A lot of kids mess around with hip-hop in their college dorm rooms, but not all of them evolve into leaders of the underground and produce classic records.
SoleSides Greatest Bumps, the recent double-disc compilation of tracks on the influential SoleSides label, provides a glimpse of artists such as Blackalicious (producer Chief Xcel and rapper Gift of Gab), DJ Shadow and Latyrx (rappers Lateef the Truth Speaker and Lyrics Born).
The discs find them cutting their hip-hop teeth as fellow students at the Davis campus of the University of California from 1992 to '96 where they were taking a chomp out of the music's history and spitting it out in a raw, revolutionary form.
Culled from sessions at Dan "the Automator" Nakamura's San Francisco recording studio, SoleSides Greatest Bumps rounds up smoking out-of-print gems, hard-to-find cuts and forgotten classics from a period that immediately preceded what some would say is hip-hop's degeneration into its watered-down, present era.
"We drove an hour and a half from Davis to San Fran every night," Xcel recalled of the time. The crew rolled in either his brown Jetta or Shadow's '74 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. "It was a trip, 'cause when we working on 'Melodica' " Blackalicious' acclaimed 1994 EP on SoleSides "we would get into Dan's about six in the evening, leave at six in the morning, and get back to Davis right in time for my nine o'clock class."
Having since evolved into the Quannum collective, the crew still records and hangs together they released the album Spectrum in July 1999 but Bumps packs a carefree zeal and heartfelt earnestness that only youth can impart. The five members, four of them communications majors, got hooked up through a mutual friend, Jeff Chang, who had a hip-hop-heavy radio show on KDVS-FM, the university station.
"At that time, the original intent of SoleSides was just to put out 12-inches, where each person would have his own side, that's the name SoleSides," Xcel said. "We were heavily involved in college radio, so we knew DJs across the country, and all we wanted to do was get records out and have people think they were dope. It wasn't till years later that we really realized the magnitude of what we were doing."
Greatest Bumps is equal parts history lesson and collector's item. It features Gab flipping insane freestyles over banging Shadow beats on "Rhyme Like a Nut!" in what sounds like someone's dorm room. Xcel says his and Shadow's off-campus apartment was the early SoleSides center of operation. "My bedroom was the studio/rehearsal room/freestyle room/smokin' weed room," he recalled.
"Swan Lake" is Blackalicious' soulful first track, and Lyrics Born and Shadow's "Send Them," the label's inaugural release, was funded by friends and student loans in 1993.
The early SoleSides catalog is heavy on singles, but as its artists starting blowing up, after Latyrx's self-titled LP and Blackalicious' Melodica EP not to mention Shadow's monumental 1996 album, Endtroducing, which came out on Mo' Wax the collective chose to evolve into the new entity known as Quannum Projects, whose first release was Blackalicious' A2G EP.
The Quannum crew will be in full effect in 2001, with each member due to release a new full-length in some form. Shadow is deep at work on his long-awaited second solo LP; Xcel and Lateef are close to completing a collaborative album (under the name the Maroons), which Xcel said would be out in late spring. Blackalicious have started on their second full-length, due in the fall, and Lyrics Born's debut solo album is also on the way. Xcel is also contributing a track to the Constant Elevation instrumental DJ compilation, due in July on Fight Song/Astralwerks.
In addition to educating new SoleSides/Quannum fans about the crew's history, Xcel said Greatest Bumps was intended for longtime fans who have had trouble tracking down "Melodica" or Latyrx: "We wanted to be able to get it to 'em before the bootleggers did."