April 25 2012 02:06 PM

Outlandish rapper grapples with issues of race

music
Photo by Cesar Andre

The night before St. Patrick's Day, rap jester El Gun Legro has a boyish smile stretching from ear to ear. Onstage at the House of Blues, he bounces around, delivering high-energy rhymes and tossing freebies to the crowd—mix CDs, glowstick-embedded thundersticks, wigs that look like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh if he grew dreadlocks.

His outlandish outfit matches the occasion: lime-green glasses, a vest the color of a golf green with gold accents and a matching green-gold bowtie that hangs on his trademark Jheri-curl wig. Tonight, though, he's decided to leave his Speedo at home.

Many rappers assume personas—Rick Ross infamously caught flack when it was revealed that he was a former correctional officer, not the drug kingpin portrayed in his music. But few of them admit to it, and even fewer succeed at it. El Gun Legro—whose real name is Dominique Gilbert—is one of those rare successes. The up-and-coming local rapper's charisma makes his antics seem natural.

"When I'm onstage and I'm El Gun, the only difference is a wig and a Speedo," he says, comparing his stage personality with his real self. "I've always been that person to never limit myself from the possibilities of having fun."

Last year, Gilbert surprised the local hip-hop community when he was nominated in the Best Hip-Hop category in the San Diego Music Awards. The nomination came mere weeks after the release of his debut album, The Return of the Future. Now, he's set to release Coming to America, a collaborative EP with local rapper-singer J-Light.

The EP's title refers to the 1988 comedy starring Eddie Murphy, who plays an African prince visiting the United States. The duo was inspired by African dashikis at a high-school fashion show. "I gave El Gun a call and said, ‘We should do an album called "The Dashiki Duo,"'" J-Light recalls. "He was like, ‘Dude, I got it: the Coming to America EP.'"

Like Murphy, Gilbert pokes fun at race issues in a lighthearted way. His stage voice, gravelly but high-pitched, reminds you of Dave Chappelle's outrageous impersonation of Rick James on Chappelle's Show. His name was originally "El Un Negro," and the phonetic similarity is a joke on first-time listeners who mishear the name as something potentially racist.

Gilbert, 25, acknowledges America's past and present shortcomings in dealing with race—he doesn't believe the country's become a "post-racial" society yet, though he's optimistic it'll get there soon. He wrangles with the issue through comedy.

"Comedy has always been about relieving yourselves from the negatives in society," he says. "It's a healing process."

What separates him from many novelty rap acts, though, is that he raps well. You may dismiss his over-the-top style, but the music of The Return of the Future is rap first, comedy second. Gilbert fires off witty punch-lines with clever wordplay while tempering typical rapper braggadocio with goofy, self-deprecating humor. On "MJ," his most recent single, he raps:

"Zombies looking sick and they ask me for the antidote / I am it, I'm all about my peas and my cantaloupe / Mufasa, I am him and you rappers is my antelope / Stop—I strip for the camera show."

Tall with vibrant eyes, Gilbert grew up with his mother in Linda Vista. When he was 18, while attending San Diego Mesa College, he injured his back in a snowboarding accident. The injury dashed his hopes for a partial scholarship to UC Riverside, whose basketball program was interested in recruiting him.

After the injury, he got a job at the Linda Vista branch of the Boys & Girls Club, which turned out to have a robust music studio. He took over the music program in 2006 despite limited experience, teaching kids how to record their songs. During his stint, a group of teen rappers going by the name Loudmouth inspired Gilbert to try rapping himself.

The youth center also attracted producer Jaz Williams of the respected Batkave Recordings in Oak Park. Though Williams wasn't impressed with Gilbert's early work, he saw potential in the El Gun Legro concept and began mentoring the budding rapper.

"What we were talking about is making El Gun a character that's crazy and wild with a purpose," Williams says. "When you're crazy with a purpose, people are more inspired by what you do."

For Gilbert, the point is to be a positive role model as well as an entertainer. These days, he works part-time looking after kids at Mi Casa Group Homes in Mission Valley. He also attends SDSU, where he studies film and media production.

Ultimately, Gilbert's vision is to produce and headline a Las Vegas show that combines comedy, music, visual arts and theater. Though he claims he can make it happen in three years, he's a long way off. For now, he studies stand-up comedy, his current subject of observation being black comedian Kevin Hart.

"I'm studying because all those intermingle somehow, someway," he says. "I'm trying to make all of them one."

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28