A word about the passing of KMG the Illustrator of Pomona CA. Born Kevin M. Gulley he co-founded the now mostly forgotten, massively underrated hip hop group Above the Law with Gregory F. Hutchison aka. Big Hutch aka. Cold 187um, Go-Mack and DJ Total K-OSS in the mid-eighties. Released on NWA co-founder Eazy-E’s label Ruthless Records in 1989, their debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers is a classic not only of West Coast gangsta rap, but hip hop more broadly. It remains the group’s most innovative effort, not just because of its musical qualities — 1994’s Uncle Sam’s Curse is arguably as good a record in those terms — but also for its pioneer status.

Above the Law joined the Ruthless roster with a sound that was simply more sophisticated than that of the NWA records. Along NWA’s production genius Dr. Dre’s work on the debut album of the D.O.C., No One Can Do It Better (1989), Livin’ Like Hustlers is for many when West Coast, or at least LA hip hop found its signature sound. A sound that spawned a thousand imitators. The beginnings of what came to be known as G-Funk. A swaggering, more sweeping appropriation of the breakbeat-based, largely soul-oriented New York sound of the eighties, it developed into the hydroponically enhanced synthetic funk associated ever since with West Coast rap.

Dre had a hand in the production of Livin’ Like Hustlers, but Cold 187um’s contribution remains underrated. If one pays attention to the refinement of his sound on the two follow-up albums, Black Mafia Life (1992) and Uncle Sam’s Curse — neither of which Dre had anything to do with — it becomes apparent that he has a claim to the title of Godfather of G-Funk.

On the vocal side, there was KMG — the baritone to Cold 187um’s tenor, the Starsky to his Hutch. KMG would bring the dark, earthbound edge to 187’s more ambitious and ostentatious — and occasionally also more vulnerable — reach. There’s a blunt poetry to KMG’s writing, exemplified perfectly in the line “Untouchable, on the country streets/On the corners where death and destruction meet” from 1989’s “Untouchable” (listen at top). It says all, anchoring the group’s self-mythologizing in the 80s crack epidemic with poetic simplicity.

One of their best joint performances is on Livin’ Like Hustlers second-to-last song, “Flow On,” on which KMG opens and closes with pieces of urban wisdom in the tradition of Iceberg Slim in a way that would become a staple in hip hop — perhaps most authoritatively with Big Rube’s sermonizing on Outkast and other Dungeon Family records. These words bookend two verses on which he and 187 pass the mic organically to build a rousing statement on the origins in lived reality of their larger-than-life posturing:

People say we have such strange vocabulary/ To find these words you need a underground dictionary/ Plus trey lifetimes of the inner city knowledge/And to get this, boy, you see, you can’t go to college/Now see, you gotta be around when the sh*t goes down/Not only spectating, man, you gotta throw down…

…and then going on to, well, posture on that basis, 187 ending with the obvious point that he’s a “plain muthafucka” and is “in demand” — one of the most perfect summations of the appeal of gangsta rap and its dark flip of hip hop’s foundational interpretation of America’s ideal of self-made success. And fittingly, the song ends up by referencing negatively the quintessential rags-to-riches narrative in rap, Eric B and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” (1987), with KMG nailing the irreconcilability of the ideal with the reality of black America. An iconic moment in hip hop, starkly refuting the optimistic political discourse of earlier generations.

187 asks, “yo, what happened to peace?” KMG answers: “Fuck peace, I’m outta here.”