Partying in LA With Germany's Most Notorious Rapper
Police fear him, women love him, and Americans have no idea what the fuck he's saying. A behind-the-scenes look at Gzuz's wild-ass trip to Compton.
All photos by Pascal Kerouche
A version of this article originally appeared on Noisey Germany.
Pascal Kerouche was born in Bremervörde, Germany in 1983. Today, he lives in Hamburg and has been working as a professional photographer since 2004. Over the years, he’s become the go-to guy for many German and international artists, and travels the world shooting rap stars like Snoop Dogg, DJ Khaled, and Kanye West. Pascal has published one book so far, Snapshot Stories, another one, Zwei Null Eins Sieben, is currently in the making.
These days, Pascal focuses on touring and working with Hamburg’s own 187 Strassenbande (187 Street Gang), a rap collective that features Bonez MC, Gzuz, and others. For his column on Noisey Germany, he takes us behind the scenes of the video shoot to Gzuz’s latest single “Warum,” which was filmed in LA.
It’s March 31, 2018. Bonez, Gzuz, Maxwell, Sa4, LX and Frost are standing in front of 13,000 people on the stage of the sold-out Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany. The members of 187 Strassenbande have their backs turned toward the audience, the arena is shaking, and everyone is looking in my direction as I take an obligatory group photo. It’s the last show of the tour, and we were traveling for a total of 31 days. But there’s not much time to relax: Gzuz’s second solo album Wolke 7 (“ Cloud 9”) is about to drop, and we’re right in the thick of its promo phase.
Taking a break would be pretty nice right about right now, if not a bit of sun at the very least. After visiting LA in 2017 for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, Bonez fell in love with the flair of the city. Sun, wide streets, delicious food, and legal weed—what more could a German rap collective want? Gzuz, on the other hand, has never been in the States but is totally hyped about going, especially to New York. But it’s freezing there right now. I’m a frequent guest in the US, and was most recently there to photograph DJ Khaled. So we decide to move the promo phase to LA and film the album’s third video there. After all, after the WorldStarHipHop stunt, we’ve got to stay on top of the game.
But before we can head out, we have a scheduled video shoot for “Drück Drück”. We shot some of the footage for the second single’s video in passing—one part in Mannheim, another in Berlin. The final part we’ll shoot during two days in Hamburg after finishing the tour. The next day we’ll be flying business class from London to LA. If you ever have the “pleasure” of flying with Gzuz and Bonez, I only recommend one thing: don’t sit in the middle. And no, it’s not possible to balance a gin and tonic on the partitions between the seats. Even if your name’s Bonez.
Once we get to LA, the first thing we have to take care of is the finalization of the video for “Drück Drück.” So we spend the first few days cutting the video. All while not even really having a legit place to stay, hustling from hotel to hotel until we finally find the perfect Airbnb. As soon as we’ve settled in, we start shooting for “Warum.”
Things in LA happen a little slower, especially when you’re reliant on somebody else. The weather is always great, so everyone’s fine with chilling and doing nothing. But the distances between places are so great that it takes forever to get even the smallest thing done. You take care of two things tops, and then the day’s already over. Plus, the sun sets around 6:30PM—which feels bizarre for Germans like us, who are used to it staying light out in the summer until 9 or 10PM. It feels like 11PM, but it’s really just 8. It’s just weird.
Bonez is a huge fan of flea markets and vintage shirts. One market worth recommending is Melrose Trading Post, which is open every Sunday on the corner of Fairfax and Melrose Avenue. The intersection has all the shops you could ever need, so after the flea market we hang around in the area for a bit. And that’s when it happens: Gzuz is actually spotted by someone on the street! By an American! Because of the “Was Hast Du Gedacht” (“What Did You Think”) video. And it happens a second time not long after.
Those who followed our Insta story probably think we spent two weeks in strip clubs and were only occasionally in the city. The first club we go to has been a well-known hot spot for some time: Sam’s Hofbrau. In the first day alone, Gzuz manages to blow through $2,000 all by himself and is the king of the club. Somehow he drunkenly manages to get the DJ to play “Was Hast Du Gedacht,” and even gets up on the stage between the dance poles to perform his own track. He holds the microphone in one hand, and with the other he throws around cash, attracting a horde of women around him—what a sight. Gzuz has made it!
Over the next days we check out the Ace of Diamonds (really worth a visit on a Monday). There we meet Ocean, the friendly woman who dances in the shower in “Warum.” Then there’s the Crazy Girls, but we didn’t find that so thrilling. We were in another club, but it was so bad that we immediately repressed its name. After checking out all the different clubs, we were all in agreement: Sam’s it is!
