Ever since the early days of hip-hop — a time when producers were just starting to sample old jazz, soul, and funk records — there's been debate around the ethics of how the music is created. Is chopping up a famous bass line or classic drum beat stealing? Is an MC rapping over somebody else's beats a bad thing? Or are these ways of honoring what came before while also creating something completely new? These questions are central to the latest project from L.A.Z. — one of the members of the Detroit rap group Clear Soul Forces — and DJ-producer illadope, who together are known as Da iLLAZ.
Their debut mixtape, People Under Detroit, which was released on May 14, is an homage to West Coast indie hip-hop duo People Under the Stairs. For illa, who is a huge fan of the group, the idea for the project started when People Under the Stairs member Thes One released a rare, special edition vinyl-set of beats called 10 Years of Thes One. "It also came with digital downloads," says illa. "80 percent of the music for People Under Detroit came from that collection."
"It was cool because the collection included a bunch of instrumentals that had never been released anywhere," he says. "They were classic People Under the Stairs songs. I was listening to it when I was out in Detroit, and L.A.Z. asked me what the music was. I tried to show him the original versions of the songs, but he only wanted to hear the beats. He said, 'Send me some of these instrumentals. I want to write to it and see what my raps sound like compared to theirs.'"
As a hip-hop duo from Los Angeles that formed in the late '90s and retired in 2019, People Under the Stairs' music has that up-tempo boom-bap sound synonymous with other groups such as Jurassic 5, Blackalicous, and Haiku D'Etat. On People Under Detroit, L.A.Z. harnesses that energy and brings his own approach to each song. For example, except for the beats, "Acapulco (What Else)" — a bud anthem featuring Belve — "Can I Live," "I Gotta Verse N*gga,"and "Shangri-La" all sound completely different than a typical People Under the Stairs track. The same can be said for the rest of the tape, which features fellow CSF members Noveliss and E-Fav, as well as a bevy of MCs, including Jay Pikk, Sumthin Cirious, Semi Six, and Capital SS.
For L.A.Z., there's a direct link to this project and the mixtape era he came up in during the first decade of the 2000s. In those years, there were a slew of tapes released with MCs rapping on other people's beats. "Those tapes were always different, and we got them for cheap," he recalls. "The way that I be writing music, it's like, 'I don't want to waste my time rapping over somebody else's shit.' That's why I wanted to stay in the dark about People Under the Stairs' catalogue. I wanted to be genuine in what I was doing, talk my shit, and just have fun," says L.A.Z., who "randomly" caught their show at the Movement festival before he really knew who they were a few years back.
Over the past two decades, People Under the Stairs have amassed a dedicated following of underground rap fans, which includes illadope. Because of this, there was some apprehension about doing this type of project. However, Da iLLAZ both see People Under Detroit as a way of paying tribute to a seminal West Coast hip-hop duo. With that, the plan is to keep the project free on Bandcamp and reach out to People Under the Stairs.
"The idea for People Under Detroit came before People Under the Stairs had decided to retire from music (in 2019)," explains illadope. "It was a legitimate 'just for fun' type project. I didn't want people to look at this as though we're trying to capitalize on them being done making music. We don't want to be creating revenue without talking to them first. I want to do it the right way. If we can't ever come to terms, it'll just be on Bandcamp. It's free. If you want to buy it, go buy some of their music or merch. It's all out of respect."
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