After nearly a decade of constant touring and recording, People Under the Stairs could definitely be forgiven for kicking back. Still, emcees Thes One and Double K continue to represent the traditionalist wing of the alternative hip-hop scene, and the recent success of their sixth album, Fun DMC, and spots at summer festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo prove that they are just as relevant and hard-working as ever. They see it as a responsibility.
Rapping over funk and soul samples, the duo harkens back to the smooth styles of De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, while carrying the spirit of classic Los Angeles hip-hop. Fun DMC, released in 2008, is essentially the soundtrack to a backyard barbeque, with songs thrown in to celebrate Thes One’s recent entrance into fatherhood (“A Baby”) and reference Tupac Shakur (“California”). Their strongest element, though, is their live show, which they will bring to downtown’s Velvet Jones on Thursday night. Thes One recently phoned in from his home in Los Angeles to discuss Coachella, concept records, and how to keep the crowd hyped.
What was it like to be one of the only hip-hop groups performing at Coachella this year? We’d been trying to get on Coachella for a while. And usually, by the time a band’s had their run, they’re not even considered an option for Coachella. I mean, 10 years into the game, we’re having a really good year. So, it was an honor, and it’s really kind of like winning an award.
How did you and Double K learn to work the crowd? Well, we’ve been doing it for a long time, and when we were really young, we used to go to shows together and study all the acts that came through L.A. We’ve really been exposed to an enormous amount of performing, and we align ourselves with the oldest generation of emcees, where rapping is not as important as actually rocking the party. If that means breaking away from the routine or the song to do something else or go off on a tangent, then that’s what we do.
Do you see yourselves as leading a certain group of hip-hop fans away from the mainstream? I think that, for a decade now, we’ve presented an alternative to what was happening in the mainstream, whatever it was, because we’ve been doing it so long that what’s been popular in the mainstream has even changed. And we’ve kind of seen it all go, but we haven’t changed. So I think fans respect the fact that we’re consistent with what we’re trying to do. We do have an artistic vision that we’re trying to pursue, and we’re really just trying to keep it real.
So you’re more about rapping about what you guys actually do in real life, like barbeques and video games. Exactly-that’s the whole agenda. If we’re rapping about it, it happened to us, or it’s something we saw or something we lived, and nothing more and nothing less.
How much of your material is off-the-cuff when you’re performing and recording? A lot of it, because we’ve always been more focused on the music than the lyrics and we’ve always thought of ourselves as producers first and emcees second. So like, even at the show, I’ll tell the sound man, “Listen. Don’t turn our mikes up really, really loud. Turn the music up! Let’s get this party crackin’.” Like, I don’t even care if they can hear what I’m saying. We’re not going to say anything about, like, the war or whatever. Turn the damn music up!
For your new material-the songs you’ve been working on since Fun DMC-is there a new direction you’re taking? Definitely. Me and Double K, we always conceptualize the records now. : We really feel honored to still be performing, to have people come out to the shows more so than ever, and so for the next record, we want to do it for the fans and make the first record we’ve ever made where we’re giving the fans back something for everything they’ve given us.
People Under the Stairs will play at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) this Thursday, May 28, at 9 p.m. Call 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and show info.