When it comes to cocaine and pop culture, one blow-snorting icon towers above all. In 1983's Scarface, Al Pacino played the iconic Tony Montana, a merciless, rags-to-riches coke kingpin who (spoiler alert) goes out in a blaze of gunfire and blood. Hip-hop worships the character for his killer instinct: Nas named a song after Tony's motto of “The world is yours,” and one prominent rapper even takes his name straight from the movie's title.
That said, La Coka Nostra weren't feeling the love in 2009. A Brand You Can Trust–the full-length debut from the hip-hop supergroup featuring members of House of Pain, Non Phixion, Limp Bizkit and Special Teamz–closes with a track called “Fuck Tony Montana.” As an unhinged, ominous beat blasts in, Ill Bill's verse is the first fired: “Fuck Tony Montana/We kill kids/If he did, he'd still be alive.” Goddamn.
“It's heavy drums, aggressive samples and aggressive rhyming style,” says Slaine (a.k.a. George Carroll Jr.), one of La Coka Nostra's MCs, of the group's signature sound. “It's the essence of hardcore hip-hop.”
La Coka Nostra began around 2006 when DJ Lethal (best known for his turntable/production work in House of Pain and Limp Bizkit) started working with rappers Slaine, Optimus and Big Left. Instead of working on three different solo projects, Lethal brought them all into the studio together. The rappers recorded some 23 songs in nine days–and had a lot of fun. One night, Danny Boy, another House of Pain member, called the studio. “He's like, 'How's everything going over there?' and Lefty's like, 'It's going great. We got a regular La Cosa Nostra up in here,'” recalls Slaine, 37, referencing the term for the Italian mafia. “And Danny's like, 'Yeah, if you motherfuckers don't chill out, they're going to call you La Coka Nostra.'”
As the rappers and producers within this overarching circle began to mingle, La Coka Nostra went from inside joke to official clique, with Slaine, Everlast, Ill Bill, Danny Boy, DJ Lethal and Big Left forging the group in 2006. (Left and Everlast have since left.) A rapper with fewer years and less prominence beneath his belt than some others, Slaine relishes hanging with his mentors and concentrating on speaking from La Coka's perspective. “With the solo stuff, I might do [something] that's a little more vulnerable or personal,” he says. “It's like in life, when you're hanging out with your friends, you're not going to be always talking about your own personal problems, your own personal mind state. You are in that gang mentality, where you're having a good time and just wildin' out.”
That's the upside of catching these rappers. From their similar backgrounds and sounds, they come up with insane, violent, drug-loving imagery that'll make you think, “Wow”–the type of act that says, “Fuck Tony Montana” when everyone else looks up to the guy. Its members might be divided across cities–Boston, New York City and Los Angeles, at the least–and projects, and activity might ebb and flow, but it feels as if you're hearing old buddies kill time together.
“We all have our own lives and our own solo stuff. When it feels like the right time to come back together and work on some La Coka stuff or tour, well, that's when we get back and do it,” Slaine says. He tells of a recent, impromptu La Coka stint in Australia that took priority when he was about to tour for his own new record. He didn't mind, he says. “To me, it's all the same family.”
La Coka Nostra perform with the Psycho Realm and the Beatnuts at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $25. All ages.