The hook to "Second Track" on People Under the Stairs' eighth album is a mission statement for the veteran rap duo: "the fame we don't lust, the funk we do trust, the radio/label/critics dissed us, but the crowd kept clapping."
PUTS have their fundamentals down like Dennis Johnson. They are proudly old-school. Bounce passes and bank shots, hard beats, strong rhymes, no frills: The duo, Thes One and Double K, trade bars with the fluidity of a Native Tongues member. And at a time when Internet artists have focused their efforts on direct contact with their fanbase, People Under the Stairs has thrived for nearly a decade and a half by winning fans one at a time.
Their recently released "Highlighter" finds them refining their formula: funky beats forged on jazz, soul, disco and classic R&B samples, all artfully blended over personal and relateable raps. After all, Thes One (Christopher Portugal) is an assiduous digger, assembling beats from esoteric samples with an ease that matches his skill at home building.
While many of their peers from the late '90s have either disbanded or faded into anonymity, People Under the Stairs are staying strong and consistent. In fact, PUTS just wrapped a West Coast tour with 19-year-old Mac Miller, whose "Blue Slide Park" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts this week. The pairing seems strange on paper, but logical under closer consideration. They both value history and have a high regard for doing things independently.
Back home from their tour, PUTS are playing an all-ages show on Saturday night at the El Rey Theater. Some highlights from "Highlighter" are below.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: People Under the Stairs. Credit: People Under the Stairs