I admit that it wasn’t until this year that I familiarized myself with the underground hip-hop duo People Under the Stairs. I first discovered them when they appeared in an early slot on the Bonnaroo 2009 bill. Although I missed that show, I later got my hands on some of their albums from the turn of the millennium, like The Next Step and O.S.T., whose humorous yet socially conscious attitude brought to mind hip-hop’s golden age — specifically my personal favorite group, A Tribe Called Quest.
Fortunately, the A3C Hip-Hop Festival in East Atlanta last weekend provided me with a second chance to catch PUTS in action. Even though they were billed for a 12 p.m. Saturday night slot opposite legendary rapper Rakim, the line was already overflowing out the door when I arrived at 529 an hour and a half early.
Part of this was the size of the venue (really fucking small), but the bigger part probably had to do with opening act Clan Destined, who displayed intellectual, biting raps filled with wordplay and whose smooth, R&B-spiked production was a fitting prelude to PUTS’ own funky, jazzy beats.
People Under the Stairs
People Under the Stairs, comprising emcees/DJs Thes One and Double K, respectively of Hispanic and African American descent, were a nonstop whirwind of energy from the moment they took the stage. Both were literally inches from the front row of people and handled all of the beat making without any extra hands.
Both rappers generated plenty of witty rhymes and adept wordplay, swinging between gritty, streetwise raps and biting intellectualism, but Thes One’s agile, rapid-fire delivery ultimately made him shine just a little brighter.
Thanks to the wall-to-wall crowd that filled the room to maximum capacity, the experience quickly became intimate — but that’s not to say it got quiet and cozy. Thes One and Double K didn’t rest for a second, aggressively interacting with the crowd until every single person, all the way back to the fire exit, was jumping like all hell to the beat. Coupling their intricate lyrics with pummeling, in-your-face rhythms and velvety deep-funk textures, PUTS delivered a ferocious performance and stirred even the wallflowers out of complacency.
People Under the Stairs played several new cuts from their forthcoming seventh album Carried Away along with a potent dose of fan classics. Regardless, every song was met with open arms.
-Review and photo by John Barrett