People Under the Stairs: Stepfather

Michael Frauenhofer

Stepfather, the latest album from the West Coast pair of Thes One and Double K, is a big step away from their previous works in many respects that somehow manages to leave them right where they've always been.

People Under the Stairs


Label: Basement
US Release Date: 2006-04-18
UK Release Date: 2006-04-17
iTunes affiliate

People Under the Stairs, the classic hip-hop duo of Thes One and Double K, has, so far, lived up to its name, both in positive and negative respects. Thes and K have never achieved fame or commercial success on any real level, but they've managed to grow and maintain an underground cult following over the course of their long career, straddling the difficult line between anonymity and legend status. And at the same time, they've been able to use their underground status to their advantage, making music for their own brand of vinyl-loving, dusty-beat hip-hop heads and reaping the old-school love. Stepfather, the latest album from the West Coast pair, is a big step away from their previous works in many respects that somehow manages to leave them right where they've always been.

In a world of Aesop Rocks and Busdrivers and whole strings of nimble new-school flowers, the rhyming on Stepfather is nothing mind-blowing or particularly impressive from a technical standpoint. Thes and K sound like they never left the good ol' days, and their production style, built around an almost deliberately, nostalgically anachronistic focus on the youth of hip-hop, fits this perfectly. "The real rap came here to act young," says Double K on "Tuxedo Rap": it's nothing innovative and it doesn't break any new ground, but it's done well and so sincerely that it rises above imitation to continuation and elevation. Stepfather is an album out of time, a vinyl-underground hip-hop record that could have been made in the old-school Golden Age. It sounds like it was truly developed "under the stairs", if you will, fomented in its own time bubble of wax, turntablism and dopeness, a collage of scratched choruses and punchy, medium-fi drum loops.

However, that's not a dig: Stepfather is still dope, in the clean-slow-flowing way new hip-hop records used to be dope. "Jamboree Pt. 1" is a beautifully feel-good cookout rap jam helped perfectly by its beat: the synths shimmer and slide amidst tinkly bells like the slidy soap walls of bubbles, floating in a vaguely ambient sea of cheerful whoops and cheers. PUTS flow well, and the lines are nicely observed and convey the general mood, the flow of life, well: "Word up, this girl put a spell on me/ I would have married her there, but I smelled like weed." When the laid-back beat burbles out on "Flex Off", they can't hold in the love. "Sounds real good," he smiles aloud, and it's not the slick chromium croon we've come to expect from hip-hop, it's fresh, genuinely happy. "Tuxedo Rap" is a lively groaner of a song; "Eat Street" is a gentle, harmlessly shuffling paean to fast food. PUTS even manage to snare George Clinton for an appearance on "The Doctor and the Kidd", but he spends his time growling deep, gravelly, probably drug-related nothings in a baffling minute and a half of "you can smell it if you inhale it" and abundant references to "that rap juice".

Thes and K get more personal than they've previously been as well, one change from previous albums: "I wish we could stop the thing eating Grandpa's brain/ But all the same, who could I blame and how could I complain?/ We made it off the plane on September 10th/ July 3rd, I live to pay another month of rent/ Been getting bent on guilt," they rap on "Days Like This". "More Than You Know" pairs these reflections with nicely insistent piano chords, while "Reflections" introduces a new reggae bent. In fact, the looking-to-the-past production is probably still the biggest change from past albums: their sound is more varied here than before, tracks like the blandly urgent "Step In" and minimalist "Pass the 40" expanding the PUTS aural repertoire in new directions that work about as often as they don't. If there is any major flaw to this album, it's that too often remains merely inoffensive without becoming as truly transcendent as it could be.

All things considered, Stepfather is a solid addition to the People Under the Stairs discography that shakes things up a bit only to watch them settle right back how they've always been. It's well-produced, the rapping is solid, and it sounds like it could honestly have been made in the '90s. Depending on your views, this is either a great thing or a good thing; it's definitely not bad, considering certain aspects of the albums of today. If hip-hop has changed, nobody told the People Under the Stairs.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.