#WestCoastWednesdays presents 60 East

“You have to understand your own personal DNA. Don’t do things because I do them or Steve Jobs or Mark Cuban tried it. You need to know your personal brand and stay true to it.”
– Gary Vaynerchuk

60 East began tapping into his own personal DNA at an early age; he wrote his first rap – which he shares in this interview – when he was in third grade. This, and countless anecdotes of other rappers’ coming of age/origin stories, speaks to my belief that this life is really about us uncovering who we are, moreso than the all too common practice of constructing who we wish we were. There is something transcendently satisfying as a listener/fan when you can sense – from one’s music, delivery, stage presence, etc. – that an artist is simply exposing his/her/their true self, or that the artist is wrestling with understanding who or what his/her true self even is. Music has been in 60 East’s DNA since day one, and so has entrepreneurship – he avoided flipping burgers in high school like many of us did by building his own business, starting with a small investment, taking his profits and reinvesting in the business until he could sustain his teenage existence, or at least subsidize what his mother provided, all while setting his own schedule and managing the entire enterprise (I’ll let him share more about that later – it was pretty obvious early on though, that he had an entrepreneurial spirit). Listen to just one 60 East song and you know that he is a people person as well, whether as a friend, a dad, a manager, a networker, an artist or what have you, building and maintaining relationships is an essential thread in the fabric of everything 60 East does. And he does a lot. From being an involved dad, to touring nationally and internationally, to defining and perfecting his brand, to writing and recording (which obviously makes the previous two possible), to throwing festivals, to PR, all the way down to taking time out of a beast of a schedule to share the journey with us, 60 East is determined to make his mark as an emcee, as a business man, and as a human being making sense of a beautifully messy world. Enjoy reading about all of the above and more. Read. Listen. Enjoy. Share.

NW: Who is 60 East?

60 East: I am a Touring Artist from the Inland Empire. I’ve been “working” in the music industry since I was in junior high, and even before that I was already writing and working on music. I’ve been able to tour a lot of places and have seen how hip hop is treated in other parts of the world. I also dabble in PR, public speaking and concert promoting.   

NW: Dope. It already sounds like we are going to have fun with this! Can you tell SDLHH a story about how hip hop has changed your life?

60 East: Welp, as I was saying I was kinda thrown into the music business at an early age, so It has really been shaping my life from the jump rather than a sudden change but I guess I can take it back to around 2006 – my older brother had started an indie label and we were, for the most part, a fully functioning label, at least on the local level – releasing albums, passing out flyers throwing shows, and all that. We built up enough momentum that the main artist on the label, Space Ghost, got offered a 6 figure record deal with a pretty big label at the time; keep in mind this was before the social media boom, so getting a record deal was still the way most people were blowing up. So we had everything going right with the label, had a deal on the table, were packing out shows and all that, then unfortunately, Space Ghost was murdered in front of my aunt’s house in Ontario. All the hard work, momentum and the record deal basically went out the window and the label broke up, leading everyone in separate directions. My direction being becoming an artist and picking up where we all left off on my own, and seeing this hip hop thing through all the way.

NW: Man. That’s heavy on a lot of levels. You have so much going right here and now, but would you mind if I took us back? Back to the beginning? Where were you when you first heard your favorite rapper? I guess you’re going to have to share who that is too. What was it about that moment that locked you into that artist, that feeling?

60 East: Well my favorite rapper of all time is Rakim, but I don’t really remember when I first heard him, so I’ll go ahead with one of my other favorites that really changed me forever. I remember being a kid and my brother would have me do grunt work for him, which at this time was downloading music off Napster. He would give me a list or just tell me, “look for ‘Underground Hip Hop’” and as I would download the stuff I would listen to it. Some I liked, some I didn’t, but I started getting an ear for what I liked. I think I heard a song with a crazy story in it but I don’t remember the name, I told my brother and he told me to listen to “I Used to Love H.E.R” by Common for a crazy story. I was around 3rd or 4th grade at the time so I was able to understand metaphors and stuff but never really heard a whole song be a metaphor. As the song ended and Common dropped the bomb that the girl he was talking about the whole time in the song was actually hip hop, it blew my fucking mind. I didn’t know that was possible so I had to rewind it like 5 times to make sure I was really understanding what was going on and I figured it out. That was the first time a song hit me on an intellectual/creative level, and why I love to write stories and use metaphors a lot because of that moment in my life.

