The tough times in life build strong people in the long run, and the hard work is what separates a victim of circumstance from a rose that grows from concrete. Pursuing music is a dream that many people have, but the unfortunate reality is that dream-chasing does not immediately or automatically equal dream-making. Fully committing to the craft might mean sharing a 450-square-foot studio apartment amongst four people and spending hours working at a restaurant to make ends meet.
The entire time you’re bussing tables and washing dishes, you may find yourself envisioning the success you so desire: millions of views, recognition from the greats, selling out major venues and performances on late-night, primetime TV. Then, one day you blink, several years have passed, and you’ve worked your way toward all of that alongside the people you trust with your life. This is the story of a group of stars in the making, rap squad Coast Contra.
While the Los Angeles twins Ras Austin and Taj Austin, Cali, Colombia-born Rio Loz, and Philadelphia’s own Eric Jamal are well-known for their viral “Never Freestyle,” there was no saying “never” when it came to their grind. True love for hip-hop’s history, the desire to compete, and a hunger for greatness brought these four gentlemen together in 2016, and they created with one another for years before even landing on their group moniker, Coast Contra. Now, three years later, they have made it happen together. They’re a long way from the cramped Apt. 505, aptly selected as the title of their March 2022 debut album.
Whether it’s opening up for Dave Chappelle at Hollywood Bowl, earning the fandom of television legend Jimmy Fallon, or contributing to the Queen & Slim soundtrack, mutual respect, support, accountability, preparation for when their time finally came have all opened many doors for the talented collective. And this is just the beginning. “I done sacrificed a lot, but that’s GOAT problems,” Taj raps.
Fresh off of their sold-out Baby’s All Right show in Brooklyn, Billboard spoke to Coast Contra about their national television debut on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, organic success, group dynamics, the origins of their love for hip-hop, dream collaborations and more. Check out our interview below.
Talk about how you four came together and made the choice to make music.
Rio Loz: The twins met in the womb. They been doing this since they were babies — it runs through their blood. I met them in high school, around ninth grade. It was an organic thing. We used to just kick it and freestyle, but they were doing music on their own already, and I was just messing around at the crib. We started putting each other on game and then it was 2015 when we moved out to LA. We found good brother Eric Jamal right here, and that was the glue for Coast right there. That definitely locked us in once we got him.
You guys are very open about your humble beginnings and how they empower who you are today: artists who are selling out venues in New York City and getting more than just a regular Jimmy Fallon introduction. He seemed genuinely excited about you guys. What’s that experience like?
Taj Austin: That s–t feels surreal. I was telling somebody, with experiences like this, we used to sit in the 450-square-feet apartment and chop it up about this very thing happening. So, when you get to it, it feels surreal but at the same time, you can only be grateful. We sat down before we even hopped on Fallon and just expressed all of our gratitude to be here. That’s really it for me. It stokes that fire of gratitude.
Rio: I would say the same. That’s pretty much it for all of us: gratitude. It definitely feels surreal too because it hasn’t been that long since “Never Freestyle” went up, but it really kicked the door open for us. There are a lot of things flowing in right now.
Now, prior to Jimmy Fallon, you guys had the opportunity to open for Dave Chappelle at Hollywood Bowl. That had to be another crazy experience.
Taj: I can speak on that one for sure. We take performances, well everything really as far as the craft goes, very seriously. That performance, we didn’t even know [what] we were getting into. This came out of nowhere. It was random, like “Dave Chappelle wants y’all to rap at the show.” We said “You know what? Let’s just appreciate that moment when we get there, and just have fun with it.”
When we got there and we saw what it was, we didn’t even realize we were going to be going on right before him. So, when we get on the stage, I had the first verse — I had been to the Hollywood Bowl before, but of course on the other side. So I had always dreamed like, “Man, I can’t wait to see what it’s like to be on that side,” with images popping in my head about what it’s going to be.
