In this age of infinitely accessible music, a good album remains only within the realm of true musical mastery. When my editors approached me with the prospect of reviewing my favorite album, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about picking just one. Picking a single favorite album is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. Truth is, most parents change their mind from day to day.
If you’re like me, you hoard music compulsively. My iTunes library is pushing 70 GB, and would run for a month if I started at A-Ha’s “Take On Me” and let it play until the end of 50 Cent’s 2003 classic Get Rich or Die Trying. So I used the tried and true method of iTunes Top 25 Most Played list. Surely my favorite album is the one I listen to the most, from start to finish. The answer was undisputed: People Under the Stairs’ 2002 magnum opus O.S.T.
The opening sample asks: “Are you on dope?” By the end of “Intro,” Los Angeles natives Thes One and Double K have already given the listener an abstract of O.S.T., describing life in L.A. with true lyrical talent, delivering appreciation for their true fans and blistering criticism of the “so-called rap game,” while expressing a true love of hip hop music. “Presenting O.S.T., the musical dope,” the duo proclaims before going on to the next track.
It’s almost as if the People Under the Stairs knew that this was going to be a classic. Immaculate production by both Thes One and Double K gives every track a Los Angeles alternative hip hop vibe that’s relaxed, uplifting and positive, but most of all, fun. If you don’t know what real hip hop sounds like, this album will enlighten you.
PUTS is unique among hip hop groups in that the group is entirely self-sufficient. Thes One and Double K make the beats, rap over them, and even design their own website and album art. This complete approach carries over to the album as an expression of pure hip hop artistry, no help necessary.Los Angeles serves as the background of O.S.T., working perfectly with the album’s laidback beats and even more relaxed subject matter. The album is about beer, kickbacks and driving around town, but Thes One and Double K can’t be faulted for writing what they know. By the time “O.S.T. (Original Soundtrack)” has come on and you’re already bobbing your head, you'll understand why Thes One calls the album “fly and on point.”
And fun. The samples are hilarious, and no song is offensive enough that you need to skip it, ever. That means it doesn’t really matter which song is on, because as Californians would say “it’s all good.” Neither Thes One nor Double K is the greatest MC on earth, but they definitely have talent. Lines might be witty, but they are never soft or fake: “on black vinyl, it’s final / like the week before vacation.” Or they could be complex: “and not a Little Bow Wow / I rock the rap pow-wow / Kids know the now / They follow me like the Do.”
Like almost everyone who is actually from Los Angeles, PUTS knows how to chill. After “releasing the souls trapped on empty records” in “Empty Bottles of Water,” the duo goes out drinking with “Tales of Kidd Drunkadelic,” asking a bro to “go easy on the ice, and add a little more Smirnoff / so by the time I reach the bottom / I can be clear off.” So say we all.
“Keepin’ it Live” and “The Dig” chronicle the duo’s lives as artists, sacrificing the stability of a full-time “real” job to follow their passion for traditional hip hop. Whether it’s digging into the crates for new vinyl to sample, or spending long hours in the studio sampling an Akai MPC, these musicians are happy to continue doing what they love.
The jazz and reggae influenced “Montego Slay” continues the celebration of hip hop, and along with “The L.A. Song,” keeps the laidback vibe going strong. L.A. references are always fun if you understand them, so I always keep this album in my car back home, and this is why I’ve named my column after another PUTS song. But like any hip hop classic, its appeal is universal. You don’t have to be driving down Sunset Boulevard on a sunny day to appreciate it, but that certainly does make it a lot easier.
As the album nears its conclusion, one gets the sense that the PUTS is watching the sun set over the Pacific from a hill somewhere in L.A., admiring the colors that only smog and an inversion layer can provide. The group has saved the best for the last, starting with “Acid Raindrops” and its classic refrain, “when the stress burns my brain just like acid raindrops / Mary Jane is the only thing that makes the pain stop.” It might be the greatest song in the world to relax to, but don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself.
“The Breakdown” encapsulates what O.S.T. is all about. The track features Double K “RE/MAXing in one of those hot air joints / floatin’ over the city, like the goodyear pimp,” rehashing what hip hop is “cause fools be breakin’ the rules.” Most hip hop releases fail to abide by Rule #1, and lose sight of reality almost immediately. Most may never truly understand L.A. or hip hop, but O.S.T. will take you there. That alone makes this album worth a place in your record collection. Who knows, it might even become your original soundtrack.