From the bottom: Interview with Lewi Bo 

Lewi-Bo, <strong>From the bottom: Interview with Lewi Bo </strong>, Culture Currents
Lewi Bo

by Eric Hunter, Oakland Bureau

Lewi Bo, aka LB Stay Keyed, is an independent rap artist from the trenches of Campbell Village in the Lower Bottoms neighborhood of West Oakland, California. I remember riding the AC Transit and seeing advertisement artwork on the bus stops everywhere I went. His marketing and promotion hustle is impeccable. 

Over the years, I’ve seen his name and face all over the place. He bombarded the entire city with imagery promoting his music. Lewi Bo keeps his foot on the pedal – all gas, no brakes, nonstop, working tirelessly. He’s constantly putting out quality music. 

He paints a picture with his lyrics that brings you right to the corner of Ninth and Willow. LB has a unique sound and style. He’s very versatile and he can rap on a variety of beats about any topic or concept that everyone can relate to. I present to some and introduce to others … Lewi Bo.

E Da Ref: When did you first start rapping? 

LB: I mean, I was always in the hood rapping. This girl I used to talk to was rapping with her sister while I was kickin’ it with them at her house one day. They were freestyling in the living room and I just jumped in. She didn’t even know I could rap. 

I spit about eight bars and she was like, “You just now letting me know you can rap? We need to get you in the studio.” They’d stopped rapping a while ago, but after they heard me rap, I made them want to rap again and get back in the studio. So the next week they booked an appointment and the rest is history. 

E Da Ref: Which rap artists did you grow up listening to? 

LB: 2pac for sure. I was listening to 3x Krazy, Delinquentz, Steady Mobbin, The Luniz, Mac Mall, San Quinn, E40 B Legit, Too $hort Richie Rich, and mostly classic Bay Area rap legends. I like Scarface. I listened to T.I tough when he first came out with “Trap Musik.” I grew off Jay Z, Killa Tay, Cbo and Marvelous and those kinds of rappers. 

E Da Ref: Do you remember the first song you made? 

LB: The 1st song I recorded was called “Convicted in the Womb.” It’s the title of a book by Carl Upchurch. The book is about the author growing up on the streets of Philly and getting caught up in the system during the 1960s and ‘70s and how his life turned around. I got into some trouble with the law and this Black judge had me write a book report on it. It wasn’t something I was interested in but that title stuck with me ever since. 

E Da Ref: Why did you pick that title for your first song? What was it about the book that caught your attention? 

LB: I caught a dope case, and the court and this youth program gave me a book report assignment to lower my charges from a felony to a misdemeanor. It was a Black judge named Judge Wheatley who gave me the assignment. He was strict as fuck, but he was really looking out for me now that I look back on it! I’ve been in another situation where a white police officer planted drugs on me and I couldn’t beat that case. 

E Da Ref: There’s a lot of thought-provoking content in your lyrics. What inspires that kind of creativity in your craft? 

LB: This is like therapy to me. It really makes me feel good to just write my shit, rap it, lay it down in the studio, and perform my shit. It’s just the business side that’s fucked up, at least for me. Making music is fun, it’ll make you feel like a little kid again. It’s like someone who grew up wanting to work on cars. They living their dream. That’s what they love. 

The 1st song I recorded was called “Convicted in the Womb.” It’s the title of a book by Carl Upchurch – this Black judge had me write a book report on it.

It wasn’t hella street rappers out here that were on some real deep shit. E40 was one of the few that at least always had one song where he was talking about some deep shit, not just about being a gangsta or hustlin’. 2pac and Scarface are also the ones who were rapping with real substance, just unapologetic without care. A lot of people probably felt like 2pac and Scarface felt but they just couldn’t spit it like that without sounding too preachy. That’s why I try not to come off like that either. I just tell a story in a realistic way, where you can’t deny the facts that are right in front of your face. 

E Da Ref: Have you ever played any sports, and is there a connection with athleticism in your art? 

LB: When I was little, my dream was to grow up and hoop like Kobe. I played football too but basketball was always my favorite sport. Between the ages of 14 and 17 when I was locked up, I was in this program called “Rites of Passage” in Nevada; it’s like a stage before you get into the California Youth Authority. It’s like a boot camp sports program. In this program, I was in cross country. So it was just more experiences and stories to tell. It was good for my health too. 

E Da Ref: What obstacles have you had to overcome in the music business? 

LB: It’s hard to put your music into the right hands because nowadays no matter how talented you are in whatever type of music you make, it’s like it doesn’t even matter. I blame the people that are in control of the music industry. The owners of the record labels take advantage of a lot of these dudes whose heart ain’t really in their music like that. These artists whose heart ain’t in it are fucking up the culture. I ain’t mad at them though because I’m to the point I’d rather see them keep making music than being stuck in the hood. 

E40 was one of the few that at least always had one song where he was talking about some deep shit, not just about being a gangsta or hustlin’.

But these record executives know they can control artists whose hearts ain’t really into the music. They can put them in dresses, make them wear purses and high heels, and make them rap about whatever and prevent them from rapping about whatever. If your heart ain’t in it, they can control you with the money. The artists that are really passionate about their craft, it’s going to be harder to control that type of person. 