When you actually get there, I for sure froze up. When I looked up, I just took it all in at that moment. They saved me, because I froze up on my first few lines, but they said an ad-lib and got me into it. That was incredible, to see Dave Chappelle. He had a conversation with me and Eric, and he was just saying, “Man, I’m a big fan of what y’all do and I think y’all are going to do great things in the culture. Keep doing what y’all are doing.” Wow.
One thing I appreciated about seeing you guys perform live was seeing rappers doing choreography. How much goes into the preparation to just always be on the same beat and not miss a step?
Ras Austin: It’s brick-by-brick. It’s crazy too, because people don’t realize there are elements of that show we started working on in 2017. It’s really just: You got to do the work. You can’t rush it, because it’s literally just thinking, “Yo, you know what would be live? What if we did this?” and “Yeah, that went off.” Just slowly but surely putting it together. What you were looking at was a product of about six years of just working together.
Often, rappers get boxed in by listeners to the sound they prefer from them, but not you guys. Is that versatility intentional?
Ras: 100%. I think if people heard our solo music, they would be surprised. Highly surprised, and not at all disappointed. Coast Contra is hip-hopm and we make sure we’re on-brand with that. You go hear all of that, and it’s a whole universe in each of us. So, when it comes to being boxed in, it’s like “Good luck, man.”
The cool part is we also make sure we keep in mind that people like certain things from us, so we’ll feed each community whenever we feel inspired, that’s why the freestyles keep going. Our albums are reserved for our artistic rights and our artistic integrity, so can’t nobody tell us what albums to make. We don’t really care what y’all want, but we appreciate y’all supporting. Just know everything we do is coming from a place that is sincere. If the Coast stamp it, you got something good. We’re very meticulous.
Eric: You are not leaving that studio without us stamping it.
Tell me your dream collaboration. Who would you want to be on a track with?
Taj: When we eventually get into our solo careers, I definitely need that feature — and Imma hit their emails heavy — I definitely need that feature from the Coast. If I don’t get that from the Coast, it’s going to be a problem. These n—as are my favorite people to work with, so they’re in my top. After that, I would have to say Black Thought, Mos Def, and Andre 3000 would be amazing. I would also say Kendrick, but I don’t know if this last album was one of the last ones he’ll do. If he’s still outside and wants to get busy, those four would be the ones I want to do.
Rio: Same. Definitely need that executive-produced solo album by the Coast. I would love to get a joint in with Rubén Blades. He’s a salsa artist, he’s crazy with it. Pen is insane, storytelling is crazy. He’s a legend for real. In the hip-hop world, I would probably say Blackstar, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill would be crazy. Busta Rhymes, Ludacris.
Ras: I got to say it because my brothers said it, Coast. As far as us, I would love a feature with Imagine Dragons. They’re crazy, everything they touch is fire. On a more solo tip, honestly, I like a lot more R&B and soul. I would love something with Erykah Badu. I think SiR is really dope. D’Angelo for sure. Hiatus Kaiyote, FlyLo — to get something with FlyLo, honestly for all of us, that would be marvelous. For hip-hop, it would be dope to work with some new cats. It don’t even have to necessarily be my project — but if we can put our hands in the soil and all the new cats coming up, we get some dope features with them, that would be solid.
Eric: Imma follow suit — it’s the Coast for me. I say that because we are our biggest fans and competition. These guys are the ones that make me go into that studio with fear, because I know they’re coming correct. The phase that I’m in with these guys is I’m still elated to see where we go with this because I feel like we’re still growing. It’s very, very early for us.
As far as legends and GOATs like that, to be completely honest, I’m not really crazy like, “Oh, I want to do a song with them.” The people I look up to, I want to talk to them. Like Jay-Z, I already know what you do, I studied it. I’d rather just talk to him. Dave Chappelle was someone I wanted to talk to. Off the record, give me some game. Andre 3000, somebody I just want to talk to. Give me some some gems on what the game is, how to move, what to look out for, what’s a good characteristic to add onto the armor. Kendrick, Cole. There’s a lot of cats I just want to sit down and talk to, but those would be dope features.