If you believe MTV, Rolling Stone and other mainstream music media outlets, West Coast hip-hop is of the “gangsta” variety, the whole Death Row scene and so on. But from the Freestyle Fellowship, The Pharcyde and Hieroglyphics to Jurassic Five, Blackalicious and Ugly Duckling, there’s a heartfelt strain of Californian hip-hop based around preserving the roots and traditions of hip-hop while pushing forward into the future through freestyling, DJing, breaking, etc. These groups are traditionalists and innovators at the same time, and are for the most part die-hard independents, both in terms of attitude and record label affiliation.
People Under the Stairs are a central part of that latter movement. Their second CD Question in the Form of an Answer is a thoroughly fresh celebration of hip-hop. The duo, Thes One and Double K, do just about everything on the CD: the rhyming, producing, writing, and recording (on an 8-track machine in Thes’ bedroom). They are the music freaks who grew up flipping through records at garage sales and flea markets, searching for hidden bits of gold around which they can build funky hip-hop tracks.
On the album’s first track, “Crazy Live,” the pair (who have a tag-team style that hearkens back to hip-hop’s past without being as deterministically retro as some of their contemporaries) say they’re “just fans with the chance to rock the stands for you,” and this humble attitude carries through to the CD’s end. In that song, one of them also says, “I ain’t done, neither is my partner, right?/Then hit the panic switch let’s keep em up all night.” That pretty much sums up the vibe on Question in the Form of an Answer. It’s a late night party jam with 22 tracks. Each song is built on sparse, old school-style funk and soul tracks, and features the rhyming talents of both members, who seem to be equal partners in music.
The majority of the songs deal with relatively light topics like hanging out, playing music, drinking and smoking weed. A few times they take detours into story-rap, like on “July 3rd,” a track that recounts horrible days without being unrealistically over-the-top. “Give Love a Chance” sums up the message behind all of their music. The title doesn’t refer to any sort of hippie-ish call for peace, but is all about their love for hip-hop, and the way that music has united people.
On one track, People Under the Stairs say they’re trying to recover the bliss in hip-hop. Yet they’re not on a hyper-retro, imitative mission. Question in the Form of an Answer is a funky blast of fresh air, one more sign that hip-hop is not in need of saving, it’s as alive as ever.
// Notes from the Road
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