Happy 10th Anniversary to People Under the Stairs’ sixth studio album Fun DMC, originally released September 30, 2008.
People Under The Stairs make great music about loving music. Their albums reflect the deep and abiding love of music by people whose lives are consumed by it. Their sixth album Fun DMC, released 10 years ago, is about the joy and fun that goes along with listening to and creating music.
Pulling off an album about this subject matter is more difficult than it sounds, since most hip-hop albums are about actions themselves, rather than the happiness that can result from these actions. And yet People Under the Stairs, comprised of Chris “Thes One” Portugal and Michael “Double K” Turner, made it look easy with Fun DMC. It’s an optimistic album, and one of the best releases of the 2000s.
I’ve said before that People Under The Stairs (P.U.T.S.) are amongst the best hip-hop artists around when it comes to creating and maintaining a vibe. For Fun DMC, that vibe is a mix of laid-back chill-out music spiked with the joy of cutting loose a bit. Like their previous albums, Thes and Double K dug deep in the crates to make their beats, creating heady, jazzy, and soulful concoctions. Lyrically, both emcees keep things simple and on point, but are still about to set a scene and display a good amount of humor in their rhymes. They take their music seriously while invoking a healthy dose of self-deprecation.
“Up Yo Spine” is credited as “Live At the Fishbucket Pt. 3” (part 1 was on their 2000 album Question in the Form of An Answer), but it plays like a cousin to “The Hang Loose” from 2002’s O.S.T., functioning as the group’s dedication to late ’70s funk and the early days of rap music. Over a rolling bassline and hand-claps, Thes dubs the pair the Tito and Jermaine Jackson of hip-hop in that “We been here for a minute and we still got a name.” Meanwhile, Double K name checks everyone from The Time to Twin Hype before informing his fans that “Barry White’s the producer; Isaac Hayes wrote the rap.”
“Enjoy” is the most laid-back dedication to a rowdy party that I’ve ever heard. The beat is pretty no frills, composed over a shimmering guitar sample and thumping drum track. It allows P.U.T.S. to cut loose and describe creating havoc out on the dance floor and terrorizing their fellow partygoers. After Double K announces, “Man, I should stop. But I can't, cause I'm on steroids and ’gnac / In the middle of the party busting Melle Mel raps, Thes One joins the “Black Cartman” and smokes weed “out your sister's saxophone / Pouring out some King Cobra in your mom’s washing machine / for all my homies who at home.”
Besides wilding out, much of Fun DMC is built around the enjoyment of life and the pursuit of happiness. With “The Fun,” the pair envision themselves enjoying the lavish fruits of their musical labor, complete with champagne-filled limousines and paying woman $10,000 to braid their hair. It’s immediately followed by “The Grind,” which functions as a prequel. The deceptively mellow song specifies all the hard work that’s required to make their wildest dreams a reality, including buying yachts and dolphins.
Along with tracks dedicated to enjoying life and all that comes with it, People Under The Stairs are well aware of their strengths and continue to play to them. So Fun DMC features songs about enjoying a backyard weekend barbecue (“Anotha BBQ”), loving their hometown, (“People Riddum”), loving their home state (“California”), and pursuing the opposite sex (“Love’s Theme”).
One ongoing theme throughout P.U.T.S.’s repertoire is that they’re always keen to show love for hip-hop’s roots. On Fun DMC, they express their admiration in numerous ways, starting with a pair of solo tracks from each member. To go along with the immaculately recreated park jam/disco era hip-hop tracks on the album, Double K conducts a history lesson with “Letter 2 C/O The Bronx,” chronicling some of the lesser old school emcees, DJs, personalities, and venues throughout New York City. On “Ultimate 144,” Thes One pays tribute to the infamous Ultimate Beats and Breaks records, crafting a continuous verse that incorporates all 144 tracks the appear in the collection, in order, while rapping over some of the infamous breaks.
P.U.T.S. explicitly honor the late ’80s era of music throughout. “Party Enemy No. 1” is a cover of the early era Public Enemy song of nearly the same name (“Public Enemy No. 1”), repurposing it into a party anthem. Similarly, “Critical Condition” invokes the classic sound of the late ’80s, but also serves as a down and dirty trash-talking track, complete with Double K bumrushing an A&R executive’s office like a young LL Cool J in Krush Groove.
“Gamin’ On Ya” is dedicated to the duo’s deep love of video games. The two trade verses over samples and sound bites from various arcade classics and Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges. In between references to Castlevania, Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja, Rampage, Tapper, and the Konami Code, Double K fashions himself as Jinborov Karnovski a.k.a. Karnov, freelance Russian badass for hire.
Amongst all the freewheeling fun, P.U.T.S. expresses a good deal of heartfelt sentiment. On its surface, “The Wiz” is a laid-back dedication to the group touring and exploring Australia and New Zealand. But their verses express a longing for the peace, tranquility, and happiness that they’ve found on the other side of the world to become an everyday reality.
With “A Baby,” Thes One details his experience dealing with his wife’s first pregnancy, conveying not only the happiness but the massive anxiety that goes along with it, only to have all his fear fall by the wayside when his child is born. The joy of bringing life into the world is contrasted with “D,” the group’s dedication to lost friends, either to street violence or to prison.
But through it all, P.U.T.S. reflect that the love of music transcends nearly everything. “Same Beat (The Wesley Beat)” is a celebration of their own storied career, detailing how the group has grown through the six albums that they’ve recorded, and are still ready to give the audience more. The beat is one of the album’s best, built around a shimmering and layered keyboard sample.
Fun DMC closes with “The Mike & Chris Story,” their dedication to their love for music and how it powers and molds their everyday lives, especially outside of the recording process. Any true music head should be able to relate to Double K’s opening verse, especially as he raps, “Some folks love TV until they can’t see / All I need is a funky tune and I feel complete / And since I was a youngster I always felt this way / Before I grabbed my book bag, I made sure I grabbed my tape” and “I get vexed if a song ain’t next.”
Thes uses his verse to reminiscence about growing up in “a household full of music” and how one of his first memories is listening to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” and his father turning him into "the human drum set." As he retells his quest to Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh’s “La Di Da Di” as well as the Mixmaster’s mix show from the radio, the passion that he feels is impossible to mistake. It’s as beautiful and life affirming as any hip-hop song that I’ve heard.
As morose and self-serious as much of mainstream rap is today, albums like Fun DMC provide the necessary counter-balance. The craftsmanship and ethos driving the album remain top notch, as P.U.T.S. shows how hip-hop can be fun and positive without sounding corny. It’s an example of how to properly channel joy into a high level musical experience.