Steve Yano was a nikkei from Whittier, California who would become one of the most influential Japanese American hip hop figures in Southern California for his table at the Roadium Swap Meet in Torrance during the early eighties. He was a vendor at both the Vermont and Roadium Swap Meets located in Gardena, California in the ’80s and ’90s. He and his wife Susan Yano sold vinyl records, cassette tapes (mixtapes) and airbrushed t-shirts. Steve Yano employed Tony A., Artie T, Paulie and Carlos Luque (Cee One) to work for him. Steve Yano introduced Eazy E. to Dr. Dre, which later formed into the iconic rap group N.W.A.
The Different Drummer
Steven Gregory Yano was born on July 27, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois to Paul and Ukie Yano. He had two younger sisters, Christine and Leslie. In 1955, they moved from Chicago to East LA, where he attended Robert Hill Lane and Griffith Junior High. Steve started working at an early age as a newspaper delivery boy and, growing up in the Japanese American community, Steve played baseball and basketball for the Montebello Jets.
Steve later attended Garfield High School and that’s where he met is future wife Susan. In high school, Steve played on the basketball and tennis teams and worked part time as a box boy at a grocery store. During his senior year, Steve, a hopeless romantic, mustered up the courage to call Susan and before you knew it, they started “going around” together.
In 1970, Steve went to UC Santa Barbara while Susan attended Cal State LA. Every weekend, Steve would drive his motorcycle down to see her. Eventually, Steve decided to drop out of UC Santa Barbara and finish his degree in psychology at Cal State LA with Susan.
While at Cal State LA, they did things a little differently. They went to school during the summer quarter and took the winter quarter off to go skiing.
Through college, Steve and Susan were in a gym every night either playing or practicing basketball or volleyball. Steve eventually formed an organization called the Intruders that had 2 basketball teams and a few volleyball teams.
Also during college, Steve purchased a van and, with his friend Gary Arita, started a gardening route with several major commercial businesses, but during midterms, they both stopped working to study and were fired shortly thereafter. Looking for a new job, Steve went to Cal State LA’s Career Center where he saw a flyer on the bulletin board seeking a reliable person with a van to sell music. Steve and Susan went for an interview with Bob McNellis and got a job selling tapes and albums at the Orange County swap meet. Eventually, Steve and Susan wanted to go off on their own and their boss agreed to continue selling product to them. They moved to the Long Beach swap meet where they had the best stall and their business boomed. Eventually the property that the swap meet sat on was sold and they moved their business to the Vermont Swap Meet in Gardena.
Before they graduated, Steve and Susan were able to buy a motor home and their first house together, where they hosted weekly disco nights every Monday. Steve graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and started a graduate program in school psychology, but after a shadowing program, Steve realized he could make more money working 3 days a week at the swap meet than he could make working 5 days a week as a school psychologist so he dropped out of the program with just a few units left to go and instead opened a wholesale distributorship selling cut out product with Bob McNellis. Eventually they ended their partnership and Steve and Susan went back to just selling records at the swap meet. They moved to the Roadium swap meet in Torrance, where Steve met Dr. Dre and immediately recognized how talented he was.
Steve later introduced Eazy-E to Dr. Dre and they eventually went on to form N.W.A. Steve saw how successful N.W.A. was and decided to start his own production company and record label. The first artists signed to his record label, Skanless Records, were Hi-C and Tony A. He later signed Proper Dos, Black Forest, recorded other groups, and did work for Rhino Records and a few other record labels.