Like Outkast before them, People Under the Stairs – PUTS from here out – flourished for many years unbeknownst to me. And like Outkast I have done everything in my power to spread the gospel after my belated and embarrassing discovery of their existence.
The problem I have is that I know like two other people who listen to hip hop. Outkast got around this with Hey Ya and I like the way you move, both of which solved the mainstream anonymity problem through constant rotation and almost universal acceptance. PUTS are yet to find their Hey Ya, and in all likelihood they never will, because PUTS don’t have the charisma and way around a hook that Andre 3000 had, nor do they pursue it.
In fact if anything PUTS have turned even more inwards in recent years, with their latest ignoring the labels and radio airplay and instead being only available through their own website.
They now have eight uniformly excellent albums chock full of the purest of pure and best produced hip hop in an increasingly water logged and temporary industry, and barring an astonishing change of tack or a similarly unlikely move in mainstream tastes, this is likely how it will continue from here on.
This is not a problem for me – I might have been late but at least I got on board a decade ago – the problem is with all those supposed hip hop fans lamenting the current state of the game who are yet to discover the work of Thes One and Double K…
If you are one of these poor unfortunate souls who has chanced upon this article, the good news is that it isn’t too late, this bandwagon will never be too full. Fine tune your collection and get amongst the discography of the best hip hop group of the millennium thus far.
The unassuming debut has around 137 songs on it. This might almost be a problem, as even though the last 8 or so tracks are all very good, they blur together just a little.
This might not be the album to convert the masses, but the signs are a,ready plain and clear, the lack of guest rappers or female hook singers, the liberal but exceptional use of samples, and the unwillingness to bend to formula or convention, with several songs clocking in at five plus minutes.
The lyrics here aren’t quite as honed and frankly Thes One seems to try a little hard at times, but this is a fine debut which might seem even stronger with a couple of minor cuts.
A rock solid album from start to finish – ‘Question’ suffers only by comparison with what follows, and represents something of a natural evolution for hip-hop’s most underrated duo.
The album peaks near the end of the first ‘side’, with Blowin Wax and Give Love a Chance both superior tracks. While rest of the album is by no means awful – well over half the album lives permanently on my iPod – it’s just a little interchangeable.
The signs are there. The production more creative, the drum machine loops funky and omnipresent and the lyrics and vocals more assured. All signs of things to come…
It all came together on this one. As with many albums the first half dozen tracks contain a couple obvious standouts, but as this album continues it manages to get better and better. In fact the last three songs all seem to end the album with a bang, only twice we realise there is still another – better – track, culminating in The Breakdown, the song that was my ringtone for five years running.
Jappy Jap might be an unfortunate sounding name but it is a cracking track, The Hang Loose has a great sampled hook and equally vital lyrics, and Tales of Kidd Drunkadelic starts the trend of each PUTS album containing at least one overtly humorous track.
Acid Raindrops is great and has become a PUTS signature tune. The Joyride is almost as good, and then The Breakdown really brings things to an end in style. People talk about their Desert Island discs and then change the list every week. I could honestly listen to this album every day with no regrets.
In an era where hacks can sell a bazillion on the strength of a hook or a guest appearance, the fact that this isn’t one of the biggest selling albums of the last decade is a musical crime.
The they threw together some remixes, b sides and miscellaneous stuff that couldn’t crack the 20 (!) tracks from the OST album, and fuck me if 90% of them aren’t near as good.
This was the first PUTS album I bought, mistakenly thinking it was OST, and it took me a while to realise. I sure didn’t know it was an album of off-cuts and so called ‘lesser material’, and if it weren’t for the novelty song about eating fruit and brushing your teeth I could still be just as fooled, and just as happy for it.
I may be wrong, but Stepfather sounds like an album by two guys ‘trying to make it’, like this was the big shot at cracking the mainstream.
As always there are no concessions made, no Aguilera or Mariah appearances and no ‘cry for attention’ samples, just another 20 solid hip hop tracks. The problem here is the standout tunes seem a little safe and none scale the heights of earlier works, and the album is a little dry and humourless. Almost earnest in tone.
Stepfather is still a strong work, it just reminds me of a boy wearing his Sunday best and behaving when you know he’d rather be rocking shorts and tearing about with abandon.
From the dopey title to the (brilliant) song set to a mish mash of some of the best hip hop breaks in history, Fun DMC is the sound of a group ignoring expectations and getting back to what they love.
Gleefully silly – one track is set to classic video game music – and constantly amusing, Fun DMC is impossible to dislike and is thankfully easily good enough to love.
It’s hard to pick a highlight in such an album, but testament also that you can’t cast the spotlight at obvious weak points, especially when there’s another 20 odd tracks on display.
Hot on the heels of Fun DMC, I worried that PUTS might have shot their bolt by releasing a follow up so soon. I needn’t have bothered, if anything Carried Away shades its predecessor by just a little. This might be thanks to Creepshow, a song where Thes and Double K share verses where they play shady types, which culminates in Double K late night calling a concerned young woman and asking her to put her foot on the phone. Repeatedly. To hilarious effect.
Elsewhere there’s another track about how lovely Los Angeles apparently is, there’s other songs with Ugly Duckling ‘call to action’ style titles like Check the Vibe, Step Off and Hit the Top, and another dozen and a half examples of classic modern via old school hip hop.
While I don’t think PUTS are in danger of turning into a hip hop Al Yankovic, the fact is I can’t think of this album without my mind going straight to Cookie’s Theme, a mock R&B love letter to chubby groupies where it’s hard to decide if Adam Schimmel, the James Brown type yearns more for the female interaction or the meals that precede it.
Thankfully Uprock Boogie exists to set the record straight, a pulsing baseline sits snugly behind a shrill repetitive siren, over which Double K and Thes One throw three minutes of Grade A lyrics. It’s a brilliant song and clear evidence that this duo are a long way from settling down or becoming jaded.
Perhaps lack of airplay and commercial recognition might split the duo and send them off to pursue their own journeys. I guarantee they could produce some more classics even if it isn’t under the PUTS moniker, even though that very fact would sadden me.
What I want is likely what Double K and Thes One want, just a little recognition. I’m sure they probably have a few bucks squirrelled away and possibly continuing residuals as one by one savvy music travellers chance upon their musical goodness. But there’s no reason that half the known world knows who Fergie (and her surgically assisted lumps) is, and less than one percent of that has heard The Breakdown or The Cat.
It’s not fair and furthermore it’s not fair. Here is a duo that never settled, never sold out, never aligned themselves with an obnoxious skank, and probably as a result is the best credentialed duo with an astonishing back catalog full of exceptional songs no one has heard of.
A damn shame.
PUTS deserve better, so much better. If nothing else I urge you to check them it. One by one we can tell the world just how good these guys are.