They immediately recognize us the second we pull into the parking lot at Sam’s. “Ah, you’re that crazy German from last time.” Yup, that was Gzuz. There are new bouncers at the door and even they recognize him: “Ay! You that guy from WorldStar?! You are the hardest ni**a in town!” What a way to be greeted. That evening, we find out that half the club has seen the video “Was Hast Du Gedacht” and absolutely loves it, including the club manager—our free pass into the club. Before we leave I ask if we can shoot some of the scenes for the new video there. “We love him! Do whatever you want!” A special thanks goes out here to Aeriana and all the dancers at Sam’s!
Before we shoot the scenes in the club, we meet up with a few friends. Snoopy, one of the guys, is known for his car club “Fast Lyfe” in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Every Sunday they meet up somewhere in LA and drift as long as they can before the cops show up and they go to the next spot. That evening he shows up with six friends; moments later, the entire street is in smoke. In a matter of no time Snoopy parks his car and hops out and the cops cuff him. I try to diffuse the situation by telling them we’re shooting a music video for a German artist—no chance. One of the officers merely yells at me, telling me to step back.
Snoopy is in handcuffs next to the police car and speaks to the officers. After 20 minutes, one of the officers comes to me and asks me whether I could show him some of the footage. I look at Snoopy. He very subtly shakes his head, but then I show the footage anyway. Snoopy doesn’t know, of course, that I’ve already switched out SD cards. All they can see is how Snoopy gets arrested. I told the officer we hadn’t even started shooting—we had just wanted to start, but that they then cost us a bunch of money by showing up. After another 20 minutes of talking things out, Snoopy is once again a free man.
A little later we want to go shoot in Sam’s. But there's a problem; we were dumb enough to shoot the burnout scene right in front of the club—the backdrop was just too perfect to pass up. The manager working Sam’s that day is a different one than the one who gave us permission to shoot inside. The police had them hand over the surveillance footage of the parking lot to see whether one of the cars had previously been in front of Sam’s. Naturally the people running the joint don’t like attention from the police, which is why the bouncers then said we weren’t allowed to shoot inside anymore. I ask whether I could speak to the manager, and they agree. Mac Lucci is standing next to me. I’ve known Mac for more than 10 years; he’s one of Snoop Dogg’s artists at Doggy Style Records. I was there when Snoop signed him. When the manager comes out of the club, she surprises me with a, “Hey Lucci, how are you?” Turns out they’ve known each other forever. Everything’s cool and we can shoot. We got lucky.
Let’s rewind. The idea was to shoot the first part of the video during the day, while the second was to be shot at night. We’re shooting the daylight scenes in Compton, South Central and a small part of the Slauson Mall. In Compton we’re on 129th Street at the corner of San Pedro. Gang turf. As you can see in the beginning of the video, the entire house had already been shot up in a drive-by.
Funnily enough, all the guys in that hood are boat-crazy. In the front yard of the house there are two boats and people keep driving by who’ve just bought themselves boats. They kept trying to convince us to just shoot part of the video on a boat, or at least on the water. Then Bonez had the idea of really shooting part of it on a boat. But not on the water, just riding through the hood. Said and done. Side note: just around the corner where we’re shooting is the first house where N.W.A. recorded their early work.
They shoot the part in South Central together with Snoopy, right in his neighborhood, where people warmly greet us. Blood territory. Before we start, we chill for a few hours and drink and exchange stories. Just as we begin shooting in the yard, the cops show up. Typical. “When did you get out?” they ask one of us. The cops and the guys know one another, and also know everyone’s rap sheet. But we’re chilling on private property and aren’t doing anything illegal, so they can’t do anything. But of course the police have to cause problems, and the cops pick out two from the group and search them for weapons. When we ask what this is all about, they simply say it’s a routine check and that everyone will be searched. But none of us white guys are searched.
There’s a lot in America that we never managed to do. Aside from the shoot, we were at the video shoot for Mozzy and met Too $hort. We’d wanted to go to the studio and work on the songs. But it took a while before we'd settled in. Just as we were beginning to have fun, we had to head back. After all, people were waiting for us back in Germany. The second we landed at the Frankfurt airport, the guys were forced to give up their phones to plainclothes cops. Thank you, LA—we will be back!
Wolke 7 ("Cloud 9") by Gzuz will be released on May 25, 2018.
- 187 strassenbande
- Bonez MC
- Pascal Kerouche
- Noisey Germany
- Noisey International