The first-ever Black & Gold anthem, “My Home,” has been immortalized in Club lore by supporters and fans alike. What began as a first-of-its kind collaboration between LAFC and Watts, California native rapper, record producer, songwriter, and entrepreneur Brandon "Stix" Salaam-Bailey, has blossomed into an 10-track project titled For Los Angeles. that was released on November 24 and is available wherever music is sold. We recently spoke to Stix to check-in on what first brought him to the Club, creating the album, and what is in store moving forward, and more.
For more on Stix and his Think Watts Foundation visit thinkwattsfoundation.org.
You just dropped your latest project For Los Angeles, and you can find the spirit of LAFC completely woven through it. Before we get into it, talk a little about how you first linked up with the Club in the first place, what was that like and what drew you in?
STIX: “What started it was I performed at a concert called Krush Groove and I wore the LAFC away kit, the white joint, and Timothy Nickloff of adidas spotted it out. He then hit up [LAFC Executive Vice President, Brand & Community] Rich Orosco and was like ‘Yo this dude Stix, you guys better holler at him right now - he's a staple in LA, does great stuff in the community, but not only that, he's a dope rapper and he probably doesn’t even know what jersey he has on!’ From there [Manager, Brand & Community, Merchandise] Ben Chi reached out and said ‘Have you ever been to a soccer match?’ I never had. I got the invite and I found myself talking to Tony Toledo of WSS in the Field Club and at some point, Tony points out Rich Orosco. Rich goes ‘Yooooo Stix, welcome!’
Just from that moment on I just loved all the energy. Then we walked out onto the pitch while the game was going on and the first thing I noticed was the 3252 chanting the entire match. It was just electric. At that moment, I realized that I’d never experienced anything like this in my life. I'm a big on basketball, I've played baseball and I've been to football games. I've been pretty much been around the world watching them at different levels too, and I had never experienced anything like the 3252 in my life. I knew I needed to be a part of it. I didn’t even know the sport, but I wanted to learn the sport now, and I just wanted to be a part of whatever this culture is.
That was all due to me wearing an LAFC away kit, it started from there, and then the 3252 was the icing on the cake. That energy, the family, the camaraderie, the songs, the drums and the beer in the air after every goal - it was just tons of experiences in one.”
This isn’t your first foray into creating music around the Club – you can find your initial LAFC Anthem, “My Home” on For Los Angeles. Was an EP something you had been planning since the first release? How did this album come about?
STIX: “It started with ‘My Home’ and then the Spanish version, ‘Mi Casa,’ and I didn't have any intentions to do an album after that. It was just something that represented my culture. I've consistently been an advocate for trying to build a bridge from the black community to the sport of soccer for a bit now. I just feel like there needs to be a bigger and better marriage between both worlds. Then, I also wanted to create a bridge from the hip hop community to the sport of soccer. Football being the biggest sport in the world, there's no reason why the black community wouldn’t want to participate. So, I just wanted to start creating those bridges, those pathways, those relationships between both worlds. As time moves forward, I always feel like hip hop is a perfect starting point to introduce cultures. To bring culture to whatever it is that we're bringing culture to.
After I did ‘My Home,’ [at home games] I would always hear new chants. I would learn all of the chants and then I’d hear a new one and think, this sounds like a fire song! Then even the slogans and taglines - shoulder to shoulder, one by one, street by street and block by block; those sound like song titles. There’s already woven into the Club what could potentially be dope art pieces and LAFC embodies art. It embodies community, creativity and innovation more than any other sports franchise in global sports.
So, I just followed the lead. After every couple of matches I would think of a new song, I just had never recorded anything. I would record the chants in my phone and keep building better relationships with the 3252, and after every new relationship it would inspire me more to do what I do best and that's creating music. Then when I was in the studio I just kept thinking of the Club and I kept thinking of 3252 and the North End and sounds just started to come out. By the time I looked up, I had like 10 songs done all that support LAFC. This is just me being organic and natural. So, I said man, I might as well put the album out! I might as well put a project out that represents all not only all of these songs that I’ve been recording, but just the culture in general and here's another way to introduce both worlds.”
