People Under the Stairs have been representing the laid back sun and hazy smoke aloft in California hip-hop for over 10 years now. While their consistency or at least longevity is commendable, it’s also what makes this release a relative non-essential. You can only cruise on the same gimmick for so long and while they ultimately have made another listenable album, they haven’t gone much further.
The production is always solid. No one really creates the kind of sun soaked soul they’re capable of. The lyrics on their albums frequently is about being laidback, going to barbeques and taking it easy, and the music works as good accompaniment for all these activities. Opener “Swan Fever” opens with a nice soul sample and a callback to Run DMC to hit the album title home get everything started on the good foot. “Step Bacc”, “The Fun”, and “Anotha (BBQ)” are all prominent showcases for the sound of the album. All sound like fuzzed out G-Funk and its hard not to imagine powerful West Coast voices like Dre or Snoop on tracks like these.
What’s hard to swallow about this album is not so much the positivity but the insulin sweet sugar coating. Killer Mike’s Pledge Allegiance to the Grind 2 was one of the most empowering, positive records released this year, but you never felt a sense of passivity. Perhaps the abundance of beautiful women, herb and sun available to Californian’s doesn’t inspire the fury it used to.
They do make their low gravity approach work on some songs however. “The Wiz” is a standout. It sounds like the perfect soundtrack to driving through LA mid-summer with no particular place to go. They manage to inflect more of the Cali subculture co-opting the “West Coast Poplock” sample used in “California Love” and turn it into a Mexicali tribute. On “A Baby”, they manage to bring some intensity and what even sounds like some anger. Unfortunately it turns out to be one of the shortest tracks on the album.
Sometimes it’s hard writing a critical review of an album that has done a good job at what it ultimately set out to do. But while they make polished music and ride some great grooves they just don’t seem to have made anything other than another BBQ record. The talent is there and they have the ability but it might help to lay off the weed and get angry every once in awhile. – Dane Johnson
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