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It’s almost midnight when a small black door swings open behind the stage of the Continental Room in downtown Fullerton. Four sweaty twentysomethings pile out onto a dimly lit patio where cigarette smoke and conversations linger beneath flickering lanterns. Strangers praise their performance; half of their new fans had no idea who they were before their raucous 30-minute set.
It’s been five years since the last domestic release from Speach Impediments. Between a pair of disappointing record contracts, brief hiatuses and solo projects, plans to release a new record had stalled. Co-founding member Syntax Vernac moved five hours away to work as a blackjack dealer in Vegas. Despite this laundry list of obstacles, this Placentia-based collective continue brushing up Cobwebs, an aptly titled album they claim to be their first legitimate full-length, with all four emcees featured evenly across the album.
Fusing hip-hop’s golden era basics with slippery-tongued technicality, Speach Impediments members Freddie J, Deezie, Drewid and Syntax form a magnetic whirlwind of flailing microphones, baggy tees and group vocals.
“People are like, ‘Oh, man, you guys must have prepared for days for that,’?” says rapper/producer Deezie, of what he hears after a show. “We’re like, ‘No, we just met up and put together a set in the parking lot like 10 minutes before the show to be honest with you.’?” Over the years, their skills have landed them on stage with hip-hop heroes Talib Kweli, Living Legends, Plant Asia and more.
This Saturday, a three-track demo version of Cobwebs hits iTunes, offering insight into what drives these guys to spit out their souls on stages from LA to OC. Some inspiration is easily decoded, such as a 16-bar collage (simply titled “Me”) on which each rapper paints a raw self-portrait with his rhymes. Testimonies of sexual frustrations and paying off college loans permeate the air over a flurry of cuts and scratches courtesy of Zole, the group’s sharp DJ. But deeper in the album’s fabric are lessons from SI’s shaky experiences with the music biz, specifically flimsy record labels.
Speach Impediments originally signed with local indie label OC Records after an impressive live debut by Syntax and Drewid at the Anaheim House of Blues in 2003. The group’s first album, Domino Effect, came that year, with sophomore record Speaches Eleven dropping six months later. But financial issues caused OC Records to close temporarily, leaving them unable to fund new recordings. Disappointed, SI continued gigging locally.
The hard lessons continued in 2007, when Japanese boutique label Swamp Records took interest in their OC popularity and proposed doing a record to be sold in Japan. Dreams of touring and selling their record overseas excited the group, and a short time later they composed a mix of their best tracks and sent it over to Swamp with a signed contract.
“They literally fucked us,” Syntax says.
SI allege that not only was their first-quarter check eight months late, it was also short, and that they received only 10 copies of the album and zero communication from the label from that point on. With no intention of fighting an expensive overseas lawsuit, Speach Impediments gave up on Swamp, adding that the label still hasn’t responded to the group’s e-mails or phone calls. (Swamp Records’ MySpace page hasn’t been logged into since December 2007.)
Lucky for SI, learning how to pick a label, or hire a lawyer to read contracts was the hard part of maturing in the rap game. Songwriting always came naturally. Even after moving to Vegas in 2008, Syntax collaborates effectively with the group.
“That inspires me to go harder with my lyrics because I know that I’m in a group with dedicated people,” Freddie J says.
By now, they’re used to batting tracks around online and constructing verses through e-mail as they finish the album, slated for 2010. It’s their ability to vibe with each other through the wire that makes miles apart seem like inches, just another challenge overcome in their efforts to re-establish themselves in night clubs, dive bars or any other place with four mics and a stage.
Speach Impediments at the Continental Room, 115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-4529; www.myspace/thecontinentalroom. Tues., 9 p.m. No cover. 21+.
Visit Speach Impediments online at www.myspace.com/speachimpediments.