The OG rappers back in the day at least had one socially aware song on their album talking about the good, the bad and the ugly – not just glorifying street life.

E Da Ref: What do you think about the Bay Area rap scene as a whole right now? If it’s looking bad right now, how can we make it better? 

LB: People have to be open to more than just gangsta/trap and drill rap. It’s crazy because the hottest artists in the Bay, such as Stunnaman 02, Larry June, Larussell and Guapdad 4000, ain’t even gangsta rappers, but most of these rappers still spit the same Ol Gangsta shit. 

E Da Ref: There’s been a rise in rapper casualties in the last few years. Do feel like it’s dangerous to be a rapper nowadays? 

LB: It is dangerous, but a lot of these rappers keep acting like they got something to prove. You ain’t gotta be in the hood all the time. If you gonna be in the hood, then you got to move smarter. Especially after what happened to Nipsey and Young Dolph and both of them were looking out for the community and giving back to the hood. That’s what’s crazy about that. 

But for the most part, a lot of these youngsters think they got something to prove. We adopted the gang bang culture in the Bay now. When I was growing up, it wasn’t a heavy gang culture like it is now; it was a hustle culture. Even in our music, the street content was about hustling. 

I’ve been locked up with people from all over California – dudes from Sacramento and LA and where they really got gangs. In the Bay, we don’t really know what gangs are. We too rebellious in the Bay to follow that kind of structure. Now that we got that gang banger mentality, it’s fuckin’ up the game too. 

The OG rappers back in the day at least had one socially aware song on their album talking about the good, the bad and the ugly – not just glorifying street life.

In the Bay, we used to do our own thing. We were the trendsetters. Everybody was biting off our style. Now the new artists from the Bay is starting to sound like Detroit and Chicago drill rappers. 

E Da Ref: Do you feel like West Oakland artists are slept on or overlooked? 

LB: I think West and North Oakland are overlooked compared to East Oakland. East Oakland is the biggest side of Oakland, bigger than North and West Oakland put together. That’s where the most popular artists are. Artists from East Oakland definitely have an advantage. 

E Da Ref: You made a song called “I Be in West Oakland” that was like a historic hood anthem featuring numerous West Oakland rappers; describe how that came about. 

LB: I’m just humbled by the whole experience. People have been telling me that it was legendary. It’s my favorite song and video that I’ve ever done. Studio Mike made the beat. He originally made it for HD of Bearfaced ENT and I guess he wasn’t really trippin’ off it. 

One day in the studio, it was me, Studio Mike and my other friend, Johnny Depp, in the lab and they were freestyle singing to the beat. We found the catchy part that says, ”I be in West Oakland,” and made a hook out of it. First I made a solo song. A couple of days later on the weekend, I came back to mix it down, and that’s when a few other cats happened to be in the studio waiting for me to wrap my session up. We had other artists from West Oakland like Petey Mac, Ghost Rida, RaRa, Mac Irv and a few other folks in there, and as soon as they heard it, everybody wanted to hop on and we had to do the remix. 

We started networking and adding people on the song, tryna get rappers from every West Oakland turf. We shot the music video and, of course, there was controversy about who was and who should’ve been on the song. But you know, somebody was gonna be mad regardless. It was a dope song. It even influenced a rapper who was a close friend of my family named Street Black from Funk Town in East Oakland to make an East Oakland anthem after he heard our song. 

E Da Ref: How many albums and mixtapes have you dropped? 

LB: My first mixtape was “The Fuck the Police Mixtape.” My second mixtape was “The Streets Keep Callin Me” and my third was called “From a Nick to a Brick: Stay Keyed” mixtape. I did a compilation called “Undeniable Slap” and another compilation called “Back Online.”

E Da Ref: What’s the latest album you dropped, and what albums are you working on? 

Streets-Raised-Me-Lewi-Bo-album-cover, <strong>From the bottom: Interview with Lewi Bo </strong>, Culture Currents
‘Streets Raised Me’ Lewi Bo album cover

LB: Yes, everybody go cop my album – “The Streets Raised Me” – streaming on all platforms. I got features from Mozzy, San Quinn, Keak The Sneak, Mistah FAB, J Stalin, Lil Blood, Husalah, Hoodstarz, Rayven Justice, my cousin Kiwi the Beast aka Beastella and many more. “The Streets Raised Me” was supposed to be a double album. 

I lost a lot of songs in a fire. Almost gave up on rap, but I listened to some of my songs and got re-inspired. I just finished an album called, “All I Know Is Pain,” coming soon. I’m tryna come up with two different styles of albums. Ima drop one ratchet album, then ima drop some deep socially conscious albums back-to-back. Be on the lookout for that. 

E Da Ref: Do you have any last words? And how can people keep up with you?

LB: Shoutout to everybody from the ghetto that’s trying to turn your environment around and make a positive change. I salute you y’all. Follow on IG @Lewibo, Twitter @LBstaykeyed.

Journalist Eric Hunter (E Da Ref), an Oakland native, is Minister of Public Relations for the Black Riders Liberation Party and Co-Editor of African Intercommunal News Service. He writes for Black New World Media and the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau headed by JR Valrey. Hunter can be reached at