"Look, right here they've got everything a kid needs to get [gang] banged out-tats and guns."
It's a deceptively tranquil morning in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Southeast San Diego, and Mitchy Slick is buying some juice from a passing ice cream truck. Here in one of San Diego's neighborhoods most notorious for gang violence, the ice cream man sells toy tattoos and plastic guns.
The irony's not lost on Slick.
"When you're 7 or 8 years old, you don't really know right from wrong. It's not really an "I wanna be bad' situation," he explains.
Mitchy Slick, who is gaining momentum as San Diego's most successful gangster rapper, says the initiation into gang life is pretty innocuous for many ghetto kids.
"Today, I might say I shoulda never hung out with this mutha fucka, but when you're 8 years old, you don't know. This is the same dude you've been playing racing cars with. Then when you're 13, and he goes to juvenile hall, it doesn't matter... he's still your homie.
"When you get into a fight, and he's at your side, even if you say, "I ain't gang banging!' it doesn't matter. No one will listen."
Southland gang violence has been a familiar story in the media since Ice-T scored the tale of a conflicted South Central L.A. gangster in 1988's groundbreaking movie Colors. NWA first appeared on the national radar in 1989.
Slick's point is that this stuff goes down in sunny San Diego, too. While the 'hoods of Southeast San Diego may be a long drive from the city's main tourist attractions and white-bread coastal beach towns, their problems are very real.
"I don't tell the glamorous side," Slick says. "I'm not talking about how fun it is to be a Crip-C-walking and making it look fun. That's what we've been shown as West Coast gangster rap. I don't represent that. This shit ain't fun."
Slick's albums and mixtapes depict San Diego gang life at its most raw, and sometimes the line between education and exploitation is hard to discern. But self-aware descriptions of gang life and drug dealing let the message be known. In "Curb Servin'," a track off his Handgunner mix CD, he describes drug dealers "standing on the corner with a pocket full of genocide."
These days, it seems Slick's not lacking for heads willing to listen. He's been featured recently in national hip-hop publications like XXL and the current issue of Source, and gets plenty of local air play on Z90 and 98.9 Mor FM.
"You can't really break out from [San Diego]," he explains. "There's too much drama. Too many people here hate me for who I am and where I'm from."
That's what's prompted Slick to reach outside of San Diego to collaborate with some of the West Coast's most important hip-hop artists, starting with meeting Ice Cube's producer, Sir Jinx, years ago, and on to current collaborations with L.A.'s Strong Arm Steady Gang, which includes Xzibit, Krondon and Phil Tha Agony.
"I've got a song on Xzibit's next album. After that, 300,000 worldwide will know about me," he says.
But it's not just been about lucky breaks and knowing the right people. Slick's been putting in hard work inside San Diego for years, building a following from around the way.
As advertised on the inside cover of his latest CD, Trigeration Station, Slick built his reputation by seling CDs at local mom 'n' pop outlets such as the Southeast staple, Fam Mart.
"Fam Mart is the mecca for underground music here," he explains. "People from all the outer areas-Mira Mesa, El Cajon, white kids, black kids, Asian kids, whatever-they're all coming to the 'hood to get the music. I damn near don't need to have my record anywhere else."
As for plans for the future, Mitchy Slick's formula is simple: "Keep it gully."Mitchy Slick mix CDs and albums are available at Fam Mart, the Armory, Stax Records and "indoor swap meets everywhere."