Hey rappers, there is a better way to tell your story than exploiting yourself and your loved ones on reality TV… At only 15-years-old Harlemite L.A. Sunshine, whose real name is Lamar Hill, recorded some of the earliest rap records along with two friends, Kool Moe Dee and Special K, as part of the group Treacherous Three. But despite helping to pioneer what would become a multi million dollar industry he fell on hard times.
In a NY Times feature the rapper details his rise to fame and decline into drug addiction, debt and depression:
“The industry,” he said, “put me in a real dark space that I couldn’t find myself out of. I had breakdowns.”
Mr. Hill’s 2011 autobiography, “L.A. Sunshine: A True Story, The Real Accounts,” begins with a deeply unsettling recollection of sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter when he was 7 years old. His mentally unstable father was an inconsistent presence in his life; his mother, a nurse’s aide, worked long hours to provide for her four sons. Mr. Hill said he started taking care of himself at age 12.
“I was never a drug dealer, proud to say,” he said. “But I was a hustler. I’d shoot dice with the drug dealers and take their money.”
Shortly after he dropped out of ninth grade, radio stations began to play the Treacherous Three. The group released “New Rap Language” with Spoonie Gee and “Body Rock” and appeared in a 1984 film, “Beat Street.” But Mr. Hill saw little money. His first paycheck came in the form of cash, in a “greasy paper bag.”
Not that he was seeking the high life. “I’ve never so much as bought a chain, I don’t eat lobster, I don’t do Champagne,” he smiled. Aside from performing, Mr. Hill found the camaraderie and security he enjoyed on the tour buses to be the best part of the lifestyle.
Can you imagine dropping out of school in the ninth grade to pursue your music career back in that day — before hip-hop artists were truly getting paid?
Unfortunately his career wasn’t as fulfilling as he’d hoped and his issues were compounded by substance abuse:
By age 20 his depression had been accompanied by suicide attempts and complicated by a cocaine addiction. The Treacherous Three dissolved in the mid-1980s and Mr. Hill found jobs to fuel his drug habit, living on and off the streets and sometimes sleeping in the stairwells of the Manhattanville Projects.
When Kool Moe Dee’s solo career took off he toured with him, performing on worldwide stages. But he spent most of the time in his hotel rooms getting high, he said.
“If there’s anything I regret, I’ve been to every major city at least five times and I have no idea what they look like,” he said.
Unfortunately there are probably more stories like this than we’d like to imagine.
In L.A. Sunshine’s case, he attempted to turn his life around by quitting drugs and pursuing a different career in youth development. Still, his past ended up catching up to him.
He owed approximately $35,000 for 20 years of unpaid child support for his oldest daughter, Ebony, now 31. Mr. Hill says he actually overpaid child support for his other daughter, Jamara, now 21. He was not married to either of the girls’ mothers.
In 2011 the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board filed suit against him for $18,000, citing payments they said he had received ineligibly. (Mr. Hill maintains that he had been transparent about his income history in his application.) He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, but had already lost his job, and an eviction notice all but spelled the end of the line.
“I felt like someone pulled the stop out and all the water was running down the drain,” he said.
At a friend’s suggestion, he applied for a job at the Dunlevy Milbank Center in Harlem, an agency with the Children’s Aid Society, one of the seven organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Social workers there realized his desperate financial situation and helped him secure $2,125.25 from the fund for his back rent and three months’ utilities, food, transportation and clothing.
Now Mr. Hill regularly attends a back-to-work program and keeps busy with a variety of volunteer activities, hoping that one of them will lead to full-time work.
He still loves performing and occasionally appears with the Treacherous Three, but these days he craves 9-to-5 stability.
We’re glad he’s getting back on his feet and hope he can continue to thrive. Definitely sounds like he’s had to overcome a lot of difficulties. Keep your head up L.A.!