Photo by Brian Addison.
When it comes to the story of West Coast hip hop, the names of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Nate Dogg come up with it. However, oftentimes, the origin of that history is lost in the fray of pop culture, media, and urban myths that detail how these figures came to prominence and the stories behind their adventures—and that origin is right here in Long Beach, birthed at the iconic VIP Records shop that once sat at the corner of MLK and PCH.
The corner is one of the city’s most culturally rich black neighborhoods—one that has seen a steady decrease in its black population since 2000—that is framed by the famed VIP sign that has long been a marker and piece of pride for the community.
Owner and founder Kelvin Anderson Sr. will be approaching the Long Beach Heritage Commission in November to petition the sign for historic landmarking, which will then forward the petition to City Council for a formal vote on designation and an attempt to turn part of the space into something for the entire community.
However, shortly afterward, 7-Eleven, the Japan-based mini-mart chain, will be settling into its new digs at the original VIP site as it plans on opening in December. (Anderson, dealing with the digital blow that shuttered many traditional record shops, moved slightly east into a smaller shop where he still operates VIP.)
That preservation now proves questionable if not outright unattainable with the market taking over the space.
“I understand that things change—look at how VIP has changed,” said Anderson. “That’s why we were trying to work with 7-Eleven, help preserve the sign, and create a space for the community that has long been ignored by the rest of the world.”
When it was initially proposed that 7-Eleven would move in, the community cried foul; the concern prompted 7-Eleven to inform the VIP crew they were willing to “back the preservation financially and work with the community” while “understanding the value of the history.”
This was followed by a request from 7-Eleven for VIP to back away from public pressure so they could work a deal, which VIP did.
Ultimately, the pair of organizations came to a negotiation that stated 7-Eleven would stay in the location but build the space to reflect the VIP and Black music history while investing in the preservation of part of the original VIP Records space for the public to access.
This has been the goal from the get-go: a space for the community, which harkens to its origins. As VIP began to shrink following the digital boom of music streaming, Kelvin knew that he could neither keep up nor continue with traditional record sales at the capacity that he once did. He could, however, continue his legacy as a father figure in his community and create a new space that explores the rich culture of Black music as well as the history of VIP.
In other words, the deal with 7-Eleven was a win-win
“Our plan was to move into the space next to the 7-Eleven and build it out in a theme that would fall in line with the build out of the market,” Kelvin said. “This would have created a tourist attraction—and from a business perspective, it made sense for everyone because 7-11 would have benefited from both a tourist angle and a corporate responsibility angle.”
With no warning, 7-11 notified VIP they would not continue the agreement and move forward with original plans instead—handing over money instead to Poly High School. Anderson noted he was happy some part of the deal was to benefit the community—”I have watched young people graduate from Poly for almost 40 years now… I’ve employed and mentored many of them,” he said—but the disappointment in the tactics used by 7-Eleven, he feels, eradicate VIP’s long-term plans for economic opportunity, jobs, and growth by celebrating the cultural richness of hip-hop history.
“I feel like we are in the Game of Thrones,” said Shirin Senegal, President of VIP. “We worked hard for months to work out a smart situation that would have preserved history and helped our local businesses—and then a lobbyist for 7-Eleven stepped in and the rest is history. This is not how you treat such an important part of Black history.”
Thousands have now joined a petition calling for the protection of the space.