Picture the last 15 months in the life of Cali Swag District.
Prior to being old enough to legally drink, the formerly obscure quartet of Inglewood, Calif. rappers scored a massive hit in 2010 with "Teach Me How to Dougie." The how-to record broke down the intricacies of the Dallas-originated dance and sparked the biggest craze since Soulja Boy's 2007 No. 1, "Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)." Released by Capitol, "Teach Me How to Dougie" climbed as high as No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 6 on Rap Songs. By the end of its run, everyone from first lady Michelle Obama to Justin Bieber had learned to Dougie.
Subsequent singles, however, were non-starters. Neither "Where Are You" nor "Kickback" cracked the Hot 100, although the former did reach No. 22 on Rap Songs. From there, Cali Swag District found itself in label limbo when Citigroup placed Capitol parent company EMI on the auction block in February. Soon after, the group requested its walking papers. Then in May, a tragedy occurred: Montae "M-Bone" Talbert, the group's 22-year-old Gumby-limbed dancer, was shot to death.
Now Cali Swag District's surviving members -- Smoove, Yung and Jayare -- are ready to redouble their efforts. The group's debut album, "The Kickback," finally arrived July 12 on Sphinx Music Entertainment/319 Music Group. Sphinx is helmed by Louis Burrell, a music industry veteran best-known for his work with his brother, Stanley "MC Hammer" Burrell.
Dedicated to the memory of Talbert and distributed by Sony RED, "The Kickback" comprises material recorded under the group's old Capitol contract coupled with a half-dozen recently recorded tracks. "Our main focus had been on making people dance," Smoove says. "Now it's about making people feel our music. After M-Bone's passing, the music means more. We have to carry on his memory and let people know we're not a gimmick."
The group's directional shift was initially displayed on last month's more street-oriented mixtape, "Deeper Than the Dougie." Coming next is new single "Burn Out," an automotive racing ode that targets urban and pop radio. Its video is slated to be shot soon in Dallas.
Audio: "Burn Out," Cali Swag District
And while the members are still devastated by Talbert's death, Yung says the group is more determined than ever to "keep pushing things forward. Before [Talbert's death], we'd gotten lazy on tour and were basically just living off the 'Dougie' [song]. But we're not going anywhere. We're hardworking young dudes trying to do something positive with our lives."