You can hear 3252 references all throughout the album. “Dale” and “Somos” open with the sweet sounds of the North End. “Roll Call” features shoutouts to different supporters’ groups - “Can’t forget the Empire Boys, Expo Originals bringing all the noise – feeling kinda Lucky, bringing all the Tigers.” Talk a little about the 3252’s influence on your work.
STIX: “Over the last couple of years, we've been in the trenches together. Shoutout to Hank and the LAFC Krew, we've done Christmas toy drives together along with other supporters’ groups joining in and helping out with Think Watts Foundation initiatives. Shoutout to Mo from District 9 Ultras, shoutout to Jimmy from the Black Army and all of the other homies. I mean, I call them family now, all of the other supporter group . The Tigers is another big one, we share a common love for hip hop and when we get together, we’re always talking about who's the best MC. I have a different relationship with each group, but it's all one group, and it's all love. Love for the culture, for each other and for the Club.
The 3252, they deserve to be recognized, they deserve to be revered, acknowledged for all of their hard work. I feel like 3252 is the reason why the Club is what it is today. Every win at the Banc when we're at home I think has a direct correlation to the energy that 3252 brings. It’s the epitome of homecourt advantage. It's just amazing man, this is almost like a token of my appreciation to the 3252 for what they mean not only to the Club, but what they mean to the community. They do a lot of work in the communities too, and I mean all those supporter groups. That's why I even started off with trying to capture every supporter group I could get access to in the ‘My Home’ video. I just have a huge appreciation for everyone, all of the men and women, especially the women who are the real backbones. I just wanted to show my appreciation by creating this body of work. As they say, ‘there’s no place like home.’ Not only that, when you’ve got all of your brothers and sisters their chanting you on, that’s a whole other type of energy that’s projected.”
You reference more than just the 3252 on For Los Angeles. You also reference other front office members. I never would have thought I’d hear, “I count the money like I’m Jim Bailey,” the Executive Vice President & Treasurer at LAFC. Talk a little more about your relationship with the LAFC Front Office.
STIX: “Every front office staff executive that I've met have all have had great energy. It's never been a race thing, a discrimination thing, a classism thing - ever. Whenever I'm around these guys, it's always been love, hugs, handshakes. Like I met Jim Bailey and I didn’t even know what his role was but when I met him, I was like man, I want to take a picture with you, you're important! He started laughing, he was shocked, and just from right there it was all love. So, from then on, every time I would see him at a match, I would say what's up. I don't know how many rappers that he's cool with, but he can definitely say ‘Stix is one of those guys.’
Then everybody from Rich Orosco’s side and on the content side like Marcus McDougald. Robby Gomez in ticketing, Kristen Kuhn in partnerships, Aida Morrow and Alina Beruff on the community and LAFC Foundation side. Not only them, but on the highest levels with managing owners like Larry Berg and Bennet Rosenthal. Even Larry Berg’s wife Allison, just everyone has this great energy about them. I can text Larry about anything, whether it's about a Tik Tok investment, the Club or how we can get black people into soccer. Even things like getting more black people into finance, we have a multitude of conversations. I played a small role in assisting with a written piece in LALA Magazine on Nipsey Hussle for his wife Alison, she did an amazing job. How many times do you hear artists that have that type of relationship with executives or executive staff members? It’s just a great group of leaders, that’s what makes an organization. John Thorrington, Will Kuntz, I can keep naming names as they as they come about. It’s not all the time that we to get to have conversations directly with those that have the ability to push change, so shoutouts to all of them, a great staff and great team.”
I see that you have features on “Shoulder 2 Shoulder” from LAFC family including Kim Caldwell – Harvey, the wife of LAFC defender Jordan Harvey. How did that come about?
STIX: “It’s funny, I think I saw Kim sing on Instagram one time or when she sung a little bit on the show that she was on, and I was like holy s***, you're amazing! This was like a long time ago. She told me, ‘Yeah I used to sing back in the day, but you know, my career path changed.’ I said no, we’re going to do a song. She told me she was down whenever we can get to it. Time went by, and the perfect opportunity came when I ran into Elijah Grae.
Elijah is an avid LAFC fan, supporter and season ticket holder, and we had a mutual relationship. Elijah used to be in a group called Drop City Yacht Club that was signed to Interscope Records and one of my really close friends was one of the producers and a member of that group. Once we started to identify all the musically inclined individuals that were at every match - I was like man we need to create a world of LAFC music. Maybe we create our own playlists and do our own concerts just with the multitude of artists within the supporters’ groups or that just appreciate the club in general.
