Eastmont Mall has quite the résumé. Nothing around it for miles except churches, liquor stores, nail salons, housing projects, and family homes, the Eastmont Mall was a huge shopping center and humongous parking lot smack dab in the middle of East Oakland. It was real big in the ‘70s and ‘80s when Oakland had a majority African American population, just before crack hit. Lots of middle-class families shopped at Mervyns or JC Penny. But once hip-hop blew up, it became the spot for rhyming. Specifically, the sideshows started in the mall’s parking lot.
Richie Rich, the raspy-voiced rapper in the group 415 who later had a solo deal on Def Jam, had a song called “Sideshow,” an early 90s Bay Area classic: “Down Bancroft / To the light / Let me warm it up, I hit a donut tight / Chevy on my side / Windows straight tinted / He got hype when he saw me spinnin’ / I’m up outta there, sideways to the next light.”
Commercial radio didn’t play it, but it was big in the streets, a Bay anthem forever. 415 never signed to a major, but they were still highly influential. Snoop Dogg is on record as saying that he named his group 213 after 415, so there you go. Richie Rich told me a story one time about being at the sideshow one Saturday night and seeing a real clean Caddy; he looked inside and it was Too $hort, the biggest ghetto celebrity in Oakland at that time. $hort and F.A.B. remade the song in 2006 but by then the sideshows had moved elsewhere. The police shut it down at Eastmont when they opened up a substation there.
T’s Wauzi used to be in Eastmont Mall. In its day, it was the official hood hip-hop record store. They would take tapes on consignment from new and local artists, folks on the come up. Some of the guys who were big in the streets outsold national acts at that time at that store. If you sold lot of units at T’s Wauzi, you could get put on. Other record stores and distributors would pick you up; you might even get a major label deal out of it. E-40 and Too $hort were some of the indie cats who went that route and got breaded out. Virtually every underground artist from the ‘80s to the early ‘90s came through there.
Eastmont Mall was THE spot for high-siding back in the day. Basically, when you wanted to floss and you lived in the East, that’s where you’d go to get your mack on. At Eastmont, fools would try to holla at bitches, and bitches would choose whose ride they were gonna get into, ya smell me? So if you had a clean ride with rims or candy paint, you also needed bass -- and lots of it. That was where rap, and preferably rap from the Town, came in. You can hear that Eastmont Mall vibe, the high-siding vibe, in a lot of the classic Oakland rap records, all that early Too $hort and Spice-1, all the way up to 3xKrazy’s “Keep It on the Real” in 1997. Eastmont is right where Foothill Boulevard begins, the “bumpy-ass strip” the Conscious Daughters shouted-out on “Funky Expedition.”
Eastmont Mall was also a regular mall, it had restaurants, clothing stores. One of those stores, Mr Z’s, got a shout-out on Too $hort’s Born to Mack album. They also used to have rap shows, all the underground and up-and-coming Oakland rappers cut their teeth there, people like Boots Riley from the Coup and Keak Da Sneak, even before he was in 3xKrazy, he was in a group called Dual Committee with Agerman, they used to be on the same bill with the Mau Mau Rhythm Committee, which was the group Boots was in before the Coup, this dude named Osageyfo was also in Mau Mau. They used to do big shows there too, but that spot kind of faded after this Dogg Pound show in 1996 that was out of control. There was like a riot because the line wasn’t moving—the security guards were probably spooked. Fights broke out, the police came, dudes were swerving, doing donuts in front of the police, some fools ended up getting into a high-speed chase and wrapping their car around a light pole, and that was the last time a big rap show went down at Eastmont Mall.