People Under The Stairs
- Words: Max Herman
Since 1998, the duo known as People Under the Stairs has been purveying down-to-earth hip-hop ideal for backyard barbeques and cruising down the avenue. For Thes One and Double K, it's always been more about banging out the funk than bending your mind with rhymes. But things change, even for PUTS.
On their fourth album, Stepfather, longtime fans will be happy to find Thes and Double K upholding their trademark party-rocking flavor-most notably on the virtual house party, "Jamboree Pt. 1." The duo has also decided to take a close look at themselves and society, making many of these songs their most thoughtful ever. "I thank Thes for that one," Double K says of Stepfather's reflective verses. "You leave it up to me, we'd be talking about partying the whole album, but we had to get some other stuff up in there, man."
Though still adolescent b-boys at heart, these two Angelenos are pushing 3 and rightfully want to get their inner thoughts on wax. From paying respect to their families for raising them right ("Days Like This") to reexamining good relationships they let go sour ("More Than You Know"), PUTS leaves very few stones unturned. They haven't gone soft, though. As Thes explains, "It's one of those things where we'll be outside talking about some shit like what we're talking about on those songs, and then we'll go into the studio and this time at least have the balls to be like, ''You know what? Fuck it. We were just talking about this outside, about people's grandparents or whatever-let''s talk about this [on the record].'''
As a result, not a single song sounds forced-listening to the record is like eavesdropping on a conversation on the porch one laidback summer night. Of course, porch talk isn't always that deep. One of the most heartfelt new tracks, "Eat Street," is about going on missions to find the best grub in L.A. and beyond. "That's the realist shit we ever made-ever," Thes says, without a hint of hesitation. "Dudes talk about, 'Yo' made this song about the drug game and that's the real shit,' but for People Under The Stairs, ''Eat Street'' is the real shit. That's as real as it gets, like, 'Where we gonna eat?'"
"We always trying to find a spot," confirms Double K.
Check the Technique
When they're not on the hunt for good eats, Thes and Double K can often be found searching for that perfect beat. Albums like O.S.T. and Questions in the Form of An Answer demonstrated the duo's love and respect for Golden Age hip-hop with lo-fi production and tons of dusty loops from another era; the sounds of these records were created on what some would consider outdated equipment (including the E-Mu SP-12 drum machine). But just as they decided to expand upon their lyrical content on Stepfather, PUTS updated their beat-making style as well.
"You listen to the old albums, it was a lot of jazz loops and guitars," says Double K. "This one [has] a heavy funk attitude; [there's] more synthesizer-type stuff. [It's] still within what we're doing, just the instruments have changed."
Thes, who handles the bulk of the production, definitely wasn't trying to duplicate previous efforts, even though he has publicly denounced hip-hop producers' use of keyboards in the past. "Neither Mike (Double K) nor I are going to get in the studio and try and make another O.S.T.," he says. "It'd be dumb to try and come with ''Montego Slay 2'' and ''Acid Raindrops 2.'' I know everyone loves those songs, but every record, we gotta try and make something a little bit different, but still us."
Despite the addition of synths and the like, Stepfather includes an abundance of vintage jams. Hell, Double K even has a song called "Letter To The Old School," which sounds like it was recorded in 1983, with siren sound effects blaring in the background. Just because they have increased their arsenal of equipment doesn't mean you're going to see Thes making beats exclusively on Pro Tools or Double K scratching on CD turntables any time soon. They are still artists of (mostly) traditional means.
In fact, Thes is particularly disgusted by beatmakers who think technology is going to make them sound fresh. "If you make your whole song in Pro Tools, your song is going to sound a certain way," says Thes. "And that might not even be a bad thing, but it's like every damn song I hear, I can tell if it was recorded on a computer. And it may be crispy and it may hit and whatever [but] I don't give a shit if your song knocks, whatever that means. The shit's got no flavor-it's got no character. I'd rather have Double K and [me] freestyling over a tape loop because it's got character, like, 'Oh damn, it sounds like it was recorded in a club.'"
"It's never what you're using, it's who's using it," confirms Double K. "Everything has to have some soul in it and computers don't have soul, neither do drum machines-you have to have it."
Bros Before Pros
Whether refusing to partake in certain technological advances or ignoring whatever style of rhyme might be hot at the moment, these People are practically living in their own hip-hop bubble. Last year, Double K appeared on Breakestra's Hit The Floor album and Thes assisted Giant Panda in producing and recording their debut album, Fly School Reunion, but the duo has almost never indulged in guest appearances or collaborations. They couldn't care less about extracurricular activities; at the risk of looking like loners, they prefer to keep it in the family-or not do it at all.
"As far as [working with] Giant Panda goes, I realized that a bunch of hip-hop dudes lived, like, two blocks away from me at my old house on Cambridge [Street]," says Thes. "[It was] just one of those natural things where it's like, first you're homies, everyone's drinking beer on the porch, and the next thing you know, you're making a record."
"Everyone knows we don't email people verses and get hot rappers to guest appear on our records," he continues. "If you're not hanging out getting drunk with us, you ain't on the record. And even after that, you probably won't be on the record...unless you're George Clinton."
Put Your Quarters Up
Life isn't all about eats and beats for PUTS...it's also about arcade games.
"Pretty much any Atari game from the '80s was something I dumped a lot of quarters into at the donut shop and/or the liquor store," admits Thes. "Videogames are definitely a part of us," agrees Double K. Thes' garage is already filling up with the arcade games he and Double K grew up playing after school. And he doesn't see an end in sight. "I either got it or I'm trying to get it," boasts Thes, whose hobby is restoring vintage arcade games. Here are just a few of his favorites:
Marble Madness: "It was designed by a 13-year-old kid. It's got that '80s-whiz-kid flavor."
KLAX: "It's a slept-on puzzle game from, like, '89."
Super Sprint: "That's a great one for drunk driving. I think Double K probably prefers Arkanoid because of the mothership in the beginning." [Double K laughs]
Street Fighter 2: "It's a classic homie battle game. There's mad stories about Street Fighter. Even now, if we go into the club and we see Street Fighter, there go People Under The Stairs. All you're gonna hear is, 'Aww shit!' The quarters are gonna come flying out."
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