By Hazel Shahgholi
If you Google “Getty family,” you’ll find a long lineage of noble-sounding names that tell a very American story.
At the top is the patriarch of all patriarchs, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. A shrewd investor and master of oil extraction, first from the fields of Oklahoma, then Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. J. Paul Getty was, in a sense, the man who sold the world.
In 1957, Fortune magazine named J. Paul Getty the world’s richest private citizen, with an estimated $1.2 billion in the bank, or invested in precious objects which would come to make up part of the Getty Museum collection.
Skip forward three generations and you’ll find Balthazar Getty, unassuming, charitable, laid-back, friendly, and with an encyclopedic knowledge of music along with technical expertise and years of experience as a DJ.
When he was 15, Balthazar Getty, or “Balt” to his friends, many of whom are A-list and ultra-famous, played the lead role of Ralph in the extremely successful 90s adaptation of the classic novel “The Lord of the Flies,” showing a natural talent for acting beyond his tender age.
Balt grew up in San Francisco and LA and the old-world / new-world paradigm could not be more apparent; he and his sister were raised by his free-spirited mother and even spent time living in a Zen Buddhist Center.
After years of graft and paying his dues through DJ sets at music festivals such as Coachella, Balt has recently released an EP with Bronx-born, afro-Latin supreme lyricist—and interestingly, Mensa member— Chino XL.
Curiously, Chino is also part of a lineage of luminaries. His uncle is respected musician Bernie Worrell, a founding member of the influential group Parliament/Funkadelic and keyboardist for The Talking Heads.
The EP, “Chino XL vs. Balt,” is a balanced 5-track offering and intended to be part of a series of EP’s of a similar format, i.e., “Balt vs. [insert famous musician’s] name.” These are to be released throughout 2021, with Balt keeping schtum about who his upcoming collaborators will be. He is also planning to step up to the mic in a transition from the technical to performance side.
The pandemic didn’t affect the EP’s recording at all. Although they both live in LA, Balt would lay down the beats and melodies while Chino XL sent over lyrics and the two were fused together, and this was the plan all along. They considered dropping the EP later in the year due to COVID, but figured the timeliness of Chino’s sometimes clowning style, specifically his Donald Trump references, might lose their relevancy with the passage of time.
Balt describes music as his primary passion and “mystery.” Acting paid the bills but his true devotion was to creating new sounds and experimenting with keyboards, samplers and the classic E-mu SP 1200 drum machine and sequencer from an early age.
Rap music is diversifying and being fused in with other genres of music and has been for years. But at its roots, rap culture began and for a long time was associated with the hardships of predominately urban, low-income people of color.
Change could be said to have began in the mid-80s with the Beastie Boys and hell, as recently as the late 90s people were freaking out about white-rapper Eminem’s place in the scene. Gladly, we’ve all moved on from these divisions.
But still. A Getty rapper? It’s a family infamy that must be a tiresome weight. But facts like, “the EP was recorded in Balt’s studio that he purchased from Rick Rubin,” and Balt’s casual admission that he simply called up Robert Patrick of “Terminator 2” fame to play a bit-part in the slick, self-directed concept video for debut track “Ethiopia,” and things start to seem… otherworldly.
Nonetheless, “Ethiopia” is an extremely catchy combination of Chino XL as fast-paced wordsmith, Balt’s smooth beats and a chorus that will be your earworm for days.
When asked about this elephant in the room aspect of his career, Balt replied somewhat evasively, but with sincerity, “What people doesn’t understand is how I actually grew up, you know? People make an assumption, but I was always drawn to a rougher crowd.” And although he does get fairly aggressively trolled online, he owns the reality of the response, “What’s this old, rich, white guy doing rapping?” But asserts how he has largely been embraced by the rap and hip-hop community, particularly in LA.
Interestingly, at age 45, Balt also intends to return to acting, revealing that staggering misogynistic chasm that exists in Hollywood, where women age out whereas parts for 30+ year-old-men “become more meaningful,” which is an interesting statement to be made by someone who has worked with some of the best actors of our time, and with legendary director, David Lynch.
In both this commentary on music and film, it is clear that Balt wants be seen and accepted for his talent and creativity. He hopes that showcasing his music will add to a multi-faceted legacy of his own, one that just not involve just being seen “as an actor or a celebrity or a face you might see in the paper, but somebody that actually does this and has been doing it a long time you know?”
Balt does not need commercial success—“although it would be nice, you know, to have validation”—he wants to prove himself, and be accepted as Balt, not “just” Balthazar Getty. He is driven to become more than a two-dimensional headshot on a famous family tree. And through this inspired collaboration with Chino XL, and hopefully the EP’s to come, he has done exactly this.
“Ethiopia,” the debit single from “Balt vs. Chino” was released in mid-December on Getty’s record label, Purplehaus Records and the EP is available for download on iTunes.