People Under the Stairs

. . . Or Stay Tuned (Om)

Simply labeling Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs as old-school hip-hop heads misses the point. Thes One and Double K are more like docents at an imaginary Museum of Old-School Hip-Hop Praxis, a pair who deal exclusively with hip-hop's basic building blocks -- rhymes, scratches, and rare-groove funk samples -- to make tunes that sound straight out of the genre's Radioto The Low End Theorygolden era. Although they come with some unique rhymes, PUTS break no newer conceptual ground on their fourth album, . . . Or Stay Tuned, than on their previous three. Fortunately, that doesn't prevent the album's 12 tracks from comprising a solidly funky affair.

The fact that Thes and K -- who, in true old-school style, share the rap, beat-making and scratching duties -- have excused themselves from hip-hop's modern-day craftlessness certainly doesn't make them irrelevant. You need only check the old-school trappings of Missy Elliott's '02 album Under Construction, or the myriad golden-age beats that P. Diddy has lifted as a producer to measure the now generation's thirst for hip-hop tradition. PUTS bring that tradition to life by flowing smooth, simile-filled rhymes that address themes like touring, romance, city life, and just being a b-boy over chunky beats shot through with samples of chiming chords and snaky jazz guitar. When these guys lace the album-opening "Yield" with a rhyme like "Comin' out of nowhere like a dormant volcano with some hotness/So save your pop shit for the label, yo," you know they're looking to lay down some underground law.

Does all the versatility and passion that PUTS express within hip-hop's old-school structural confines make . . . Or Stay Tuned essential to your collection? Not necessarily. But with the now-commodified folk art largely tumbling in a cycle of bling-bling and blam-blam, we can do far worse than a living history lesson.

 
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