Original photos by Kian Lavi. All rights reserved.
Tuition fees for the public universities in California increased 33% last year, and 9% this year because of reduced budgets from the state. The “Revellution” concert in RIMAC Arena was free to students, and I’m thankful that it made me forget about these sobering facts for at least a few hours. People Under the Stairs (PUTS) laid down phat beats, spontaneous freestyles, and classic verses on everything. They weren’t just musicians; they were entertainers. That night was probably the most pumped up I’ve seen a small crowd of UC San Diego students since the Undie Run.
For those not in the know, People Under the Stairs are a duo [Thes One and Double K] who met in the large metropolis that is Los Angeles when they were in their teens in a record shop, hit it off, and began making music. They were 16 or 17, and they’ve been together ever since– 8 records recorded, many stages/mics rocked. Their early music, as you will see, is characteristic of late 1990s and early 2000s underground hip hop– with jazzy sampled beats, smooth and relaxed vibes, and socially conscious messages mixed with doses of humor.
In concert, PUTS are experienced at keeping up energy levels. They demand audience participation: clapping, chanting, loud roars. By the end of the concert I was sweating, my throat was sore from yelling, and I was refreshed and re-energized. All great things to have at the end of a concert in my experience. Highlights in terms of songs played were “Acid Raindrops,” their newer “Beer” song and of course– “San Francisco Knights.” In an encore, they played their newest single “Tripping at the Disco,” which sealed the night right. What’s next for this group? Well, Thes One claims that:
We’re going to have an open-door policy on the next album. Any motherfucker that wants to jam on it is totally welcome. It’s going to be a total art experience.
Keep an eye out for their newer music. And if they’re in your area, try to make it out to their concert.
If you ever want to meet or talk with the musician who you just watched play live, my best advice is stick around after the show. So long as they aren’t ridiculously famous, they’re probably going to be chilling out after their set and lounging around when everyone has left. That’s what I did– I waited. I asked a few Revelle College (a small campus on UCSD) student organizers whether I could score an interview, and minutes later Thes One wanted out from backstage with a towel draped on his left shoulder and several layers of caked sweat over his face and upper body. We sat down in the bleachers.
So I heard you guys are trying to put out a book, is that true?
I’m working on it. It’s part of a 5 LP set. It’s going to be 5 LPs with a wood crate, hemp handle, and a black and white sixty page book.
What’s the content about?
It’s 60 pages and the 5 LPs are 60 beats, and there’s a story for each beat. Basically we’re going to be selling them independent through the artist co-op that I started up: www.pl70.net. We’re going to make 250 of them and once they’re gone, they’re gone. There’s a whole history of us and L.A. hip-hop. There are all these academic books that get written about hip-hop, but you can’t really tell these histories that we experience but they’re not relevant to an academic book about hip-hop. There’s a lot of really important characters and figures, like Rob Warren and DJ Dusk, people that passed away that I’m going to be writing about in the book– in memorium and how we came about, who influenced us, why we get on stage and give it up for Pharcyde, Cypress Hill, and other artists. It’s about telling our history.
It’s going to be really personal. It’s going to be about the people who were around us. We came up during a crazy time in L.A. There were so many groups that came up at the same time. It was us, J5, Ugly Duckling, Dilated Peoples. Everyone was trying to find themselves and battle. Hip-hop was already starting to die off a little bit compared to what it was. It was an interesting time, and that’s what the book’s about.
Was there dialogue between you and the other groups starting up in L.A.?
There was, but it wasn’t always friendly. There was a lot of politics and a lot of business that I’d probably get into because I don’t give a fuck. Again, these are things that get overlooked when academics write histories of hip-hop or L.A. hip-hop because they’re not really relevant.
I think it’s important for people to know what happened with Phat Beats, a New York distribution company that came to L.A. and what that meant to L.A. hip-hop. They were like: “we don’t carry L.A. groups, we only carry New York groups. So if you want your record to be produced by Phat Beats in L. A. you have to have a New York sounding record.“ Some groups like Dilated said, “fuck it, that’s what we do.” And some groups like us said, “fuck all of you, we’re from L.A. and we’re not going to change our sound.” That’s where the book starts.
Our blog is SF-based, so we’re keen on knowing the story behind “San Francisco Knights”
So when I was 17, I got my first car. It was a Black Jeep with no doors, and then I bought some blue doors for it because that’s all I could find. It was our first roadtrip– me and Mikey. We said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. Take all the money we’ve saved up, get in a car, and going to drive to San Francisco. We’d never been outside of L.A. like that, you know. We got in the car, drove all the way up to the 101, all the way to Santa Cruz. We didn’t even go inland. We were on I-1 going through Big Sur.
We had a great time. We finally made it to San Francisco. We got lost…we did all the things kids do. We went and skateboarded, graffiti, smoked pot. And we came home, and we were like “Let’s write a song to commemorate our trip.” It was a real personal song. We didn’t make it for anyone, it was just for us. And then some people heard it and they liked it. And then these guys from 411 wanted to put it in their skate video. They were setting skate scenes in San Francisco to the song. And then when people saw it presented that way, it changed the course of our history.
So was that a breakthrough in some ways?
It was in the sense that we realized that we could make really, really personal music, but if we were really into the music people could relate to it. People would tell, “hey homeboy, me and homie went to San Francisco and we got high, lost, and stuck on the Bay Bridge too.” We realized that we didn’t have to rap about being scientific. We didn’t have to get on stage and put on an act. We would just write songs about whatever the fuck was happening around us, and we got positive vibes from it. People all over the world were relating to San Francisco Knights. And Acid Raindrops. Everyone around the world who smokes weed.
After 10 years, how do you stay true to your roots?
Because we don’t sell out to labels. We don’t care about the business. Mike and I have accepted the fact that we’re here on this planet just to do hip-hop. To do what we do. We’re not really good at anything else. We live for music and so if this doesn’t work — people don’t listen to it and don’t like it — we’re still going to do it because it’s really all we can do at this point. That’s how we stay true. We wake up and say, “let’s make some funky music.”
What are some passions of yours other than music? Something your fans don’t know about you.
Aside from all the music-related passions, like being an engineer, building studios, I mean that’s my whole life– it revolves around music. And Mike’s does too. I would say that people probably don’t know that Mike is a huge South Park fan. He’s like a little baby about it. We had to drive to South Park when we were in Colorado, it was his Mecca. And we’re both really into indie rock music. No, we don’t listen to hip-hop. We’ll probably get back in the car and listen to the old MGMT album Congratulations. That’s how we relate to everyone. We meet rock bands and respect their music.