Wednesday, May 21, 2014

People Under The Stairs - 12 Step Program Review

Kings of the funky flows, feel good vibes, and 80's influenced Hip-Hop back-and-forth verse stylings, People Under The Stairs have remained stalwart's in the underground rap scene for over a decade now. While their time in the limelight may have passed, since their well-noted 2002 album O.S.T rained in as the peak, they continue to make music pleasing the heart and soul of each person while simultaneously bringing together a community, in many cases their own of L.A. Their 9th LP, and first in 3 years, continues these long-invested traditions, this time enveloping them in a series of movie, music, radio, and television clips as the ’12 Step Program,’ of which the album receives its name. While the concept develops nicely through these various samples the heart of the messages don’t relate all to well into carrying through with the potential concept. Most of the songs here follow tried-and-tested topics, ranging from storytelling to weed to relationship dilemmas. It’s not the content of the songs that attract listeners to the duo of Thes One and Double K however, it’s more the airy nature of their tunes, the simple, laid back flows, and the production which, as is almost always the case with the two, is the biggest proponent of their work.

The opener, Roundabouts, introduces potential new listeners to their laid back sounds. A comical television skit begins the album before developing itself into the beat as boom bap drums hit while breezy synths meld with smooth acoustic guitars strums in the background. The sound harkens back to the old days of Hip-Hop, sound and style, as the duo trade four bars through the first verse. While relaying old-school vibes throughout the duo recognizes today’s age in Hip-Hop claiming to not “look back, the Golden Era’s right now.” However, respect of their elders in the game is felt far beyond the production, as samples from greats like Busta Rhymes, Nas, and Del the Funkee Homosapian blast their way through the speakers throughout the album. It’s these skits that breath life into a potential dull record. Without these incorporations the album would certainly dissolve into trite rap subjects, edging close to parody. Instead we’re greeted through and through with sounds from different forms of entertainment, from corny jingles on L.A.’s premier Hip-Hop radio station WRLA, to George McFly in Back To The Future. This thankfully keeps the listener intrigued to the composition of the piece as a whole, seeing as how tracks begin to overlap each other with message through the samples.

While Roundabouts introduces us to the sound of P.U.T.S, the second track attempts a striking contrast, despite its lackluster creativity. Clocking in at over 7 minutes Ste. For Reefer boasts half a dozen beats with multiple skits spread out, making this one of the group’s most ambitious tracks. What begins as another slow croon abruptly gets segmented off as Double K announces a change of sound to some “rough B-Boy shit,” as the sound drops out to rugged reverbs and echoed verses from both. It’s an interesting approach to take, but unfortunately, rather ironically as well, the duo returns to the same sound their most comfortable in, despite rescinding “that smooth shit” earlier. There’s multiple other instances of this noticeable contradiction that make the message P.U.T.S is trying to promote rather unclear. Take Yes I Can & follow-up Umbrellas (God Forgive Me) on the back half for example. The former is a touching sentiment to kids lost in the world, smoking pot wondering, “What’s the point?” Thes One attempts to spread positivity to the apathetic youth by promoting the belief that you can do whatever your mind invests itself in. Following his verse Double K begins his in much the same light, only to trip and fall saying that “I’m good at all the things that I do, I smoke a grain of Blue, my nigga so can you” as the song abruptly ends, switching over to the ‘weed’ rap track with K stating “my best days, I stress days, lord forgive me, I’m ‘bout to get blazed.” A lack of a clear message dissolves both into regurgitated dribble, as those speaking the messages are as unsure of their beliefs as anyone else.

Maintaining interest in the listener however is 12 Step Program’s succinctly efficient production, also compiled by the duo. From 1 Up Til Sun Up’s 8-bit video game synth sounds bouncing around the outskirts, to L.A. Nights’ 70’s-inspired disco and funk elements, treading along deep bass line’s as the duo rides around on a typical L.A. night, there’s hardly a mediocre or redundant moment here. Sometimes samples become more prominent, laying the foundation for the track as a whole, as evidenced on GetHip. As mentioned before, while the production does hold up tightly throughout the album’s 51 minutes, the lyrical content sometimes does not. This is most clearly shown on the album’s two worst tracks, Pictures On My Wall & Breakup Music. There’s been a recent influx of out-of-touch rap artists attempting to make music appealing to kids officially out of their generation, and Pictures On My Wall is the best example of that, using a clever anecdote for their title they discuss things from Facebook white-knighting to cringey dance moves that adds up to a wasted track attempting to meld serious Hip-Hop conversations with teenage drama. Breakup Music, while improving slightly, remains stale in the essence that poor relationship tunes have been done to death, and mashing it with cheesy lines only makes the track less listenable.

However, for all the missteps the duo makes throughout this piece I’m still drawn back to it for the lighthearted nature of it all. It’s an enjoyable listen and an easy to take-in album for anyone who wants to sit down, relax, and converse over some chill tunes. While there are certain lulls, 12 Step Program does have its high marks, closer Doctor Feelgood in particular. As was the case with Roundabouts, the finale posits the artists in the realm of where they feel safe, making ‘feel good’ music for the listeners as D.J. scratches and samples strewn and woven through airy blurps and synths allow the duo their rightful chance to shine. 12 Step Program is an inconsistent release, one rife with many bright spots, only marred with dull moments.

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