From beneath the gun-metal skies of North Oakland comes a new way to be soulful in hip-hop.
It has nothing to do with the tradition of afro-consciousness, nor bong-water shamanism, nor gospel-tinged spiritualism. Once again we rotate back to timeless themes – to the young black man dealing with his mortality, as he always has in hip hop, at a tragically young age. From Ready to Die to Me Against The World, success for our protagonist means escape, for him and his family. But escape to where? Not heaven or rural America or million dollar mansions. This time, with the music of Main Attrakionz, the final destination is oblivion – a state of unthinking, the clouds.
The production backdrop is translucent, indeterminate and sometimes turquoise like the Floridian waters of yacht-rock – a dream of affluence that is, in Oakland, just a dream. This is what has come to be known as cloud rap, and the biggest shock is reserved for the purist hip-hop fans who, in the last few years, have lined up to decry the Bay Area indie rappers with charges of frivolity. Because in this ostensibly frothy and faddish strain of hip-hop there’s grain and guts, brains and a crumbling passion here, and a precocious devotion to tolerance and a poetic lyricism and the weary-muted flow of old-young souls, and matters of life and death. Most of all Main Attrakionz have soul, and it’s for this reason that those spearheading a new era in hip-hop – from Danny Brown to A$AP Rocky – have flocked to MondreM.A.N and Squadda B. “Get paid and survive,” is the Green Ova crew’s only maxim. MondreM.A.N. spoke with FACT about their plans for the future.
“Real hip-hop ain’t never gonna gonna die while Main Attrakionz around.”
Last year you told Spin that Main Attrakionz are going to bring ‘substance’ back to hip-hop. Are there particular artists or specific strains of hip-hop you feel are working against substance in hip-hop?
“No, man, there’s no one I have any beef with. I’m just focussing on looking at the positives. But I will say that hip-hop is getting real digital. I’m more a fan of the old school: ’90s west coast, ’90s east coast, y’know – the era of the mob in hip-hop, like Master P’s No Limit mob or old school Cash Money. And I like the early 2000s stuff – the time of Wu and Ja Rule – when they had million dollars video budgets, and when [seminal network TV rap show] Rap City was at its peak. And when Luda[cris] came out with the video for ‘Throw Them Bones’! Shit! But it’s the new generation now, you know. Some are keeping hip-hop alive, some of them are watering it down – ‘comedy rap’, y’know, what the fuck? People singing other people’s songs and making them ‘funny’?
“But, y’know, in terms of for real hip-hop, like the storytellers in rap, the street – it ain’t never gonna gonna die while Main Attrakionz around. I’m still to make my Reasonable Doubt, or my It Was Written, y’know?”
“This shit ain’t easy. It’s hard work.”
How does a hip hop act make money in the era of free mixtapes? Main Attrakionz have been giving their music away for years.
“Yeah, to be honest we only started seeing some money recently. And it’s not even the type of money we can use. We started this when we were 12, me and Squadda B, and we thought we was gonna be Lil’ Romeos by the time we was 14, man. But this shit ain’t easy. It’s hard work. All the older guys in the Bay Area been tellin’ us we aren’t gonna see money from our music. Only from selling merchandise.”
Hip-hop’s always been a sturdy, physical thing, even in the case of the most laidback stuff. But Main Attrakionz’s sound goes against that entire tradition, in that there’s a real delicacy to it. What inspired you to make music like that?
“I suppose it’s about having an ear for a sound that make everything come out real easy. We ain’t jolly people, y’know. We don’t feel feel like dancing, we don’t go to parties, and we don’t make no party music. We not on the dance floor hittin’ no Chris Brown moves [laughs]. We too young for the clubs, man, so we out here on the streets. So we make music from that perspective. People are starving in the neighbourhood. People are dying every day. Its hard to be, y’know…I see people from school, y’know, only four years on, and you look into their eyes, man, and they gone.”
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