As I began recording song after song, I just called Kim one day and was like yo… I called Elijah and said … I want to do a song, shoulder to shoulder, or something like that. We all got in the studio and then boom it happened. Then with Elijah, he’s a feature on a few others records, it was just natural. We all just wanted to show our love for the Club.”
This is a tough one question, but do you have a favorite track on For Los Angeles? If you do, why?
STIX: “I have tracks that I listen to more than the others. I don't want to necessarily call it my favorite, but it's one that I just feel like I want to do a video for. ‘3 Stripes’ is one of them. Number one, because it represents women at a very high level. I shoutout Cassie, Jimmy's [President of the 3252] wife, who beats on those drums at every match. That's why I say ‘this beat sounds like Cassie on the drums, let it rock.’ Then I shoutout a few female emcees in there, and then there's a line following that where I say ‘women are gods.’ They don’t call it Mother Earth for no reason. I also shout out Adidas you that’s why I called it ‘3 stripes.’ They've been supportive of Stix not only the artist, but of the Think Watts Foundation.
Another record is ‘Roll Call,’ because I get to shoutout the homies in the North End, and some. That sample ‘Revolver,’ that plays at the beginning of the track, I heard that song for the first time at the Banc during a match. It was during a rain delay; I don't know what was going on where there was a brief pause, and that song came on and the entire stadium was singing. It was LOUD. I was like oh my G-d, I’ve got to do a song to this, this is crazy. It represents a certain Hispanic culture, that world of music. I grew a love and appreciation for it from my friend Julio when we were working on my house. Then when I heard it at the Banc it just reminded me, it was kind of nostalgic of that moment and then as much love and appreciation I have for Julio in kind of educating me on the culture and kind of where it comes from - it just brought that feeling again I was like yeah I'm going to do a song with this.”
This year has been challenging for everyone, and being that a lot of what you do revolves around community support and activism, how have you and your foundation Think Watts been handling all of what 2020 has brought on?
STIX: “Actually, it's gotten busier, because I stepped up to the call and started to serve the community more as things got worse. Not a lot of people are willing to get in the trenches and get in the mud, get dirty, when there's times like this. I was one of those people and one of those organizations who answered the call. From food drives, to essential drives, to rental assistance, to financial literacy education, school drives, just anything I could figure out to support the community and give back to the community during these times of need. So, I actually got busier. The goal is always to impact those who are less fortunate and create opportunities for those who want to seek opportunities. It's been difficult financially for a lot of people, and not only just financially and economically, but health-wise. It’s been very difficult to manage and maintain and stay healthy during these crazy times. Dealing with the loss of family members and friends due to this crazy time has also been difficult in regard to maintain mental stability. In all though, I'm excited and it's fun for me to do what I do in the community man it's great to serve the people.”
Hoping for the best, as we are all, that we’ll be back at the Banc cheering on the Club soon. What are looking forward to next year for the Club and what is next for you personally?
STIX: “First, I'm looking for the Cup. I want the MLS Cup. I want the Supporter’ Shield, the Cup, the Golden Boot and MLS Player of the Year. I want it all in one house. Personally though, we're working on something special between the Think Watts Foundation, LAFC and LAFC Academy. It’s a little premature, but I think it's safe to say that we're going to come together around something like Think Watts FC, a youth club that would be free for community members. I'm going to be heavily targeting the African American community to invite them into the sport of soccer and invite them into the culture and the experience of soccer.
That will come along with community outreach, community programming, pathways into jobs and just a pathway into the sport for boys and girls. We're looking at bringing on Angel City FC as well to be a part of the initiative. That's really what I'm looking forward to. When we can be in person again, I just want to bring the experience, I want people to feel the same feel the same thing I feel when I walk through the stadium. I want people to experience the same thing I experience when I see 3252 in the North End. I want people to meet and understand the type of people that are part of the leadership team. I want everybody to see who they are and meet those people and give them hope because what they do is they produce hope in other people. I want people to think, ‘oh I can do this.’ Also just want to keep paving the way and showing other franchises on how to engage community and build something impactful for years to come.”