“One thing about that county jail, it’s gone make you or break you.”
On a hot summer day in June, I linked with 23-year-old rapper King TU of the Harlem 30s for an in-depth interview. The Harlem 30s is one of the oldest gangs in Los Angeles — King TU was born into it. He says it’s all “regular, this the life we live.” He is no stranger to the rougher sides of street life — he even had a friend of his set up our interview while he was locked up.
King TU is known most for his flashy music and his several encounters with the police. His hit singles “Troublesome” and “Nobody’s Safe” have flooded the LA music scene. King TU’s lyrics embrace growing up in the Harlem 30s and showcase the neighborhood. He tells me he got involved with the gang officially when he was just 14 years old. He describes his childhood as being good, saying his mother spoiled him. That changed once he became a teenager and began to rebel. “I’m not a kid, we used to get into it,” he says. “I get kicked out the house. After that, I turned to Harlem. We turned to the hood.”
Soon after, he found himself in Los Angeles County’s juvenile incarceration system. But being locked up is where he got the idea to pursue music. While he was in juvenile hall, he received a phone call from his friend Johnny Rose, a well known LA rapper — but he didn’t start making music right away. “I get out, I’m getting money, I’m not really on no rapper stuff,” he says. After several friends encouraged him to make music, King TU decided to adopt the craft.
In 2017, at the age of 18, King TU joined in on his first song — “Sheesh!” — as a featured rapper. The song took off, and he decided to set out on a solo career. For his second song, King TU linked with well-known LA rapper 1Take Jay for the first of many viral songs, and received a lot of show offers and attention after dropping it. “Mind you I’m already going to shows with the homie, with Drakeo,” he says.
King TU shared a close relationship with Drakeo The Ruler and the STINC TEAM, members of Drakeo’s music group, from childhood. Hanging with them showed King TU just how exciting being a rapper could be. “This stuff lowkey cool, I could get paid to hop on stage and rap,” he says jokingly. All of that was thrown into jeopardy when he was arrested.
“I went to jail June 2018, and got out July 2021,” King TU explains. He was forced to fight two separate cases from behind bars, pre-trial. “I been to jail before, like juvenile system, but the county like a whole new program.” Despite the toughness, he says he got plenty of support from other incarcerated people — including his old friend Drakeo. King TU says the two of them even went to court together. He describes the county jail as being tougher — people from enemy neighborhoods are all thrown together, and that means you have to fight. He even says people locked up in the county are trying to get to the pen, or prison. “One thing about that county jail, it’s gone make you or break you,” he says laughing. When he was released in 2021 he went straight back to the music. He says he went to the studio the same day, and stayed there until 4 o’clock in the morning.
He’s built a significant buzz around the LA rap scene. This month, he released the EP Set The Booth On Fire and dropped a video for “Nobody’s Safe,” a tribute to his late friend Drakeo. King TU has continued to keep the streets’ attention, and tells me he aspires to be an international star. For now, he’s focusing on the music that made his supporters love him.
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