Underground rappers make above-ground appearance

A diverse array of rap and hip-hop artists will hit the stage at WOW Hall this month. While many students have never heard of names like Eyedea & Abilities, P.O.S. or Dosh, they are part of an up-and-coming underground rap movement. And while they don’t have million-dollar contracts with Def Jam or Universal, that’s exactly how they want it.

So why would underground artists not want the fame and big-money benefits of corporate labels? The advantage that these artists have over mainstream stars such as Jay-Z, Game and Lil Wayne is self-evident.

First and foremost, big labels rarely grant unlimited artistic freedom to their musicians. In an industry focused on amassing capital, creative proclivity must be restrained in order to appease the masses and bring in cash flow. Independent labels however, tend to focus more on their artists, granting them more, if not unlimited, freedom in regards to creativity.

Rhymesayers, Eyedea & Abilities’ and P.O.S.’s independent label, meets that criteria.

“The beauty about Rhymesayers is that it’s an artist-based label and within that context, we’re allowed and even encouraged to do whatever we want,” Eyedea said.

Eyedea, whose real name is Micheal Larsen, and DJ Abilities, Gregory Keltgen, have been working together since 1998. Their latest album, “By the Throat,” came out in late July after a five-year hiatus. Their new record incorporates new elements such as free jazz, which emphasizes drums and bass.

“A lot of (free jazz) influence comes from my other band, Carbon Carousel, where I don’t rap,” Eyedea said. “I still improvise every day,” he said, “but it’s not any battle rapping.”

If students have heard of Eyedea, it’s probably been in connection to his freestyle and battling abilities. He’s won titles at Scribble Jam  (1999) and Blaze Battle (2000) among others.

Purportedly, he’s been offered contracts by the likes of Eminem and P. Diddy, but Larsen still chooses to stay with the Minneapolis label Rhymesayers.

Eyedea & Abilities isn’t the only group under Rhymesayers that fuses and meshes different genres of music.

Stefon Alexander, better known as P.O.S., short for “Product of Society,” “Piece of Shit” or just “Pissed Off Stef,” grew up in the Minneapolis punk scene, listening to bands like At the Drive-In, Minor Threat, Refused and Kid Dynamite.

“People sometimes read articles and they write me off, like, immediately because they hear about punk rock roots or aggressive beats.,” P.O.S. said in a Seattle Times interview.
He produces about half the tracks on each of his albums, including his latest, “Never Better.”

A dichotomy exists between the punk philosophy that anyone, regardless of experience or talent, can rock out, and the rap philosophy that spitting rhymes and laying tracks takes real skill. However, P.O.S. is living proof that there can be crossover. He tips his lyrical hat to rapper Nas in his opening track, saying, “They out for presidents to represent them/You think a president could represent you?,” then later to punk rockers Fugazi, quoting, “This one’s ours, let’s take another,” from their song “Five Corporations.”

He’s toured with everyone from Aesop Rock to Cursive and is scheduled to perform at this year’s Coachella music festival. Martin Dosh will be opening for Eyedea & Abilities.

And although Dosh isn’t a rapper, he’s signed to Anticon, a genre-defying label whose roster of indie rappers and electronica artists indicates a connection. While his music doesn’t have a thumping bassline in every track, he’s able to beautifully integrate multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird’s violin and whistling into his songs.

Like the aforementioned artists, Dosh’s style spans many genres. The ability to work with the precision of Bird, yet to also complement the gritty reality of Eyedea’s lyrics shows considerable talent. For those people who have never been to an underground hip-hop or rap show before, all they have to do is throw their hands up, yell a chorus or two and feel the beat.

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