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South of Stars - AudioVision Ep. 2

Geography has an outsize influence on the path of a person's life.

Parents seek out neighborhoods with the best schools. Affluent residents flee when crime ticks up. All in an attempt to change geography and bend the arc of destiny.

Musicians Rosalind Carter (Rozo) and Rob Salazar (Galli) grew up in Watts, which shaped who they are. But they don't want it to seal their fates.

"It’s destiny that you were born here, but it’s not destiny that you stay here," Salazar said.

(Warning: This video contains strong language and drug use.)

Watts is two square miles with one of the highest concentrations of poverty in Los Angeles and some of the highest crime rates.

Salazar calls it a "little bit of country in the city."
It's also a historic center of culture that has experienced seismic demographic shifts over the generations. Most recently, it's become a home to droves of recent Latino arrivals to the United States.
In the past several years, violent crime has dropped more than 60 percent in the projects where more than 10,000 people live in repurposed military barracks that date back to the 1950s. That's more people than anywhere west of Chicago.
Opportunities in Watts remain scarce. Fewer than 3 percent of residents have four-year degrees. Unemployment has been a persistent problem ever since the factories that brought thousands of African-Americans to L.A. during the Great Migration closed down and the projects opened.

Both Carter and Salazar see those statistics first hand. Salazar  has lost 20 friends to jail and death. Rozo and all of her friends have seen the county jail or been shot at.

The duo both went to Locke – a charter high school in Watts – and started making music together in a program called Sessions L.A.

Professional rappers and musicians mentored them and pushed them to keep making songs together.

"Everybody is, like, you have potential you can do anything you want to do," Carter said.

Despite outside encouragement and innate talent, the pair find opportunities in Watts as difficult as ever.

In 2011, Carter and Salazar won Bringin' Down the House – a competition for high school musicians at the House of Blues in L.A. 

Since high school, the producer and rapper team have started to take separate paths.

Salazar travels nearly every day to Santa Monica for school and work. Carter records with musicians in her neighborhood as she contemplates making an effort to complete the five credits she needs for a high school diploma.

As they both try to make the leap to a successful musical career, they both see their future outside Watts.

Carter lives at the corner where the Watts riots broke out in 1965. She usually sleeps on the couch in a two bedroom Section 8 house with her grandparents, sister, niece, nephew and mother.

Her mother has been in and out of prison. So her grandparents raised her and tried to keep her from going down the same path. Mostly by taking her to church every single Sunday.

She’s also worried that her image is getting in the way. Carter first came out as gay in eighth grade, and because of the way she dresses, a lot of people think she’s a guy.

"Queer" artists have a rough road to make it in the hip-hop business, Carter said.

Salazar's grandparents came to the states from Mexico about 40 years ago. Back then, most of their neighbors were black. Now, 70 percent of Watts is Latino.

His parents encouraged him to go to school. But, like Carter, he thinks music provides the best chance to get out of Watts.

"To grow up in those circumstances and kind of triumph through music. That kind of makes everything worthwhile," Salazar said.

"This American Life" recently dedicated an entire episode to geography and destiny. If you want to know more about the history of how neighborhoods like Watts came to be, it's definitely worth a listen.



Produced by Grant Slater and Mae Ryan
AudioVision Title Voiceover by Sage Price


Rozo Regal Carter


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