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People Under the Stairs

Carried Away

(Om; US: 13 Oct 2009; UK: 12 Oct 2009)

Fun-loving hip-hop is rarely this good. California’s People Under the Stairs have this subgenre of hip-hop on lock. Sure, this duo makes the occasional serious cut and these guys, in the words of Rakim, ain’t no joke. There are, of course, exceptions, such as the absolutely phenomenal “Acid Raindrops”, which embodies the sometimes-necessary escapism associated with drug use. But Thes One and Double K, who have now crafted a total of seven albums in 11 years, tend to be at their strongest when embracing the lighter side of life. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, seeing as their last record was titled Fun DMC. More importantly, it was a successful and critically-lauded effort. So, in a sense, why fix what isn’t broken? And for People Under the Stairs, that old saying couldn’t be truer as they crank up the level of unabashed fun on Carried Away.


The high-energy intensity here is apparent right from the jump, which is a ridiculously dope song called “Step Off”. The track is a smooth bit of psychedelia that sports an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Or, in other words, it’s a perfect way to open an album full of trippy disco-era samples (“Trippin’ at the Disco”), drug references (“Come On, Let’s Get High”), party anthems (“Hit the Top”), and a slew of fantastic beats. Most of the record actually carries a hip-hop party vibe of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in the sense that everyone involved just sounds like they are having a hell of a good time. Double K and Thes One flow so naturally on their beats that it’s difficult to imagine this is what they might consider a “job.” But, luckily for them, it is, and they have no problem letting us know how much they enjoy their lives.


And that aforementioned late ‘80s sound really comes to life thanks to the fact that Carried Away was apparently recorded on a reel to reel, which, for some audiophiles, will be obvious from the get-go. What this means is that the vocals will have a distinct distorted quality. And, in a way, it makes for a more engaging experience. Perhaps it’s the fact that it gives the album a rough, rugged, and raw sound. You know, like Big Daddy Kane or Kool G Rap, without all the jewelry, women, and violence. Instead, you get a boatload of those drug and alcohol references mentioned earlier. You also get to hear Double K and Thes One dabble into the old school hip-hop you know they love and grew up on. For one, there is a near-cover of A Tribe Called Quest’s classic jam “Check the Rhime”. People Under the Stairs dub their version “Check the Vibe” and name-check the likes of Bo Jackson and Arsenio Hall over a mild organ loop and dusty drums. There is also the aptly-titled “Letter from the Old School”. And then you have other tracks like “80 Blocks from the Silverlake” that could fit right in on an older album by the Roots. Well, at least the beat and keys could.


But weed, old school hip-hop, and beer aren’t the only topics getting play on this album. It says a lot when a duo is able to incorporate Internet memes and other kitsch into its music without taking away from the song itself. For one, it would be impossible to not hear The Price Is Right theme in drinking anthem “Beer”, or the Keyboard Cat music in “DQMOT”. These kinds of samples might seem goofy. And they are. But they fit right in with the tracks they are featured on. In particular, you cannot help cheesing extra hard once that familiar TV theme hits during “Beer”, which is absolutely hilarious anyway. But it’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard this duo pull of something like this. Chances are you have heard the aforementioned “Acid Raindrops”, which begins with a sample from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And this is all part of People Under the Stairs’ charm: The fact that they don’t take themselves too seriously, yet they maintain a strong weight of credibility throughout this album and others.


With seven albums under their belt, Thes One and Double K probably know better than anyone that they don’t appeal to every hip-hop head under the sun. Some of the more skeptical listeners are bound to find that there is too much cheese in People Under the Stairs’ humor and tongue-in-cheek attitude. Of course, others will absolutely love those qualities. There are also a few flaws in the grand scheme of Carried Away, such as a few meandering cuts in “My Boy D” and “Chicken Kebap”. Also, there is a certain depth lacking in the rhymes here. But damn it, this is what fun hip-hop is all about. Few acts are capable of pulling off an album like this. And People Under the Stairs is certainly one of them.

Rating:

Weekly newspaper reporter by day, music reviewer by night (OK, and by day, too). When he's not writing for PopMatters, Andrew spends most of his time at online magazine Prefix and hip-hop site Potholes In My Blog.


Media
People Under the Stairs - Trippin' at the Disco
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