NW: Thanks for that. I think most of us can remember what that song did to/for us, for sure. I am a student of the culture first. As such, I am always curious about things like, what draws lifelong fans to certain artists and sub-genres. You have crafted such an intentional brand, even though that initially sounds counterintuitive to the authenticity that undeniably exists in you and your music, and I am curious to know what impact you hope that your brand, your music, you, will have on listeners, fans, friends, and family?

60 East: As I got older and started getting deeper into music, I realized how powerful music could be. I started getting drawn more to deep music versus all the party and lyrical stuff, really diving into songwriting. I became obsessed with music that moved me emotionally, intellectually, and creatively and began articulating that into my music. After I started getting feedback from listeners that a certain song changed their life or perspective on a certain subject or just overall I realized I could touch people through my music, so that became the goal. I just want to be able to touch people and create music that they can go to when they need to for whatever reason.

NW: That’s huge. Before you were such a craftsman, as a young and eager poet, how did you feel when you got to the end of the first bar of the first song you ever wrote to a beat? Can you share a few bars of the first verse you wrote, or at least the oldest verse you can remember? Can we find the song online, or is that too far back in the process?

60 East: TBH I dont remember the first song I wrote to a beat; I smoke a lot of weed so my memory is horrible, but for some reason I do remember the first verse I ever wrote. Lol. I was in like the 3rd grade waiting for my friend and his mom to pick me up from my house to go… I think spend the night at their house or whatever on some kid shit, and as I was waiting I just started writing – I actually have a folder with pretty much all the notebooks I’ve written in over the years and I think the paper with this verse is still there, but either way I always remembered it:

As I sit and I wait for my motherfucking date, I might as well just tell you that I’ll burn in hell if this record don’t sell, so reserve your copy and listen to this shit its gonna be a hit, soon you’ll be taking a trip to see our house on cribs

lol something like that

NW: Damn. Third grade. haha. That’s rad. As you mentioned, you have taken the art of songwriting more and more seriously as you’ve grown, and I’d like to dip into that process of you developing as an artist. Let’s start with your locale. The IE has a rich hip hip history/legacy. Tell us a bit about coming up in the Inland Empire’s scene, where the scene has been, is, and is going,

60 East: Well growing up, one of my first heroes was Sly Boogy and Dirty Birdy, because I had seen them on the Wake Up Show and they were repping the IE. That kinda gave me hope that one day that could be me. Other than that, we had small successes like A Lighter Shade of Brown, but Sly Boogy was really the first person to get to that next level reppin’ the IE, which started opening doors for us. I think that really sparked something out here and people started trying to do they thing out here. That’s when labels and groups like us started popping up and trying to “put on” for the city whatever. That eventually turned into the IE having its own scene and Artist out here starting to do they thing. I got into the scene heavy around 2010, and there were opportunities out here – not a lot but if you were hungry and knew where to look you could find an open mic or a local hip hop show close by. People like MC Prototype and Noa James started building platforms out here for artists and that eventually grew into us cultivating our own artists and developing a bigger/better scene. From there we started seeing our local guys becoming national and international acts, and getting bigger opportunities and shining more light on the IE. So from slowly building over time, to now having a handful of artists on the map and some of our local guys getting bigger and bigger and bringing more people and opportunities to the scene, it’s become something great and continues to grow bigger, and now national acts are making sure to make a stop in the IE, which they would usually skip.

NW: Who are some of your fellow IE artists who you see as your contemporaries, comrades and competition?

60 East: There are a million artists out here lol, a lot of which are kinda crabs in a bucket, and by that Im not trying to diss or anything, but I see a lot of the same people doing the same things and running in circles. But, within the million, there are a handful that have been able to grow and build and pave their own lane and those are the ones I see as contemporaries and not competition, because we have a similar goal but our audience is different. But a deff shoutout to Noa James, Curtiss King and Audio Push.

NW: After becoming more familiar with you through your music, I can’t help but hear that growing up in the IE was anything other than suburbs and strip malls; quite the contrary, it sounds like you, and your fam and friends, have had some heavy seasons coming up. What was growing up in the IE like, and how has that shaped the man and artist you are, and the music you make?

