The People Under The Stairs / We Came From Beyond, Volume 2
ittle did I know that only one year after graduation that I’d be going back to school. This time, however, it’s a bit more fun. This is due, in most part, to my relationship with my teacher, Mr. PA Simon. Oh- and the subject? Hip hop. That’s right. Mr. Simon has taken me under his wing, guiding me away from making mistakes that’ll get me beaten mercilessly at a hip hop show for my lunch money or flippantly dismissed by the ever-growing body of tantalizing females. No, I’ve taken my education seriously by refusing to care about what people think of me.
He’s been very gracious to me for these last few months, and very patient dealing with my hip hop ignorance (which didn’t border on illiteracy, mind you, but I’d hear him say “What!? You haven’t heard ��so and so’ yet” quite often). He’s opened these jaded ears to more than just the typical indie, “sit hop” stuff. I’ve learned how to nod my head again, and I guess he’d hate the fact that I’m writing this (“Man, time you could spend listening”), but I’d like to show you what I’ve learned so far, while hopefully highlighting some of the best of the genre. Because hip hop is bloated with countless recordings and, at times, it appears to be in danger of artistic collapse, but inevitably transcends stagnation with the help of a handful of passionate underground artists. So without further ado- my second term paper.
Summer ends, endless summer begins…
The People Under The Stairs
…Or Stay Tuned
A couple of days ago I decided to take one of my tri-weekly jogs through my neighborhood, not so much to exercise but to enjoy the fresh air and sun. I had the usual accoutrements: my faded New Balances, the same sweat-encrusted gray tee and my hunter-orange running shorts (for some reason, the street lights don’t work around here). I plowed out the door after a quick stretch only to be confronted by the crippling cold and a numbing of the limbs. Underdressed and surprised by the climate change, I had the unfortunate annual epiphany… summer is gone. I ran about two blocks and returned home, knowing that six months of cold, bitter weather awaited me. No more porch-dwelling, toothpick-whittling fun. What a perfect time to listen to some hip hop.
My mentor PA Simon introduced me to People Under The Stairs last year with their third full-length release, O.S.T. Thoroughly blazed, I heard “Acid Raindrops” come crawling out of the speakers, catching me in one of those rare moments of captivation as you really listen to something. Every sample impeccably laced the beat and delivered you to the place where Double K and Thes One lived, teaching you the “importance of having fun”. You knew you were listening to a chill-out hip hop classic. I forgot all about that stress junk that I had on my mind. The record did exactly what it said it would, letting “the music take over your soul, body and mind.” It was a simple, blunt sentiment, but a perfect one.
That album spewed from my speakers all winter long. I’d start my car up, turn up the stereo and scrape the ice from my windshield. It did what so many other summer albums couldn’t do; it turned winter into summer. And damn if these boys didn’t go and release another full-length just in time for the lousy fall freeze. …Or Stay Tuned picks up where the best tracks from O.S.T. left off, and as great as that album was, it suffered from the usual problems associated with bloated tracklists and a pace that changes gears with a dizzying playfulness. …Or Stay Tuned is a much shorter album, trimming the fat to only 11 tracks, and included are remixes of two highlights from O.S.T., which turn the originals into cousins of the laid-back cuts “Montego Slay” and “Acid Raindrops”. Gone from the near title track, “O.S.T. (Original Sound Track)”, is the radio-friendly chorus from Odell. Streamlined and simplified, the remix begins with a silly beatbox prelude before it slips into their trademark lazy beat complimented by a repeated pulsing organ note. Unlike the original version, the remix de-emphasizes the bass elements, veering towards the ambient and, more importantly, stress-relieving. The remix of “LA Song” uses the same template to push the jazzy melody to the forefront of the song, giving you a more chilled vision of the City of Angels.
So, what PUTS have done here is created their most sonically consistent (and therefore, most entirely listenable) album to date. Instead of each track thumping away in a desperate bid for the listener’s attention, this is a hip hop album you’re supposed to get lost in. Thes and Double have captivating egos, just like any other credible MC, but they don’t force themselves on you with exaggerated hedonistic tales or battle raps. They’re just content with contributing (and paying tribute) to hip hop culture. With the exception of the intentionally anachronistic “Drumbox” (Double K mentions that “Reagan is in office, but you betta vote!”), these tracks let the listener either engage or mellow out, leaving the choice up to you.
The lyrics explore the same reflexive territory as their previous releases. Double and Thes drop a sincere homage to the touring life (“Roadbeaters”), a smooth Tribe-y love song (the typically unpretentious “Fly Love Song”), and a humorously innocent Fresh Prince-style rap for the kids (“Take the Fruit”). All though most of these themes have been covered endlessly, PUTS perform every role (MC, crate-digger, producer, poet) effortlessly, leaving you with the impression that the real b-boy is alive and well in LA and not the endangered species prophesized by the money-grubbing mainstream. They’re even able to describe days spent killing time as kids in terms of video games (referencing the classic arcade racer, closing track “Outrun”) before flipping the script completely and paying tribute to late singer-songwriter Wesley Willis on the chorus, adopting his signature use of advertising slogans (“Rock over London, Rock on Chicago/ GE, we bring good things to life/ Diet Pepsi, Uh-Huh”). Every day, every seemingly insignificant cultural moment is summer in Double and Thes’s world, and they’ll use everything at their disposal to make sure you’ll feel the same way.
We Came From Beyond, Volume 2
Razor & Tie
The People Under The Stairs also made their way onto this compilation of underground hip hop artists compiled by well-respected LA radio DJ and hip hop advocate Mike Nardone. Named after his weekly radio show out of Layola Marymount University’s KXLU (still going strong after 15 years), this comp’s second installment sets out to profile innovative artists from both coasts. It boasts an impressive cast of veterans and neophytes including Lootpack’s Wildchild, J-Zone (who a friend told me sounded “kinda like a dumb guy”), Stone’s Throw producer and Madlib sibling Oh No, Quannum’s recent signee Lifesavas and Cannibal Ox’s Vast Aire, to name just a few. The vast majority of the music here is unreleased material, and, according to the label’s website, was recorded specifically for this comp.
Highlights abound, but the edge is given once again to PUTS, who offer up “Chollo Dad”. One has to imagine Thes and Double waking up from a night of sexual misadventure to bang out one of their best narratives to date, a warning to prospective boyfriends of the “dangerous demon” in the title, an overprotective O.G. with a watchful eye on his daughter’s chastity. I’m not convinced of the universality of the topic, but the humorous sincerity of the storytellers makes you nod your head in agreement (and enjoyment). Same with J-Live’s previously available offering, “School’s In”. Like most of J-Live’s output, this track is hell-bent on teaching you ignorant dummies. But if you can look past the down-talking, you’ll find a damn insightful, energizing tune. Wrapped in bleepy production that could even have been sampled from a rejected quasi-Jeopardy show, “School’s In” encourages you to “analyze the lyric/ from the moment that you hear it/ See, cause most don’t have the skill ta/ Utilize their ear’s function as a garbage filta.”
Although a few cuts fall flat, this compilation succeeds where most others fail… by standing as a worthwhile purchase for completist fans, while providing a solid introduction to these artists for newcomers. We Came From Beyond and …Or Stay Tuned are two late-summer west coast releases that you should carry with you into the wintry months.
By: Gabe Gloden
Published on: 2003-10-16