Spotlight: South Central L.A. Hip Hop Artist Def Sound

Issue 6 | Experimentation

This spotlight is part of a series to mark the launch of Somewherelse’s latest project, HUH. It’s a virtual bridge between international cities and artists that otherwise wouldn’t be able to work together. Thanks to the Internet we live in a globally connected world. We come together to mourn, to celebrate, to protest and to create. HUH fosters collaborations between different kinds of artists from different cities and helps them create new innovative and fulfilling projects. 

The first iteration connected Canadian-born, L.A.-based filmmaker Rosanna Peng with Toronto-based singer-songwriter Luna Li. To coincide with the collab between Peng and Li, curators were chosen from both respective cities—Def Sound rounds out the L.A. contingent. 

A casual peruse of Def Sound’s Instagram account reveals an artist with a distinct aesthetic vision. Oversized royal blue culottes, dreads masterfully assembled to shoot towards the sky, bright coloured and pattern blocked print shirts—Def is clearly someone who is willing to explore and push beyond boundaries.

The way he presents himself visually is as compelling and clear as his sonic vision. Def, born Emmanuel Ricketts, is a hip hop artist, poet and producer from South Central L.A. There is a legacy of gangsta rap in his neck of the woods including N.W.A’s Dr. Dre and Eazy-E but he’s not making gangsta rap. His Bandcamp describes his synthesis of hip hop and his Afro Latino roots as a healing mechanism, a sonic world he has built meticulously over more than a decade.

He learned to produce beats in a class in highschool and discovered spoken word shortly after at Da Poetry Club, a spoken word series hosted at Greenway Court Theatre.

This coalesced into his definitive sound, a bit sing-songy in the way he bops on the beat, playful and fun but he’s spitting real truths about his Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, gentrification in his hood, and avoiding gang violence, like on the track “12TH AVE.”  His sound has been compared to The Pharcyde, a 90s alternative hip hop group also from South Central L.A.

In the video for “12TH AVE” and in many others like “STRUCK!,” he’s surrounded by his friends and artistic counterparts. Collaboration is at the forefront of everything he does. He recently dropped a song with singer Annabella Maginnis for October’s Bandcamp Friday, a jazzy, groovy number called “MIRRORS EYE​/​/​GOING WITHIN.” 

Early in October he also co-led a creative expression session called OUR.BODIES.OUR.WORK with poet Aleysha Wise-Hernandez as part of The Lobby virtual festival. The festival was put on by GXRLSCHOOL, and was meant to be “a day of guided activities for real-world creativity and presence.” 

He has dublab radio show called Mirror Talk where he shares alternative and experimental hip hop, left-field R&B edits, loopy electronic sounds and some spoken word. He shares the music of “artists he loves, respects and shares a mirrorship with. The show’s intention is to capture conversations too good and juicy for the loud club settings or pretentious art spaces,” per the dublab website. 

On top of all the music he co-created a clothing brand called No.Body.Is.Illegal clothing brand, with 10 percent of sales going to immigrant advocacy groups. The brand, which launched in early 2019, sells hoodies, long sleeves and masks with messages against deportation, pro-defunding the police and celebrating the US Postal Service, which has been under attack by the current American administration. 

He has his fingers interlaced in many different local and international scenes and his community connections make him particularly suited to be a cultural tastemaker representing his city. The moods he chose for his curated guide to L.A. were ethereal (which matches Peng and Li) and interconnected. 

He chose ethereal because he wanted to explore organic feelings of escapism. He went through the city as if he were an alien and not a local to determine what he would recommend to visitors.

For him, interconnectedness has taken on new meaning throughout the pandemic. “COVID is connected to public health, public health is related to policy, policy is connected to access, access is connected to the invention of race, race is connected to class, class is connected to having the time to feel, feeling is connected to music, music is connected to struggle and struggle is connected to hope. Our experiences are all interwoven together, there is no normal to go back to because “normal” was never working for most of us.”

With all of this in mind he chose to highlight the beautiful parts of his community that move with a collective over individual mentality.


Written by Kelsey Adams
Lead Photo Illustration by Marta Ryczko
Photos courtesy of Fanny Chu