious. Featured on the YG song “Blacks and Browns,” SadBoy addresses the struggles faced by people of color in America, directly criticizing the Trump-era border policies and “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Then, with his career on the rise, shortly after his 2018 release My Evil Ways, SadBoy’s future became tied into a case that would leave him in Santa Barbara County Jail for nearly two years. At the time, he was implicated in an incident that left him facing charges of attempted murder, robbery, and assault likely to produce great bodily harm — all of the charges with an additional gang enhancement.

Eventually, through a plea deal and additional evidence that showed SadBoy was likely not at the scene of the crime, he was able to avoid the charges of attempted murder and robbery, and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

SadBoy says he used the time behind bars to work on his craft and to think about how he can use his platform to help youth avoid the same cycle of violence and incarceration. He remembers picking up U.S.A. Today each morning and reading about the chaotic world beyond those walls.

“Every day, you hear about kids in cages,” he said. 

In March 2020, he began to hear whispers of a deadly virus quickly spreading across the world. From inside, the pandemic took an even more unsettling role. Many jails and prisons were overcrowded, leading several local governments to encourage early release for those who qualified.

SadBoy feels at home at Art’s Market on Cacique Street. He worked there, off and on, from the ages of 14-16. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

On July 17, 2020, SadBoy came home. Although COVID-19 was still wreaking havoc on the world, he was able to face the challenges from the comfort of his hometown. Naturally, he got right back to work, releasing I’m Still Here 2 in April 2021.

Nowadays, SadBoy has grown beyond the hard-edged anger of his youth and moved into a role he feels even more comfortable in — as a father and mentor. He says he knows that words have power, and he makes it a point to direct his words to the next generation to help them “find strength through music to overcome their struggles.”

He understands his reputation, and the popularity he built through his heavily gang-influenced work, but he hopes that he can become a role model for his success and not just because of his street cred.

“Don’t look at me because I’m from the Eastside,” he said. “Look at me for motivation.”

Under his new label, Prajin Records, he has found room to explore himself beyond gang life, reaching deep into his Mexican roots for inspiration. Along with multi-platinum producer Cricket, he has expanded into some reggaeton and corrido tracks featuring a range of new artists like Lupillo Rivera, Jorge Gamboa, Mexican rapper Alemán, and “Chicano king of Auto-Tune” MC Magic.

The tracks will make up his newest release, Sin Fronteras, or “Without Borders,” which is scheduled to come out this summer. With the title, he hopes to connect with the Latino community that has become a force in popular music with the likes of artists Bad Bunny and Rosalía in recent years.

“We’re breaking barriers, and there’s no borders,” he said. It’s a change from what he experienced growing up, he said, when the children of Mexican parents often distanced themselves from their musical traditions. “Now look at it; it’s the trend.”

SadBoy Loko on the back steps of Art Market. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

His newest single, “Palm Trees,” is his third release of the year, following “Pit Lock” — which has nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube — and “El Llamado de las Calles,” which features San Diego’s Spanish-rapping Dyablo and Mexican artist Jessie Morales El Original de la Sierra. 

The song features Kap G — whose 2016 hit “Girlfriend” peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart — and Mexican rapper YBE, whose Ski Mask Mafia movement “encourages people to listen to the music, not judging the face behind it.”

SadBoy said that once Kap G provided the hook, the rest of the song’s summer vibe came naturally. “It just brought me back.” 

On his front porch in Santa Barbara, talking about his new direction and upcoming album, the usually stone-faced and heavily tattooed rapper is beaming, a pearly smile that he says has gotten him out of a lot of sticky situations. “I may look mean, but I got this smile,” he says.

He has big plans too. After touring across most of America during his early career, he hopes to play more shows on the other side of the border and here at home in Santa Barbara. 

“I want to do a show here, for all the kids in Santa Barbara,” he said, adding that he will make the show free under one condition: You have to show your report card with good grades for a ticket. 

He laughs and takes a moment to think about how far he’s come, before leaving one last piece of advice he learned the hard way. “Follow your dreams; don’t follow the next man’s dream.” 


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