Gangbangin' doesn't excite Brotha Lynch Hung anymore, nor does the topic of his cult following, one that's grown exponentially throughout his 27-year career. At 42, the seminal Californian rapper lights up when talking about his upcoming barbecue cookbook or the screenplays he's working on. But make no mistake -- Lynch, who goes by the name Kevin Mann when he's not on stage -- is more popular and motivated than he's ever been, currently showcasing his talents on Strange Music's "Independent Powerhouse" tour.
"I've been around people who weren't inspired, who were ready to give up, and that kind of weighs me down, so being around these young guns and really getting out inspires me," Mann says, backstage at Tucson's Rialto Theatre. "I'm ready to go home and do another album now."
Mann is startlingly humble, hair tucked neatly under a black do-rag, the occasional smile crossing his face, and affable eye contact that's averted when his legendary status is brought up. His mannerisms are juxtaposed against the character that he assumes when rapping -- one of hyperviolence and gore, the sort of horror film fodder that's been a staple of his work for the majority of his career.
Though the mainstream rap press isn't proclaiming it, we never would have known the likes of Odd Future, Danny Brown, or virtually any rapper that adopts the "horrorcore" label if it weren't for Mann. His conceptual approach to his work, from 1997's stoner classic Loaded to his recent Coathanga Strangla trilogy, is nothing but ambitious, even when he isn't backed by a major label. Now that he's found a home on independent giant Strange Music, however, Mann is seeing a resurgence in fans unlike at any other point in his career, regardless of the big names, like Brown, who now cite him as an influence.
"The new fans that Strange gave me, it lets me know that I still have it," he says. "These kids could easily not know my older stuff and think I'm brand new. They're showing me I still got it."
With new fans come a crop of talent attempting to follow in Mann's sizable footsteps. Such an act came knocking in the form of Arthur Lea III, known as Trizz, a 21-year-old Compton-based actor-cum-rapper whom Mann has taken under his wing. Currently with Mann on what is being billed the Strange Music tour, Lea's found both a mentor and a brother in Mann.
"He looks at me and sees a younger self," Lea says, seated beside Mann. "This is fam; we treat each other like blood. If it wasn't fam, I wouldn't be here."
It's not as if Mann is red-shirting Lea, either. The rapid-fire young gun takes the stage with Mann every night, keeping up with him bar for bar. This kind of interaction has cultivated Lea's stage presence, making Mann's tutelage a necessary trial by fire. "If it wasn't for him, he wouldn't be here," Mann says of Lea. "I've tried to help people out in the past and it wasn't worth it -- this is the last guy I'll help."
Maybe it's the product of finding himself almost three decades into his career or maybe it's a sense of inherent altruism, but Mann has seemed to change his approach. On Mannibalector, the latest Brotha Lynch Hung album, Mann's rapping is just as fluid, Californian, and vicious as ever, but the Crip-repping that's been consistent with Brotha Lynch Hung's character is missing. There's a decisive reason for that.
"I don't throw the gang-banging stuff on there anymore, I didn't realize how idiotic that was until I got older, and how much that could put you in danger," Mann says. "I felt like I could win [fans] over anyway without that stuff, so I kind of left it alone."
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It's a conscious shift forward in Mann's style, but there's no mistaking his change for complacency. Fourteen albums deep, a series of record deals come and gone, and a genre unto his own are just a few hallmarks of Brotha Lynch Hung's legacy. Why is it then, that his name isn't listed in the pantheon of greats, alongside Wu Tang and Nas?
Mann himself doesn't even know, as he simply shakes his head before raising his head, jutting his chin out and fixing a steely gaze on his future. His plans are far from being finished, no matter who's looking up to him now. "I want to be mentioned. I'm mentioned, but with certain people I'm not mentioned. I haven't accomplished that to me yet. Until then, I'm gonna be writing that heat."