60 East: Well I grew up in a weird area of the IE, I grew up on the San Bernardino/Los Angeles Countyline. Basically where I live Ontario/Chino borderline Pomona which is the last city of L.A County. We are considered part of the greater Los Angeles area but are the first cities of San Bernardino. Anyway I had to explain that to give you an idea of the street stuff, L.A county gangs, and S.B. county gangs have always kinda had an internal rivalry which leads to constant beef on the streets, and the county line is basically ground zero for that. My mom’s house was located right in the middle of 2 gang neighborhoods in a mixed area of the city. I lived in one city and went to school in another so a lot of the time my area  where was different gangs from different sides of the city would meet and all that. And again, I’m going into all this to say I was always surrounded by gangs and stuff and spent my time in the streets but never was fully committed to that because we had music. The Mexican gangs/neighborhoods in my area didn’t like black people, but we grew up in a mixed area and we grew up with blacks and Asians, and whites, and we all did music together. So I was shaped into this kinda hybrid of a person because I grew up around a lot of different cultures, where a lot of my friends that lived in a fully Mexican neighborhood were raised to not like other races and think a certain way, but being me and my brother grew up where we did, it allowed us to be more open-minded and I feel that translated through the music.

NW: I’d like to stay in this more, intimate, familial place for one more question if that’s okay. You speak of your family, your girl/wife, and your daughter often. How has your immediate family played a role in how you approach the music, the brand, and the business?

60 East: After becoming a father, it really made me start looking at the bigger picture. Before she was born I was okay living check to check, but now that I have another life to take care of it’s forced me to be more responsible financially. It’s showed me the importance of saving and having a profitable business. Also even if the music is not profitable having an alternate business that is and able to support everything I am doing.

NW: That makes me wonder something. Are you naturally entrepreneurial, or was that brought about because, to make it in business (which being an artist is basically being an business in many respects), you have to diversify and branch out? Particularly, I am wondering if that is why you developed the Happiness of Pursuit festival. Speak to that a little if you would.

60 East: I would say I am naturally entrepreneurial, I always kinda had a business mentality and that’s probably because both my parents have always been their own bosses.  In 7th grade I had saved up enough money to buy a quarter ounce of weed, sold it and made $40 profit, kept repeating the cycle till I had enough to buy a half ounce then turned that into a full, etc and that basically got me through high school without having to have a regular job lol. Again, in high school I was the guy signing up to sell Herbal Life cuz I saw a commercial saying I could be a millionaire, lol. Also when I saw all my friends buying “white T’s” cuz they were in at the time, I ordered a box of 100 and started selling them for cheaper than the Liquor Store on the corner, lol. The festival is something completely different; I have always had a passion for event organizing and made a goal to throw a big show like 5 years ago, and last year the opportunity presented itself and I was able to make it happen.

NW: Man, that’s rad. I am a huge student Gary Vee, and so much of what he preaches just oozes out of that last answer! haha. What an emcee/poet’s name for an event too (Happiness of Pursuit) – clever flip on the words. While we are on the subject, when is the festival this year? Where? Who can we expect to experience there?

60 East: We will be having this years festival on October 6th, at the same location in Ontario, California. I am not allowed to say who we have on the bill so far, but I can say its going to be dope and we are definitely going bigger and better this year, with not only the lineup but all the activities and other elements we include in the event.

NW: Alright, let’s dive into what has put us both in this space, pulled each of us into the culture – the music. I first came across your music by way of your track, “The Origin”, which features West Coast signature sound rapper, Sly Boogy, who you mentioned earlier, and LA “underground” (for lack of a better term) legend, Blu. What’s it like to share time and space on an enduring piece of art with some pretty iconic names in hip hop?

60 East: It was great, Sly Boogy, as I said earlier, was one of my first heroes and was my first “big name” I was able to get on a song. Getting to build that relationship was dope, especially the timing because we got to do the song/video right before he went to prison. Same thing with Blu, who I have always been a fan of, and which was also a blessing 1. Because he was also a fan of Sly Boogy and had never worked with him prior to this and 2. because Blu is known for not doing a lot of videos personally and especially for other aritsts, so the fact that he blessed me with being in the video really spoke volumes to me about the type of dude he is.

