The city’s sirens dance with the purrs of the saxophone and a sliding beat as a grizzled man says, “you know, every time I run into people who talk about the People Under The Stairs, some of them says ‘yes,’ some of ’em say ‘no,’ but the ones that do know, they know… It’s real music, and it’s fun hip-hop, man. Just like Fun DMC, baby. You know what I’m talkin’ about?”
People Under the Stairs have been one of the hardest grinding musical duos over the past 18 years, always getting people to know exactly who Thes One (Chris Portugal) and Double K (Michael Turner) were with their impeccable live shows, meticulously crafted albums and funky brand of hip-hop that is all their own. With the release of the first installment of their 10th album “The Gettin’ Off Stage,” which is being split into three separate EP releases, the duo continue to add to their fantastic and under-appreciated legacy, though the time to get off stage for the two MCs be on the horizon.
Contrary to what the conversation that opens the jazzy first track “100 Miles,” not everyone who knows Thes One and Double K knows them. A lot of people have probably passed around a joint and slipped into the smooth fog of the duo’s ode to faded therapy, “Acid Raindrops,” once or twice, simplifying the two down to that one song. However, for the fans who have dug deeper, they have been rewarded by a catalog that is deep and eclectic and Thes One and Double K have proven to be a group that is truly powered by the love of music and their fans.
The Mike and Chris Show is a testament to what it really means to have do-it-yourself career. They have always had their mics and MPCs to the grindstone over their multi-decade journey. They self-manage and book their own shows, release their music through their own label and personally ship out every order, design the album covers and content and work the merch table at all of their shows. Unfortunately, the music model has been thrown into flux with file-sharing. Artists are finding it harder to make ends meet with dwindling album sales and touring revenues, and artists such as People Under the Stairs are the ones impacted the most.
Thes One reveals the severity of the strain on “100 Miles” as he rhymes in a straining flow, “In a motel in Columbus, he was ready to call it quits/ Sample lawsuits, fast foods, and the bed bugs itch.” Being a touring musician has never been described as an easy profession and it seems the group has surely wrestled with the existential issue of how they see themselves at this point in its career. Thes One and Double K have mentioned in interviews that releasing 10 albums would certainly be a milestone for them and the future after that remained open and unknown, with a faint hint of the toll the music business has had on them emanating in their tone. They certainly have wondered what The P might look like after this album and tour is in the rear-view mirror.
But in the very next line after his revelation Thes raps, “But something about the rhyme and going on stage, it kept us going/ As long as y’all kept showing, who am I to turn my back?” and you see they still have fuel for their fire in the form of their music and fans.
The investment that fans have made into the band has come back to them 10-fold. Leading up to the release of the EP, the band put out unreleased material on its Soundcloud and broadcasted live on its Facebook page tours of the studio and the vinyl pressing plant, in which fans could pose questions the group answered in real-time. They show their appreciation for their fans on “The Love,” which Thes One and Double K tag-team with a tight, popping flow that slides so well on the silky bounce of the track. Thes One has always has had a deft hand for making vivacious beats that just groove so cleanly and this beat is another standout for him.
Each of the six tracks on the EP has a distinct flavor that differ from the others, although the tracks are all of the same innovative production of Thes One and Double K. Together, the songs fit like a solid variety pack from your favorite brewery. “Runaway” has a chip-on-their-shoulder vibe that is heightened by the cacophony of a pulsating horn section. The group is known for its laid-back party vibe and delivery, such as the technicolor night-on-the-town that is “Saturday Again,” so it’s always fun to hear the two hit with a little more grit in its verses as they flex their underrated musical innovation and flip the bird to all their musical critics. They are vindicated with some guest bars from one of their idols, Greg Nice, from influential 1990s hip-hop duo “Nice & Smooth.”
The creaminess of “#Asapfreedumwillyum$” leaves a funky aftertaste with a greasy, experimental groove that will not be for everyone. The group has produced a couple of tracks in its history that exist a little outside the 4/4 bubble of most hip-hop and its willingness to continue to push what a hip-hop track can sound like, even if it doesn’t resonate very well, is appreciated. People Under the Stairs certainly providse the earworm hook on “Alleys (Bada)” with a simple, cheery refrain of “bada, bada, bada” that will be on repeat in your head for the better part of a week.
As much as Thes One and Double K have been worn down by the realities of being a music group in today’s culture, and felt slighted by their under appreciation from music critics, the career of People Under the Stairs should be considered nothing but a success. The band has managed to release 10 albums, tour in the United States, Europe, South America, Australia and Asia, cultivate a dedicated fan base and produce at least one song that has left a tiny cultural imprint.
At the end of the day though, it doesn’t seem like their career is the end-all, be-all for Chris Portugal and Michael Turner, especially if they do intend to take a step down from the stage. At the end of “The Love” you can hear Portugal playfully encouraging, who a child assumed to be his to tell everyone People Under the Stairs are “awesome” and you know there is a life outside of hip-hop waiting for him every time he goes home. The performers still has have two more releases before they have to plan their next step, and the first part of “The Gettin’ Off Stage” gives excitement as to what People Under the Stairs has in store for Part 2.
- People Under the Stairs
“The Gettin’ Off Stage, Step 1”
Notable Tracks: “Runaway,” “The Love”