Giant Panda: Purists Aiming High

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LA-based trio Giant Panda's name alone is peculiar enough to turn heads. Yet as random as it sounds, there is a meaning behind one of the oddest monikers in hip-hop. "It fits us literally, being black and white and from Asia," explains MC/co-producer Newman. "And I feel like we''re bringing something that''s rare or endangered to the table."

Like the elusive giant panda bear of China, this multiracial crew (Newman, MC/producer Chikaramanga and MC Maanumental) is somewhat of a rarity in their own territory. With sample-driven singles like "With It," Giant Panda has helped keep the roots of hip-hop alive without falling into an old school rut. "I think it's really easy to be a purist but yet still make forward-thinking music," says Newman. "The fundamentals of it shouldn't be the gimmick-they should just be means that you're using to get to another end."

What began as dorm room beat-making sessions between friends quickly grew into a sound cohesive enough to catch the ears of Pete Rock and Marley Marl-both of whom gave radio play to Giant Panda's first single, "'88 Remix." It was their move into LA (from suburban Pomona, CA, and Seattle respectively) that initially helped solidify their potential as a group. Here, they met neighbor Thes One from People Under The Stairs, who assisted the crew in recording "'88 Remix," and who ultimately took them under his wing. "Having somebody who was already established seeing what we were trying to do and being into it gave us more confidence like, 'Okay, we can do this,'" says Newman.

This year, under Chikara's own Tres records, Giant Panda released their debut, Fly School Reunion. From the humorous, high BPM energy of "Racist" to the chill, melodic vibes of "With It," this album gave fans a proper display of their slightly off-kilter brand of party-starting hip-hop. As Maanumental says of the album's release, "It kind of validates what we've been doing up to this point."

While Giant Panda has caught the attention of plenty of true school heads, they plan to extend their reach by using more accessible hooks that anyone could recognize. "Fly School Reunion is trying to reunite people that are in the know of what we''re talking about-old school stuff like the '90s-but I want to make something that my little cousins can sing," says Maanumental.