Fresh legends

Somebody pinch People Under the Stairs
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 13, 2010

HOW WE DO "Our intent was never to sell music," says Thes One. "It was to make music. All the rest of this has been a by-product. We're just doing us."

Nine out of 10 rap legends prefer People Under the Stairs. (The holdout is a crackhead.) That's no joke — in my hundreds of interviews with dudes who brought the noise and funk before the big ship sunk (circa 1997), California underground heroes Thes One and Double K have been as popular a subject as the exploitation of old-school luminaries.

"The first time that I ever spoke with someone who I considered larger than life was on April 1 in 2000," says Thes. "I got a phone call from Biz Markie, and I didn't even believe that it was really him, because it was April Fools Day. All of those guys are like superheroes to me — they always will be. When I was a kid, their posters were on my wall, so to find out that I'm even on their radar is huge. It's emotional, even."

Major accolades hardly stopped at that phone call from the Biz. A few years later, at a CMJ showcase, Public Enemy #1 Chuck D jumped on stage during a PUTS performance and proceeded to rap their praises to the crowd. Needless to say, the pair had to pinch each other to be sure they weren't dreaming.

"I like to think we're one of the few groups out that these guys hear and think that everything they did actually had an influence on a younger generation and that it wasn't all for nothing," says Thes. "Because I'm sure that when those guys hear the new hip-hop, they're like, 'Damn — we did all that work back then and now look at this.' "

PUTS, who come to the Middle East next Thursday, have prevailed for a decade with no gimmicks whatsoever. They're about as brick-and-mortar as hip-hop outfits get, with beats that go boom-bap and acrobatic lyrics reminiscent of Run-DMC, Hieroglyphics, and Organized Konfusion. Sometimes their tracks dish resounding messages; sometimes they don't. But their every last cut is in complete character, never moving one scratch to pleasure market trends. As for their live shows — wear a diaper, because you won't want to break for potty.

"It's always shocking to me that anyone is following us," says Thes. "Our intent was never to sell music — it was to make music. All the rest of this has been a by-product. We're just doing us. It's amazing — every time I see the younger generation get attached to one of our old songs, I feel like something that we've done really is bigger than the average song that just gets posted up on MySpace."

Their appeal has even reached beyond the basement. Matt Groening tapped PUTS — along with Phish, Moby, and the Harlem Gospel Choir — to tweak The Simpsons theme song for this past Sunday's 20th-anniversary episode. That said, not everyone's a fan. Last year, the hacktacular Pharrell Williams blasted Thes after the latter's beat bumped a Neptunes cut as the title track for the skate movie Street Dreams.

Did you hear me? The putz responsible for "Drop It Like It's Hot" dissed him.

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