By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Sparrow Love Crew are a rap band, but they look more like Barenaked Ladies on laundry day—the Canadian band, not nude women. But compared to what most rap crews look like, either one would do. MCs Devoux and Diggery have ridiculous grad-student beards; Queens-bred MC Mikey Brixx wears nerd glasses not seen since the Fatboys; only MC Sureflo sports the de rigueur rapper court wear (basketball, not trial). DJ Opi Styles looks more like an Echo Park indie rocker than a cut-creator—and he's from San Clemente.
Compared to most of what rap sounds like today—you got yer T-Pain'ed R&B; yer crunky Dirty South whoop-whoop on the radio; your screw-faced, backpacker indie-hop, with its rhyme-a-dozen logorrhea and tight-lipped beats off the radio—SLC sound more like Barenaked Ladies, too. The beats (courtesy of Koolwalla, lately by Long Beach's Mashed Potatoes) are Hello Nasty-era Beasties updated with Shins/Modest Mouse indie-funk twists, which is to say they're not afraid of melody and hooks big enough to carry four overlapping rhymers who sound like everything that made you love late-'80s hip-hop when you first heard it. At their best, SLC sound like A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario" redone by Anticon at the honky-rap collective's holiday party. At their worst . . . well, like pizza, sex, democracy and yoga, there is no such thing as bad SLC. Pretty much all their songs are end-of-the-night sing-alongs, hip-hop as it was first imagined—party-rockin' first, ask questions later.
It's also hip-hop that's earned them fans such as Cold War Kids and the Colour/We Barbarians, who've both played shows with SLC. (Cold War Kids even invite SLC to encore over one of their Tom Waits/DMX indie dirges.) They've done shows with hip-hop crews such as New York's Meter Maids, but SLC have found their niche as the indie-rocker's Jurassic 5. "People would show up to see the Colour and get us, but we're nonthreatening and there to have a good time, so it was always a pleasant surprise," says Devoux.
SLC's very existence is something of a fluke. MC Devoux was born in South Africa, grew up in Georgia, lived in Texas—and his accent would never get him confused with Paul Wall, even if he did shave. "I actually played guitar and sang in a country band in Texas," Devoux explains in a drawl that can border every 20 words or so between Australian and a slight speech impediment. Chuck D he ain't, but Flavor Flav he might be. "We're basically there to have a good time and rock the spot," he says of SLC's m.o., with "rock the spot" becoming, in his drawl, "rawhhck the spawhht."
"We're not too wordy or nerdy. We save that for our conversations," he jokes.
SLC's members met in Hawaii while working for a nonprofit, educational-outreach program that took the members to destinations such as Asia. "But we had a lot of free time between assignments," Devoux says. They were just some dudes who liked old hip-hop and would mess around in their hostel dorm rooms with video-game beats and straight-to-hard-drive rhymes.
After their Hawaii stints ended, they all wound up in Costa Mesa and Long Beach, working day jobs. (Devoux now saves the world one Garage Band tutorial and Leopard OS demo at a time as a Mac specialist at the Apple store in South Coast Plaza.)
They made a couple of demos, and their first show was a little more than a year ago at the Troubadour. The good response convinced them to give it a shot. "We decided to get serious in October '06," Devoux says, "but to this day, I'd say we're not 100 percent serious."
But it's exactly that anti-careerist vibe that's made SLC such a breath of fresh spit on the SoCal rap mic. And with their Monday-night residency at Detroit Bar this month and the new Westmonster EP dropping, SLC have the jump on '08 to find their place among the indie-rock parties and underground-hip-hop curious. Just don't call them rappers.
"I'm not even comfortable calling myself a rapper. To me, that means you have this personality offstage, as well," says Devoux. "I'm a white guy with a beard."
Sparrow Love Crew perform with various guests at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Every Mon., 9 p.m. Through Jan. 28. Free.