The Long Beach community is mourning the loss of a beloved mentor and longtime Long Beach Poly football assistant Keith “Slice” Thompson, who passed away last week after a battle with cancer.
“He was a real community guy who did everything he could to give back and uplift the kids here,” said Poly boys’ athletic director Rob Shock. “It’s devastating. Everyone at our school and in our community feels like we’ve been punched in the gut. He was committed to the kids in our city as a mentor and a coach. We’re all going to miss him. This really hurts, it hurts a lot.”
Thompson’s first impact on his hometown was not on the gridiron, but in the record store. Thompson’s love of music solidified while playing saxophone and drums at Poly in the jazz and marching bands, and he began giving back to the local youth shortly after graduating from Poly in 1984.
A skilled live musician and DJ, Thompson was taken under the wing of VIP Records owner Kelvin Anderson, at VIP’s spot across the street from Poly. Thompson managed VIP Records, built a budding career as a DJ on the original KDAY radio station, and quickly turned the back of VIP into a creative playground for up-and-coming talent.
Thompson would end up being the producer on the first recorded tracks by Snoop Dogg and 213, Snoop’s post-high school rap trio alongside Warren G and Nate Dogg. He was also the first to produce Daz Dillinger and other Long Beach products, and taught DJ Quik how to use turntables in the studio at VIP.
In an Instagram tribute to Thompson, Snoop Dogg explained his significance. “This man right here gave me and my homeboys a chance to live out our dreams at the VIP,” he wrote. “Making music for us and giving us a shot. RIP Coach DJ Keith Slice, you will be missed.”
Thompson brushed elbows with the most famous rappers of the day between his star-making status at VIP and his radio gig. He was proud of his part in Long Beach’s ascendancy in rap, and told OC Weekly what it meant to him as he’d pass the VIP Records sign on the way to Poly.
“When we’d drive down the street, we’d be like, ‘Yep, that’s where I was at in 87, 88, 89, whatever,’” he said. “We were the ghetto heroes, the ghetto superstars.”
While that career in music might have been enough for many, it wasn’t for Thompson, who got a bigger thrill from helping the young rappers than he did from being associated with them. He decided to give back at his alma mater, where he became a volunteer assistant football coach for more than two decades.
Thompson was employed as a campus security officer at Poly and later at other schools in the LBUSD, and his friendly and steady presence on campuses was mentioned in a flood of social media tributes as well as his prowess as a football coach.
“This man gave many of us young men advice way beyond our time and I’m extremely thankful for the criticism as well as the love only a Black man knew how to give,” said former Poly quarterback Morgan Fennell. “What you have done for us lives on through us all and you will never be forgotten–never not never!!! Heaven’s team just got one hell of an offensive coordinator.”
Marcus Falanai played for Thompson and later returned to Poly to coach alongside him as well, and said that Thompson’s dedication to the Poly community kids was a lifelong inspiration for him and many other alums who came to give back. Thompson was always the first to volunteer for jobs–even though he’d been a coordinator on a varsity CIF-SS championship team, he had spent the last few years helping run Poly’s freshman and junior varsity programs.
“Slice always told me, ‘It isn’t about the money here, it’s about these kids’ lives,’” said Falanai. “It isn’t the buildings or programs that created all these phenomenal people who’ve come from here. It was men like coach Slice who gave love to young men who needed it and encouraged those who never got it anywhere else.”
Perhaps as fitting a tribute as any was the news that AJ Luke, another longtime Poly football assistant, was coming out of retirement to coach the Jackrabbits’ freshman team this year in Thompson’s absence.
Thompson is survived by his wife and children; services are pending.