P.S. and 3. He killed the track!

NW: That’s like one of those full circle moments on so many levels. I recognize that a lot of collaborations are done remotely with the amazing technology we have, but do you have a story of a time in the studio with one of your featured artists that stands out as particularly memorable?

60 East: Artists no, but the first time I went to record with my producer Omega, it was to a beat he had gave me called “Andy’s Song” and as I was recording the first verse I switched my voice to do a character in the song and he stopped the track and looked at me in an impressed shock, he said “I was going to kick you out of the studio if your shit was wack, but it looks like you get to stay,” lol I’ll never forget that, we been working ever since.

NW: And Skyzoo, too, on “Enemies 2 Friends”. That’s powerful. Both the connection and the song, haha. What was that like? To work with someone from the epicenter, the birthplace of hip hop, New York?

60 East:  It was dope, funny story, he actually recorded his verse to that song while staying at Tyrese’s house – Tyrese from the Fast and Furious lol. Anyway it was dope to connect with someone like Sky from the other side of the country that recognized the grind. While on tour with R.A. the Rugged Man, I had a day off in NYC and called and asked Sky if he would be down to do the video while I was in town. He said yes, and had us meet him in Brooklyn, which was my first time there. After the shoot, we went to a local bar and started talking hip hop for a few hours. It was a dope experience and I’ve been able to build with Sky ’til this day.

NW: Love it! Let’s talk production of the EP, your latest EP. I have been hearing Ariano’s name buzzing in different circles for a bit now, and your most recent offering, Circles (EP), is produced by him. How did your paths cross? What made him a good fit to produce the project? What can/should listeners expect from this project?

60 East: I was actually doing a live press interview, and he was doing an interview after me on the same show, so he was hanging out in the room listening and he heard something he liked, We connected in between shows and started building. At the time I met him, I was really interested in working with new producers who could offer sample free production so It made perfect sense to work together. Listeners can expect a new sound that I have not really delivered before, people that are familiar with Ariano may understand a bit more, but we definitely tried to do something different with this project.

NW: Sonically, Ariano’s genre-bending and blending production style pulled something different out of you than what your usual (gonna find a better word that “usual” – but you get me) sample-based production does. Tell us about the process. The challenges. The joys. Take some time to really delve into Circles.

60 East: It was great, like I said, I was kinda looking for someone to take me out of my box at the time and Ariano really did that. Being that we both have busy schedules, we were never in the studio together for the writing process of the project. He had sent me a bunch of tracks and I started writing to them and sending them back, we must have did like 20 tracks or something. All the songs were kinda different but as we started creating more specifically the concept of the record starting coming out and all the songs started to sound uniform. The writing process wasn’t easy; it took about 2 years to finally complete this project, because we both had so many other things going on and a lot of the tracks I would take long with because I wasn’t able to catch the flow or vibe of the track. Eventually when I started being able to adjust to whatever was getting thrown my way I realized I had became a better songwriter and had been developing my flow along the way also, now I feel more well rounded when approaching a song.

NW: That’s super interesting. Well, the progression is definitely noticeable. I want to touch on another aspect of you as an artist, the performer. I don’t know exactly why, but I have a sense that you have dope energy in a live setting. When, where, how can people catch you live from now through the end of the summer?

60 East:  I’ll be doing a few pop up shows around Southern California in May, I have a tour scheduled in June with Elzhi, but details are still getting confirmed, then I will be heading back out to Europe in July and doing a few dates with Devin the Dude along with some solo dates.

NW: Busy man. As we begin wrapping up, what’s something you’d like to share with hip hop?

60 East: My stories, my creativity, and my concepts.

NW: One emphasis of these interviews is to see a heightened level of unity in the West Coast hip hop community. Can you point to some other artists who you see as comrades and who you also see as helping to progress the scene?

60 East: I would say all the people at Platform Collection, they built up a team of like minded individuals who I feel are all contributing to the scene in their own way and creating lanes for others.

NW: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you? Any live shows coming up?

60 East: Readers should hit my website SixtyEast.net to stay updated with everything 60.


Find Circles EP:

60 East:
Instagram: @60east
Facebook: 60east909
Twitter: @60east909

Peace, Love & Hip Hop,

– Nate Whitsell