The Belasco Theater in Downtown Los Angeles is a stunning venue. Initially constructed in 1926, the ornate building features dazzling colors and carved stone that pulls from a variety of classical styles, including Spanish Renaissance and Churrigueresque. Since its foundation, it’s been a filming location for The Illusionist, a burlesque club, and a gospel church, but on Monday evening, people all across the city packed every nook and cranny of the theater for over six hours to watch local cult hero 03 Greedo perform for the final time before turning himself in to authorities to begin serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Was it a perfect night? Far from it. Mike Rebel, the artist who performed just before the man of the hour, was nearly booed off stage by an exasperated crowd weary from extended delays and technical difficulties. Multiple brawls erupted during the program, including a brief scuffle onstage once the headliner finally arrived. But once Greedo’s distinctive vocals rang out through the room, none of that mattered; not to an audience that hung onto every word and roared with every song.
How deeply Greedo's music resonates is no shock; since 2016, the artist from Watts has been on the frontlines of the new L.A. sound. His music is an eclectic blend of Auto-Tuned R&B, menacing street cuts, and inventive soundscapes, permeated with an everlasting bounce that stays true to the West Coast. Even his stage name is inextricably linked to his hometown: “03,” an abbreviation for his neighborhood block on 103rd and Grape St. With a slew of full-length projects containing over 30 songs—including Purple Summer, which clocked in at a whopping 40 tracks—and a prolific work ethic that's delivered no less than five projects in the last year, Greedo has ensured that listeners would be able to find at least one point of entry into his sweeping sound, bolstering his rise to prominence.
Unfortunately, legal troubles have been just as central to his story. In 2016, the rapper was pulled over near Amarillo, Texas, with police allegedly discovering two stolen pistols as well as several pounds of methamphetamine in the car. Compounded by other felonies on his record back home in Los Angeles, Greedo eventually took a plea deal to avoid the possibility of a 300-year sentence, landing him in prison until age 50 unless circumstances change.
For that reason, “Free Greedo” was the dominant sentiment inside the Belasco Theater on Monday night, as the man with “Living Legend” tattooed across his face celebrated with his followers one last time before going away. Throughout the concert, 03 Greedo was a man of the people, doing everything he could to connect with his fans and give them one final memory to latch onto.
In addition to delivering an impassioned performance, Greedo held a meet-and-greet in the lobby before hitting the stage, recorded himself rapping into the camera on every phone passed to him from the audience, and welcomed song requests from screaming heads throughout his set. When one excited fan in a Tupac shirt called for “Out the Pot,” Greedo pulled him onto the stage to rap the lyrics himself. The concertgoer refused the microphone handed to him, though, content to passionately dap up his hero and drunkenly dance alongside him.
03 Greedo also created a memory of his own before the night was over, bringing out his girlfriend to join him on stage as he performed “If I.” What began as a tender, swaying embrace between the two soon became an unforgettable moment, when the concert’s headliner dropped to one knee with a ring in his palm for his fiancée-to-be. An astonishing pinnacle in the middle of a legendary performance, the crowd erupted into a frenzy while she processed what was happening before her very eyes, showering the newly engaged couple with love and adoration.
03 Greedo is heading to prison, but thanks in large part to a ferocious work ethic that would make Gucci Mane do a double-take, his rap career remains hopeful. Greedo says he has over 600 unreleased songs sitting in the vault, hopeful that a slew of material can help him sustain his momentum until his freedom is returned to him. He’s already dropped off the first batch from his inventory, unveiling the 27-track album God Level. Although his sentence is an intimidating two decades, he and his team are hopeful he will be out in as few as five years, assuming good behavior can persuade the judge to grant him an early release.
Whenever Greedo does make his triumphant return, there’s little question that he’ll have an audience that’s rapt to receive him. On a night that almost spiraled out of control without his presence, Greedo showed why he matters so much to the city of Los Angeles, and to the music movement that he’s helped to both establish and define.
Take it from the piercing screams that went up from the crowd when the first synth on “Run For Yo Life” shot through the speakers, however Greedo’s next several years unfold, he’ll have an army of loyal supporters right there with him.