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This review is from: O.S.T. (Audio CD)
In the liner notes for O.S.T., People Under the Stairs producer/emcee Thes One provides a well-articulated manifesto where he defines the duo's sound as "just good old hip-hop." He further goes on to say that "somewhere along the way it seems most critics decided that just making hip-hop was not good enough, and praises were hailed upon those who were 'experimental' and 'progressive'... [and] underground hip-hop became a symbol of suburban rebellion across the Internet." This is an interesting point that reflects a growing divide within the independent/underground hip-hop community. Although hip-hop has never been aesthetically homogeneous, the curtain rift between old and new threatens divide the genre into two distinctively different sounds:
The artists associated with Anticon and Warp Records' hip-hop imprint Lex press hip-hop's sound forward at an unrelenting speed that has critics heralding the emergence of a new era. While these artists wage war with their machines in suburban basements, another faction within the hip-hop community is solely dedicated to preserving the culture's heritage and, by extension, the musical fundamentals that it was built upon: deep groove samples, dope breakbeats, and simplistic, on-the-corner emceeing. With O.S.T., their third album, People Under the Stairs have made a musical tribute to these basics. And while it may not break any ground or shift any paradigms, the album is a testament to the enduring strength of straight-up, no-frills hip-hop.
Thes One is so dedicated to vinyl that even his bathroom is decorated with classic soul and jazz albums. His nostalgia for the classics is pervasive throughout this record, and you can smell the 80s scent of linoleum, blunts and vinyl as he brings the rare grooves on song after song. And not only do Thes and Double K, the other member of People Under the Stairs, dig deeper than almost anyone else, they also have a great sense of how to reconstruct their samples to illicit some soul-piercing sounds. On "Empty Bottles of Water", they place a relaxed, rippling key line over an upbeat drum track as Thes One raps, "I travel to the beach where each and every wave sounds like ultimate breaks and beats." On "Acid Raindrops", Thes One appropriates a sample from David Walker's cover of "Lay Lady Lay" while guest MC Camel raps about a day-in-the-life of a So-Cal b-boy.
Although People Under the Stairs flirt with soul, reggae and jazz, the key here is the funk. "The Hang Loose" is an old school, roller-rink jam with a funky disco bassline. Thes and Double affect an old school, Sugar Hill Gang flow and namedrop Dr. J, Kool and the Gang, and "What's Happening"'s Rerun. On "Tales of Kidd Drunkadelic", a loungy keyboard bounces on top of a classic boom-bap drum track as a flute blows beneath the sample. With the seamless ease that Thes and Double K weave their samples together, their life-long obsession with their music is apparent and infectious.
Unfortunately, lyrics aren't the duo's strong suit. The lyrics generally revolve around their obsession with hip-hop culture, their love of alcohol/herb, and the (often uninteresting) minutia of their daily lives. But given the celebratory funk that the music conjures, the relatively light and redundant subject matter isn't much of a liability. After all, this isn't music for wannabe Lyotards twiddling their thumbs and worrying about some linguistic apocalypse; this is music for playing dominos and sipping on 40s. This is for those lazy days wasted on blunts and lounging by the pool. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
-Sam Chennault, September 3rd, 2002