“I like this, LaRussell—this dope. It got a good swing to it, very soulful,” says Bay Area ambassador Earl Stevens.
Even though he just announced his gourmet food company, Goon with the Spoon, E-40 isn’t talking about a recipe. He’s talking about LaRussell and Tope’s second album, Cook Together, Eat Together—in which 40 Water himself appears on the nostalgically titled track, “Sprinkle Me.”
The project was released on Oct. 5, with as much anticipation as I’ve seen for a rising rap artist in years. The title underscores the age-old motto of how teamwork can make any dream work—no matter the size of your team. That’s because, as LaRussell puts it, “This is about unity. True unity. There’s enough space and room and food for all of us.”
LaRussell credits his “mantra” of collective wealth and shared growth from lessons his father taught him.
“I didn’t get that from rap. Rap is braggadocious,” he says. “I got this from life and my pops. My pops is an honorable n****. He always been giving and providing and having that space. I naturally took to it.”
Unlike most albums, where guest artists and producers get minimal spotlight, LaRussell makes it a point that “those people you cook with get to eat as well.” He proudly includes his producer, Tope, as a main artist in every song’s presentation, and he says guest verses like E-40 and Nef the Pharaoh get full payment and profit, rather than being given a minimal, one-time compensation as features.
“For me, it’s been career changing,” Tope says. “He could’ve just put his own name, but any room we go into, he puts my name out there as much as his. That goes for everyone on his team. Everyone eats together, for sure. It’s been a breath of fresh air, since I’ve never worked with a rapper who cares that much about those around him.”
But it’s not just about breaking bread with the homies. This is music. And the lyrics speak for themselves.
From start to finish, the chemistry between LaRussell and his Portland-transplanted producer, Tope, is incredibly coalescent, while each song contributes to a larger soliloquy—and shared glory—that the rest of the rap world should take notice of.
After listening to the album on repeat, I agree with Uncle Earl on his initial assessment: the album is soulful, and it swings with the precision, power and fluidity of a Mustang 5.0 doing donuts at a sideshow.
Although there are only two features to appear on the album—40 and fellow Vallejo comrade, Nef—it’s more than enough to let listeners know LaRussell and Tope have officially arrived as major players. The inclusion of these legends feels like a secret handshake for real Bay Area hip-hop heads—a way of indicating that this emcee and his talented producer are certified. In only their second project, the duo delivers on an intriguing promise of what that means for local rap fans who are witnessing a passing of the torch in real time.
The range of topics covered feels effortless and doesn’t deviate beyond its limits, creating a well-balanced, layered and smooth audio experience of LaRussell’s everyday life. “If You Was Me” talks about the internal struggles, yet confident aspirations, of a rapper dealing with ascending stardom. “Baggage Claim” portrays aspects of street life but also surprises with cleverly unexpected lines like “I’m in the East of the V playing Frisbee/ a rare sight, I’m a California grizzly.” “Windy City” talks about friendship, loyalty and traveling to New York on the weekends. The whole thing feels as organic, dimensional and inviting as listening to a friend tell you about his weekend at a cookout.
On the album’s third track, “J.R.,” LaRussell asks, “Where the f*** my ceiling at?” It’s a question I have been asking since first hearing his music. I was introduced to the youthful rapper when he was a surprise guest at a show inside Oakland’s The New Parish this past summer. Not knowing who he was, I was initially annoyed that the main act—Grand Nationxl—would interrupt their set to bring on a performer I’d never heard of. But I was wrong. We were all wrong. LaRussell instantly won me—and the crowd—over as soon as he spit his first bar, and that’s when I knew that the Bay had found our newest champion.
Fast forward to today, only months later: he and Tope have relentlessly continued to level up with each progressive collaboration, indicating a limitless sky for the two. And they’ve done it off independent grit, without a record label to co-sign them. Instead, their artistry is fueled by a North Vallejo kid’s dreams, and all of his chosen family along for the ride.
“The community gets to split this together,” LaRussell tells me with his trademark smile. “There’s over a hundred people involved in this album. Over a hundred. Each one of them is getting paid. I want each one to get the profit. I hope it’s something more artists can do. I wanna make that the new wave, that the people you cook with get to eat as well.”
The release comes at a pivotal point in the ascending duo’s careers, in which they have started to gain the national buzz that they’ve rightfully earned. Their previous album, Marlin 7, which debuted in August, was—in this writer’s opinion—the best West Coast rap album of the year, and introduced LaRussell’s trademark lyricism on top of Tope’s hypnotically mobbish instrumentals.
Recently, LaRussell also made an appearance on Charlamagne Tha God’s nationally syndicated show, The Breakfast Club—and by made an appearance, I mean he brought out his lyrical artillery and obliterated the microphone booth. The video did numbers, reaching 80k views in only a month, and helped to propel LaRussell’s introspective, poetic and insightfully philosophical voice into the mainstream audience.
“This year has been about community,” LaRussell says. “I’ve been helping other artists more than ever, and I’ve been behind so many other things, and that helped me grow. It’s all part of the process. Being on [The Breakfast Club] just solidified that.”
Cook Together, Eat Together reminds us that the Bay Area’s best acts have always been about unity and combining superpowers to best serve one another. E-40 had Rick Rock and Mike Moseley. The Hieroglyphics had each other and Domino. Zumbi—RIP—had Amp Live. IAMSU has P-Lo and Kuya Beats. Now, LaRussell has Tope, among others.
In the ways LaRussell’s language is amplified by Tope’s synthesized soundscapes, Tope’s dreamy percussions are deeply reinforced by LaRussell’s fearless rhapsody. It’s a tradeoff that happens symbiotically for the duo.
“This is an album about the present, the current. We’re not thinking about the last thing we did,” LaRussell adds. “You can’t go wrong with that. You can only make it from where you are at.”
The motivational synergy between the two creates a rare blend of a gritty, Vallejo-edged funk with a hopeful, humorous and even playful vibe that is helping to define the Bay Area’s newest sound. In one way, LaRussell and Tope can be distilled into the image of a Crocs-wearing cool kid from California and a studious journeyman from Oregon. But beyond that, they can also be understood as modern artisans, crafted by the eclectic, clashing influences of their upbringings and the internet, where they have been able to flip their energy into a bigger movement, Good Compenny, which showcases other artists performing intimately in a video series LaRussell curates named “Live Sessions.” In short, they are not only putting on for themselves, but for everyone who rides with them.
Although the album’s title largely refers to this rapper and producer’s current success, it also feels like an invitation for the entire Bay Area to operate in the same fashion: if we all cook together, our entire region will continue to eat together, too.
“I owe the Bay everything,” Tope says.
And we owe him and LaRussell for this album.