Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Los Angeles has had a vibrant hip-hop scene since the mid ’80s. In the early days, Uncle Jam’s Army ruled the clubs and Toddy Tee rapped about the LAPD’s Batterram. That gave way to artists like Ice-T and N.W.A rhyming about the harsh realities of street and gang life. Though L.A. hip-hop was mostly known for its gangsta rap sensibilities throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the city has also put out its own eclectic mix of artists throughout all eras. From the freestyle heavy scene of the Good Life Café/Project Blowed-affiliated artists (Freestyle Fellowship, Haiku D'Etat, Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, Myka 9), to the meat and potatoes approach of groups like Dilated Peoples and The Lootpack, to the beat scene of the ’00s and its standard bearers like Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer, L.A. hip-hop has always produced some of the best, brightest, and most creative artists working in rap music.
For my money, there have been few groups as quintessentially Los Angeles as People Under The Stairs. Shoot, there are few groups that are as quintessentially hip-hop as People Under The Stairs. Comprised of Chris “Thes One” Portugal and Michael “Double K” Turner, the duo has been recording and releasing music for the past two decades that captures the essence of life in Los Angeles, while reflecting a strong and abiding love for hip-hop music and culture.
People Under The Stairs (P.U.T.S.) know how to play to their strengths. They like to rap about their love for Los Angeles, barbecuing, smoking weed, getting drunk and appreciating old school hip-hop. But no matter how many songs they record about the pleasures of lounging in Mid-City LA on a Saturday night, they find a way to make it sound fresh each time. They are also excellent at recording slice-of-life storytelling narratives, describing both the mundane and fantastical in minute detail.
P.U.T.S. are also one of the few groups that make great music about loving great music. Their albums convey a deep appreciation for the process of creating dope hip-hop and then sitting back and enjoying what comes out of the speakers. They have built their rep on their crate-digging acumen and their penchant for creating music that’s true to hip-hop’s roots. What’s resulted is one of the best and most underrated discographies in hip-hop. I wouldn’t hesitate to call People Under the Stairs the best hip-hop group of the ’00s.
P.U.T.S. have been releasing their music through independent labels since their inception, from their first self-released album The Next Step in 1998, to their help in the creation of TRES Records in 2004, to finally their Piecelock 70 Records label earlier this decade. In between, they’ve linked up with OM Records, predominantly known for its dance and electronic music releases, and distributed an album with the short-lived Gold Dust Media. P.U.T.S. have released nine full-length albums over the span of their career, and are in the process of releasing their tenth album, The Getting Off Stage. They decided to split its release into three separate EPs, and released part 1 in late 2015 and part 2 in the spring of 2016. The third installment has yet to be released.
Though P.U.T.S. have continued to make great music, they’ve never really been comfortable in the era of social media and online promotion. Their official Facebook and Twitter accounts are largely dormant, and their own website is rarely updated. They remain “old school” in the sense that they are committed to letting their music speak for itself.
All of the group’s nine albums, and the pair of Getting Off Stage EPs are available through Spotify, along with some of their B-Sides and remixes, as well as some of the songs that they’ve released on various compilations. With so much great material, it was personally tough for me to narrow things down into a condensed playlist. So much of what makes P.U.T.S. so brilliant exists beyond the singles, within the album cuts.
So without further ado, below is a 90+ song playlist containing a wide swath of the duo’s work. Their tracks make for great summer music, but can be appreciated in any season, in any setting. And when you’re done listening, dig deeper into any and all of their releases to discover even more to love. You won’t regret it.