By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
LivingLegendsisaloosecollectiveofninehip-hoppers rarely seen—and even more rarely heard—all together, even though individually, they're staples in the California underground rap scene. Murs, the Grouch, Eligh, Sunspot Jonz, Luckyiam, Scarub, Bicasso, Aesop the Black Wolf and Arata are all names any kid at Stacks Vinyl knows like an Internet stalker knows Paris Hilton's address book. And since starting in the late '90s, solo and collaborative releases by Legends members now number more than 50. But their newest album, Classic(out now on Legendary Music), is only the second time the nine have come together to record an LP.
That's really just because of the practical dilemma of getting a large group of artists together. Try getting nine of your friends to clear two weeks out of their schedules for anything at all, and you'll realize the genius behind the Legends' decision to record Classicin Maui. "Let's do the album in fucking paradise," explains Bicasso, "so that everyone will show up and be ready to write raps."
Luckyiam adds that the Legends "borrowed the amazing energy" of the island, even composing lyrics on the spot.
But even the allure of Hawaii couldn't trump human nature, says Bicasso with a sigh: "Cats missed their flights, came late, left early. Goddamn. What does it take?"
He's more bemused than bitter; while some members get more mic time than others, everyone in the crew knows parts come on a first come, first served basis. "We all know there can only be so many songs with six, seven or eight guys on them," Bicasso smartly admits. Those songs that do feature a majority of the group can be almost overwhelming because of the distinctive style of each member. Even hearing Bicasso descibe them is dizzying: "We got everything from the [Project Blowed] roots of Eligh and Scarub to the straight-ahead, crafty honesty of Grouch or Luckyiam. Sunspot Jonz just wilds-out on the whole rap world, and I am pretty much dedicated to keeping my shit paintbrush funked."
And while you may not know the underground institution that was the Project Blowed scene—or have a clue what paintbrush-funked rapping sounds like—the Legends' messages are still easy to understand: "Blast Your Radio" name-checks just about everything that ever happened in the '80s, from the Thundercats to the 'roid-ragin' Bash Brothers of the Oakland As—it's like some VH1 documentary set to a rolling funk bass line.
"There's nothing wrong with making a powerful rap song that you could play for your mama," says Bicasso. The latecomer to the Legends (he's listed in the bio as hailing "from various points East, West and elsewhere") holds a workshop twice a week in Oakland in which he pushes youth to put down songs that mean more than what they hear in the mainstream, and he teaches aspiring MCs what it means to be "a person of influence within their community."
See, rap is in a good place right now, says Luckyiam: "Even the ignorant music is very well-produced and lives happily in my iPod," he says. "But on the whole, artists need to pay a little more attention to what is happening in our world. It's getting scary."
"And just as much as it is on us as artists," says Bicasso, "I'll put it on the fans and listeners, too. Because you've got a huge majority of motherfuckers that are fine with some 30-song play list by the radio stations [being forced on them]. We are up against a media monster that wants to—and is—successfully controlling the minds of the people. And it's up to the people to break that stronghold and demand something different."
Living Legends with Pigeon John, J-Live and Move.Meant at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-BLUE. Wed., 8 p.m. $20. All Ages.