This is a biased review; there is no way I could have not enjoyed this show. Between the tasty loops, chest-thumping beats and immaculate flow, People Under The Stairs have become my favorite rap group over the past several years. Of course I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch them at El Rey, in the midst of their Highlighter World Tour. The experience was unforgettably awesome, even better than I had hoped. To make matters extra interesting, I attended this show with a young friend of mine who had never seen live hip-hop in his life! We both got a proper education this evening at El Rey… not just from The P (as People Under The Stairs are often called), but also from the impressively strong supporting act, a rap trio called Revolutionary Rhythm whom I had never heard before.
We arrived in time to hear the Einstein, the opener DJ. He spun some pleasingly smooth funk and soul vinyl mixes, but unfortunately the volume was too low to get anybody dancing—this was evidently intended to be early-lounge music.
Einstein at the decks
Once Revolutionary Rhythm took the stage, the volume and energy level tripled instantly. All three group members (two rappers & one DJ) displayed impressive virtuosity on their respective instruments: Mind-bending rhymes and poetic syncopation, served over groovy scratching and beatjuggling by the DJ. My only complaint about this performance is that the vocal mics desperately needed to be turned down. As a musician with sensitive ears I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in the audience bothered by excessive volume, but not tonight— I heard my inner concerns echoed by another gentleman in the crowd, in between songs: “TURN THE F***ING MIC DOWN!” (I don’t think the sound guy heard him.) And alas, I forgot my earplugs at home; the ringing lasted ‘til morning. Can’t blame Revolutionary Rhythm for that, though. They wowed me with their onstage musicianship and lyricism. Should have known that People Under The Stairs would get a supporting act nearly as dope as themselves… what a pleasant surprise!
Revolutionary Rhythm kicking it up a notch
Instead of standing around awkwardly, waiting for The P to go on, I got lost in RR’s infectious sound and proceeded to dance my butt off, knowing that the best was still yet to come.
When Revolutionary Rhythm finished, the curtains closed for a brief intermission.
When Thes One and Double K finally took the stage, the crowd was sweaty and ready, for lack of a more apt description. The P evidently intended this night to be a homecoming of sorts— it felt personal and real from the get-go, as they had invited fans to participate in planning via Facebook: “…in honor of everyone coming out and the years of albums and support, we're gonna let you tell us what songs we should play. List what song you want to hear live on Sunday below and the couple with the most likes will get added to the set list!”I'm not sure which songs actually got the most likes, but I was pleased with all the selections. From all the smiling faces and dancing bodies I saw around me, I could tell that most audience members here knew what they were in for: positive vibes, funky grooves and pure, unfiltered fun.
People Under The Stairs get into it
The duo performed their major hit songs (Acid Raindrops, San Francisco Knights, etc.) and plenty of material from the latest album, Highlighter, taking the crowd on a euphoric, silly joyride the whole time. Both men took turns rapping with precision and grace, and some clever freestyling was evident; Double K deftly piloted the Technics mothership and busted out a bangin’ drum solo.
Double K on the drums
Thes One rocked the MPC, traded sunglasses and hats with people standing in the front row, and poured a beer on himself, jumping up and down like a maniac the whole time. These guys are not just highly musical, but also very social onstage— the constant interactions between themselves and the crowd created a comfortable space for everyone. It's obvious that they are good friends.
The homies trade beats
Pure energy, these dudes; I couldn't stop moving my feet. The crowd went bonkers. Well, most of the crowd—Double K made an astute sociological assessment when he acknowledged the disappointing lack of responses to his urging to wave our arms in time to the beat:
“Aw it’s okay L.A., we don’t expect you all to do the thang. We know you cool like that.”
To be fair, Double K, based on the thick blunt-smoke in the air I would postulate that the majority of this crowd was simply melting into the floor. I bet half of them couldn’t even find their arms, let alone wave them. Look what you've done. But seriously, what performer talks like that to his audience? I laughed out loud. This is part of why The P are so fun to listen to—they keep it so real. It's clear that they are genuinely cool dudes who just love making music for their adoring, chilled-out fans.
Anyway, the party went into overdrive when they brought their family and friends (a lot of them!) onstage for the encore. The amount of energy and love in the building at this point was supreme! Dancing people all around! (Is that a small child I saw rockin’ out up there? Man, what the heck was I doing when I was his age…)
People Under The Stairs know how to create a sublime vibe, have fun and forget the stress of life’s hardships— and if you go to see them in concert they will help you do the same.
GET CONNECTED WITH THE MUSIC:
People Under The Stairs:
--Connor, SONIC SHAMANISM