At exactly 2:19 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, Tommie Gunn sent out a dispatch from his mom's house on the southeast part of the city. Gunn, or “TG,” as he prefers it, issued an e-mail communiqué to inform the local press and various associates, friends and friends of friends of a major development in San Diego hip-hop.“My name is TG,” he wrote. “I am a local hip-hip artist from SD.”
TG (whose given name is Tommie Clemons) went on to write that he was shopping for a record deal—across the country, overseas, wherever the money was right—but he knew that wherever he ended up, he had to make a San Diego hip-hop anthem.
Attached to the e-mail—along with a photo of TG set against a blurry blackdrop of the San Diego skyline—was an MP3 for “Who Wit Me,” the anthem in question.
We were, uh, wit him. At least so far as discovering more about Mr. Gunn and what possessed him to write a rap anthem for San Diego.
When we first meet TG—outside the Borders in Mission Valley—he's dressed for the part of city rap spokesman. He wears crisp FUBU pants, a sports jacket and pristine white shoes that glow against the gray sidewalk. He's sporting a nice watch and walks with a slick saunter. But the outside image doesn't quite match up with his personality at all. He's shy—timid even—and, surprisingly for a rapper, a man of few words.
The 28-year-old explains that he simply felt the need to wake up San Diego's sleepy hip-hop scene by writing a song that other rappers could rally around. Odes to places like Los Angeles and New York litter the airwaves, but San Diego is typically referenced only within the scope of the entire West Coast, such as Dr. Dre's “It's all good from Diego to the Bay” line from “California Love”.
Outside the rap game, Tom Waits—who wrote “San Diego Serenade” about the drive from San Diego to L.A.—and Feeder (a Welsh rock band who penned the aptly titled “San Diego”) are among the few who've given the city love. Otherwise, San Diego gets the shaft, and TG was tired of it.
Despite his low-key demeanor, the ego it takes to claim you've written San Diego's new hip-hop anthem buzzes quietly somewhere behind TG's sweet, gap-toothed smile. But it isn't until he steps behind a microphone that it all spills out on “Who Wit Me”.
Who wit me? / Get your hands up high, wave 'em side to side / This is how the west ride / Who wit me? / This is for SD, make it pop SD… Who with me? / Got it locked, SD on the map, SD on MTV.
“I love San Diego,” TG says, somewhat unnecessarily, as we drive to a small recording studio in Sorrento Valley where he's working on an upcoming solo album. “I love everything about it. I think it's America's finest city—I always say that—the only thing we don't have is that crazy club scene like Miami… [but] just give us a few years, we'll be there.”
TG says he's been in the rap game for more than a decade, including working behind the scenes (handling sound, production and PR) with sibling trio The Soldiers until the group's deal with Warner Brothers fell through in 2003. TG became disenchanted with the music business after that experience and laid low until one of The Soldiers (Josh Washington, aka “Iesous”) convinced him to start his own label (Godfather Records) and work on a solo album.
That was just a few months ago, but TG says he's already got a private investor for the label and a representative in Los Angeles with connections. It remains to be seen whether San Diego will embrace a relatively unknown rapper—let alone his “Who Wit Me” as its anthem—but TG says he'll continue working overtime until his career is at the Next Level (by August, he says, if all goes according to plan). Either way, TG insists that the city he loves is percolating with hip-hop talent just waiting to blow up. And, he says, 2008 is when it's all going down.
“It's lookin' good,” he says, succinctly. “It's lookin' real good.”