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Los Angeles, California, United States | INDIE

Los Angeles, California, United States | INDIE
Band Hip Hop World


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Jack and older brother Duke make up the hip-hop group that has long reigned as the undisputed king of the Los Angeles underground scene, cultivating an army of devoted fans known as the Sick Soldiers.

The first seeds of Psycho Realm were sown in the tough downtown Pico-Union neighborhood, right across the street from Doheny Park. First-generation Americans and the eldest two of the four Gonzalez boys, Jack and Gustavo, a.k.a. “Duke,” grew up in the contentious neighborhood in the mid- and late-1980s.

“Our side of town is the ‘Sick Side’ of town. They have the South Side, North Side, East Side, whatever. Our side is the Sick Side,” Jack explains over a lunch of Argentine Lomo and Mimosas on Hollywood’s Melrose Avenue one recent Sunday, fresh off a series of concert dates in Italy.

The patriarch of the Gonzalez family came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 15 and supported his family by painting cars. Their house was filled with music: classic oldies, which surface prominently in Psycho Realm’s tracks, along with regional Mexican music and giants of the 1960s and ’70s like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix.

Immersed in hip-hop as a middle-school student, Jack’s neighborhood friend, Yonjo, got ahold of a record featuring a guy out of Miami rapping in Spanish. They threw it on the turntable and, inspired by what they heard, the boys wrote a Spanglish rap about all of the friends they grew up with and the growing specter of neighborhood gang warfare that would crest just a few years later in the early 1990s.

Older brother Duke was attending Cal State Northridge (CSUN) at the time, and Jack and Yonjo made the trip out one weekend to see Latin hip-hoppers A Lighter Shade of Brown play the on-campus pub. When the following act was late to the stage, a deejay friend of Duke’s threw on an instrumental beat and persuaded Jack and Yonjo to get on stage. Their song about the neighborhood characters got the crowd going crazier than the headlining act, and Jack was hooked.

Eventually, Yonjo dropped out to work for his family’s business, Duke got in on the act, and his days at CSUN soon came to an end as well. “I think he went with the intention of doing something, but didn’t know what he wanted to do,” says Jack. According to his little brother, Duke spent most of those two years with his ‘79 Regal backed up to the door of his dorm room, juicing up the batteries on his hydraulics with free electricity, courtesy of the Cal State University system. When the party was over, he left.

By now Jack was attending the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies’ (LACES) magnet high school Mid-City. Always a talented writer, he once won an essay contest for an opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union, but those plans were derailed by the ill-timed collapse of communism. Jack also played first-chair trumpet in the band and rubbed elbows in Miss Cox’s music class with Lucas MacFadden (a.k.a. DJ Cut Chemist of Jurassic 5, Ozomatli and the Brainfreeze projects with DJ Shadow), and a certain actor you may have heard of named Leonardo DiCaprio.

Jack admits that he and his boys used to give Leo a hard time, but when they ran into each other years later at a Playboy magazine party, there were no hard feelings. “He was like, ‘Hey, your music’s tight.’ I was like, ‘You’re acting’s dope,’” Jack remembers.

After graduating from LACES, Jack also took a stab at higher education, attending Santa Monica College on scholarship, taking random courses for credit like weight training. “My dad always wanted us to do the college thing,” he says. “Get a good job, make eighty-, a hundred-thousand-dollars a year. Live the good life, you know?” But with an infant daughter to support (he’s now the proud father of five girls) and a waning interest in academics, Jack decided that his energy was better spent working and nurturing Psycho Realm’s music.

About that time, Psycho Realm caught what could be considered the band’s big break. It was 1993 and they were playing a free “End Barrio Warfare” show at the Olvera Street Plaza downtown, which happened to be attended by B-Real of Cypress Hill. B liked what he heard, met with Jack and Duke after the show, and eventually signed Psycho Realm to his production company and the Ruffhouse/Columbia/Sony label, mentoring the fledgling duo. “He was a good mentor,” says Jack. “He helped us structure our songs more.
Live shows, he taught us how to work the crowd.”

B-Real was so impressed with Psycho Realm that he actually wanted to join the group and make it a trio, but Jack and Duke were reluctant to let anyone else in the fold. “We had the mentality of the old rock bands: If you can’t do an album on your own, you ain’t shit,” says Jack. The brothers told B-Real they would pass, but he was persistent. “We told him if you’re going to be in the group, you’ve got to do all the promotional stuff, too. You don’t get superstar status. And he was down with it, so we wer