On the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue resides the building that had long-inspired youth of color and impoverished people in the form of a tape, CD or vinyl. This building, The World Famous V.I.P. Records, showed the people of Long Beach to dream big in the music business, starting 40 years ago this month, on June 15, 1978.
The story of how a young Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. – gang affiliated and often incarcerated – rose to fame epitomized this dream. In 1993, V.I.P. Records was put on the map when Broadus, better known as Snoop Dogg, released his music video “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” where he’s seen standing atop of the building rapping next to V.I.P.’s iconic vinyl sign.
While many regard V.I.P. Records as a milestone in Long Beach (so much so that the city proclaimed it a historic landmark), the store’s famous sign was finally taken down this past January despite a long battle from the store’s owner and supporters. In recent years, many worried a legacy might have been lost.
‘Ain’t Nobody Messing With the V.I.P.’
What was initially a record store in “eastside Long Beach,” the label ascribed to areas east of the 710 freeway at the time, turned into a place for youth and aspiring artists, and the neighborhood appreciated it.
For the soft-spoken-yet-tough “Martin Luther King Jr. baby,” V.I.P. Records owner Kelvin Anderson shined a give-and-get respect motto for the community to follow during testing times — including during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.
It was around 1 p.m. on the second day of the riots when Anderson saw a crowd approaching a liquor store across the street. After seeing the crowd loot the liquor store, he closed the front gate of his store, and a man approached him and said something that reaffirmed the respect the community had for his record store.
“Man you got nothing to worry about,” the man told Anderson, “ain’t nobody messing with the V.I.P.”
Anderson’s love for Long Beach translated into a recording studio — a creative space that aimed to keep people out of trouble.Even before the riots, the era had been among the most turbulent for Long Beach. Gangs were warring over turf, families were jailed, youth were fatally caught in the violence and crack reigned as king, residents recalled in interviews. But in the midst of all the trauma stood a music sanctuary.
“I opened the studio because of violence,” said Anderson.
42-year-old Steven Richardson grew up in Long Beach’s classic “eastside” where he saw all of the need for a studio. “I learned how to dodge when I was about seven or eight because guys would shoot semi-automatic weapons,” he said.
Making short pauses and letting out long sighs, Richardson recalled it all, the Latino factions versus Cambodian gangs, the Crips fighting against others, each vying in a battle royale of survival, something that Richardson described as “warrior culture.”
“Young men have this angst built up and if they don’t have the opportunity or means, they go out and do whatever they need to do because they need to survive,” he said. “Guns and access to them was paramount and that’s what people used to prove their point,” he said.
Inside V.I.P.’s doors was a safe haven for gangster rap fans: kids dancing, singing, rapping and recording at the studio. Anderson said he strived to make sure that the safe space served its purpose, leading to the emergence of renowned hip-hop artists such as Snoop, Warren G and Nate Dogg.
“I’m sure that I kept some people out of jail and probably out of the cemetery back then because V.I.P. was kind of like a no-fight zone, and we had people from all different neighborhoods,” Anderson said.
For some, it may come as irony that the epicenter of gangster rap and G-funk was the safest place for youth to crowd; the genre was blamed for much of the decade’s violence, including the Columbine High School mass shooting.
In actuality, the store remained, in residents’ words, a “mecca” for gospel music and knowledge.
“Culture around V.I.P. was not only the gang culture,” Richardson said, “it was just people that loved music, that loved our city, that loved our community and gave knowledge to our community to uplift.”
Preserving a Legacy
Vinny Martinez, a 25-year-old music producer from the “eastside,” walked by on a recent fall day to the now empty V.I.P. Records building and the other businesses surrounding it. When he was younger, the store was the go-to place for him and his friends.
“It’s about the preservation of the spot,” Martinez said. “Not what it was, but what it needed to be.”
With a combination of rising rent and the music industry’s switch to digital, which prompted a decline in sales, V.I.P Records owner Kelvin Anderson downsized his store and moved to another space within the same plaza in 2012.
In recent months, he has led a popular effort to preserve his store’s famous sign and oppose having the store’s original location replaced with a 7-Eleven convenience store.
“Gentrification happening 2 the original SnoopDogg, [Warren G] home by 7eleven,” read a tweet from V.I.P. Records.
After a long battle, to his supporters’ dismay, 7-Eleven is now in business there, though Anderson continues to break ground in other ways.
The Long Beach City Council unanimously proclaimed his sign as a historic landmark in December after Anderson applied for status in June last year.
So far, the city has given $50,000 to Anderson, which he is using to move forward with his vision for a new arts and technology center equipped with a music studio, radio station, and gift shop, even if not to be founded at its ideal, original location. That new “multimedia and business incubator” center is at 2242 Long Beach Boulevard, north of Hill Street.
“VIP family we have secured a 5000 sq foot space 4 A VIP Multi Media/Creative Arts center & business incubator,” read another tweet from V.I.P. “We need you for a fundraising concert for the center. Let’s invest in our youth!”
In the tweet were tagged familiar names: Snoop, DJ Quik, Daz Dillinger, Warren G and others.
Crystal Niebla contributed to this report and provided all photos.