Music News

People Under the Stairs

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 Radio to The Low End Theory golden 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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ron Nachman