People Under The Stairs
Having just released a retrospective anthology via July’s The Om Years, it’s pleasantly surprising to see that People Under the Stairs wasted little time before putting out an album proper. A new label has done little to curb the conceptual trend of recent releases such as Stepfather and Thes One’s Lifestyle Marketing, but the theme of Fun DMC is based more in a vibe and a feeling than in intellectual unity or technical exercises. The packaging includes the image of a handwritten notebook-paper invite to a barbecue, reflective of the overall hang-loose party atmosphere that permeates the album. Charged with good times and a particularly Southern Californian air, Fun DMC transmits a relaxed quality without being similarly relaxed on the technical aspects; being a product of sincere, concentrated effort towards improvement and growth without losing grip of the idea that music, especially hip-hop, is fun.
People Under the Stairs are a group that can seem to draw heavily from 1990s atmosphere, and while there are tracks that may remind you of favorites from that era, it’s misleading to suggest that the group or the album are only a throwback. Sample-based hip-hop is at one level always going to evoke the past due to its use of pre-existing recordings, but as technology and production technique are always evolving in ever-subtle ways, the potential is for familiar sounds to manifest in new forms. Given the intent of the album to portray a certain locale and set of experiences, some nostalgia is no doubt necessary, justifiable, and effective, but at the same time the sophistication and personal character of the productions prevents them from being a mere style cop. The embrace of technology takes those influences and pushes them into new terrain.
A track like “The Wiz” demonstrates this, combining a retro Rhodes vibe with modern-sounding synth strings, a laid-back (but funky) drum kit, twinkling synth arpeggios, and more subtle touches like a fading vocal delay loop at the end. It simultaneously evokes the 1970s, the early 1990s (due to an overall west-coast funk atmosphere), and the modern day due to the understated but creative use of synth and studio effects. Admittedly, their sound is not always so obviously g-funk in nature, but the track is still emblematic of the way various influences and techniques may interact, a combination of samples and live instrumentation that is hard to resist for its familiarity and easy to appreciate for its personality.
The album’s outlook is essentially bright, but lyrical topics attempt to cover a realistic portrayal of life in Southern California, positive or negative. Hooks are pulled out when needed: “You bring the beef and I’ll bring the brew —oh, shit another barbecue….” Technically, both Thes One and Double K more than hold their own and compliment the music in thoughtful ways, demonstrating that the intention is really to craft an album and not just pull out a collection of singles. People Under the Stairs may be avoiding widespread success, but are no doubt continuing to create a respectable output through this devotion to craftsmanship.
– Justin Deremo