Freestyle Fellowship occupies a Velvet Underground-ish space in rap history: Its records weren't purchased by very many people, but everyone who heard them inevitably wanted to become a rapper or a producer.
With the release of 1991's "To Whom It May Concern," the Good Life linchpin essentially wrote the blueprint for weird West Coast rap that its odd legatees might not readily reference, but Fellowship's DNA remains as indelible in the culture as medical marijuana or taco trucks.
To avoiding repetition, there is an interview/feature I did with Self Jupiter last June, when the crew was in the midst of recording its first album in a decade, since completed. The group has signed a pact with respected underground imprint Decon to release "The Promise" on Oct. 4.
The Freestyle Fellowship deserve a book, not a blog post (though Ava DuVernay's "This Is the Life" documentary comes highly recommended). After all, it’s been almost a decade since the seminal Los Angeles rap crew has performed an official show and 20 since they first started dazzling crowds at the long-defunct Good Life Café in Leimert Park, yet their influence remains indelible. Their spiritual heirs and fellow Project Blowed alumni Busdriver, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle continue to rank among the city’s finest rappers, while their frequent collaborators Nobody and Daddy Kev sustain their ethos of unblocked creativity and eclecticism at Low End Theory.
Of course, that doesn’t even begin to describe the incalculable influence they had during their early to mid-'90s heyday, when their performances became the stuff of legend, passed on via poorly dubbed tapes and the packed open mikes every Thursday evening. The spot incubated the West Coast underground, with everyone from the Pharcyde, Jurassic 5 (then known as Unity Committee), Abstract Rude, C.V.E., Rifleman Ellay Khule, Volume 10 and Skee-Lo regularly appearing at the health food café-turned-rap mecca.
But while media portrayals often firmly divided underground and mainstream, the nights were a veritable who’s who of Los Angeles hip-hop, with Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Kurupt all coming through to check out the nascent hot spot. Yet within owner B. Hall’s walls, the Fellowship were widely acknowledged as the greatest, earning a major label deal with 4th & B’Way Records to release their sophomore album, “Innercity Griots."
Although jazz rap was then at its zenith, the quartet of Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E and Self Jupiter never fit neatly into marketing schemes, with their scatting, syncopation and tongue-twisting rhymes diametrically opposed to the slow-rolling G-Funk that owned the Billboard charts. The subsequent incarceration of Jupiter delayed a follow-up until 2001’s “Temptations.” Not long after a 2002 EP, Jupiter’s return to prison ensured that the group’s hiatus would endure.