Three is the magic number. And somewhere in this hip-hop soul community was born three: Serk Spliffton, Ray Wright and Manu Li — Warm Brew.
Despite the reference, Warm Brew aren’t exactly part of the De La lineage. They find themselves direct descendants of West Coast icons like Snoop, Quik, $hort and Nate Dogg. And while they bump Lil Boosie, Outkast (Serk is a huge Big Boi fan) and Nas just as much as anyone, their music is freshly-bottled West Coast. It goes down smooth, gives you a good buzz and gets your body loose. It’s music both for the hip-hop intellectual and the youngin with no reverence for history, too lazy or unwilling to Google the name Dr. Dre. It is the future of Golden State rap.
Though their sound has a great deal of mass appeal, the group’s music is most at home in Venice and Santa Monica — two small neighboring bayside towns in southern California once home to the famous Dogtown skate crew — where the group touches down after crashing any and all house parties.
The trio formed in Santa Monica/Venice around 2007, one year before they all graduated from Santa Monica High School. Their first official release, Natural Spirit, dropped in June 2010, and they’ve been on a roll ever since, releasing better music and performing at bigger venues (they recently opened for Schoolboy Q at the Troubadour).
Both on and off the mic, all three guys are candid jokesters who, when it really comes down to it, can still drop some knowledge on you. And though they all have a different story as to how the group’s name came about, Serk’s is the best: “Everybody is going to drink a warm beer if they really want to get hurt. So you’re going to listen to us if you want to have a good time.”
As far as formal music training the group has very little, if any. Manu may or may not have attended music class while in school. Serk jokes that he “played the bass one time.” And Ray once attempted to play the trombone: “[I] always wanted to play the saxophone [like] Lisa from ‘The Simpsons,’ [but] they told me I had to start with the clarinet,” Ray says. “I thought that shit was for girls so I tried to play the trombone, but that shit stunk, literally.”
Since Natural Spiritthe group has dropped a self-titled EP, in addition to their most recent project, Kottabos (an ancient Greek drinking game), released gratis via the group’s bandcamp this past May.
Kottabos is 12 tracks of straight killer and no filler — the perfect Tecate shotgun (ask Manu). With smooth funk/jazz sample-heavy beats provided by frequent collaborators like DeUno and Danny Dee, each member rides the beat like a fresh set of white walls in three-wheel motion gliding onto Pico Boulevard.
With Ray channeling the spirit of Bone Thugs, Manu playing the role of Phife Dawg and Serk’s smooth playalistic lyricism, the group tackles everything under the Cali sun: women, weed, brew, education, the police, the government and the problems facing their generation. It’s all there. And, while all of the lyrics are on point, it’s Wright’s self-taught patent G-crooning that makes each track feel whole: “I always sang in the car and the shower, but never took it seriously … So I guess it did start with Warm Brew. [I] got a little more serious when I realized I could actually kind of do the shit.”
In addition to hustling their music, the group has also released collaboration T-shirts with two local businesses. One with Gilbert’s El Indio, a favorite Mexican spot for the group and Santa Monica locals, and the other with streetwear brand Those Folks. (You can also catch Gilbert’s in the group’s video for their breezy single, “Doin’ It Right,” in which the group dresses up in full mariachi outfits).
As far as the future is concerned, all three members earnestly want to continue their progress (“Casket Closed” and “Think About It” serve as case in point). Their next EP, Sippin All Day Last Night, is dropping soon and they have two shows at the beginning of next month, one in Venice and the other in Malibu. When asked why they haven’t been up to the Bay, Serk responded, “It’s crazy we haven’t come up there yet.” Once the new EP drops, maybe they will.
So, why take a sip? Because while blog darlings like Joey Bada$$ and A$AP Rocky are banking on comparisons to their predecessors, Warm Brew aren’t trying to bottle nostalgia. They are in their own lane, making the type of music that inspired them. “I wouldn’t say we model ourselves after anyone exactly,” says Manu. “We can do some of the new beats and some of the new styles, but we’re part of the old school hip-hop type of thing … [We’re out] to make some songs that were never made, some classics that weren’t there yet.”
Warm Brew are creating music for both the initiated and uninitiated. They are making modern day West Coast classics (see “WB” or “Creep,” the groups refreshing interpolation of the TLC hit), whether you love Pac and G-funk or those words are foreign to you. Warm Brew is a locally brewed drink for the people. So raise a bottle and get down with the new likwit crew. Their “game is for all.”
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