NEW YORK -- Southern rappers Eightball and MJG are still a couple of hometown guys.
They returned to the national music scene this week with a new album, In Our Lifetime, Vol. 1, a major-label distributor and a few high-profile friends in tow. But the album's use of blues guitar licks and echoing drums, evoking elements of classic soul music, pays tribute to the duo's Memphis, Tenn., upbringing.
"Memphis is Music City," the slender MJG (born Marlon Goodwin) said, explaining the source of the LP's regional flavor. "Sun Records [and] Stax-Volt [Records] operated from there. B.B. King's got a club down there. It's the home of the blues.
"We're really coming with it, going back to the basics. ... We're trying to stay grounded [style-wise] with a little space-age twist in it."
"We came a little more lyrical, a little more musical," added the massive Eightball (born Premro Smith). "We weren't trying to satisfy other people. It was satisfying ourselves more."
The pair's collaborations with fellow hip-hop artists OutKast and the Goodie Mob's C-Lo are among the standout numbers on the 13-song album.
A romantic keyboard loop swirls around the voices of Eightball and MJG
on "Paid Dues"
(RealAudio excerpt), as they reflect on the struggles they faced while growing up. "Throw Your Hands Up" (RealAudio excerpt) -- a collaboration with OutKast -- is a party romp. With music closer to Chic than to Run-D.M.C., it has a disco vibe replete with quick guitar strumming and funk drumming.
The members of Organized Noize, the Atlanta studio crew that has overseen Goodie Mob and OutKast recordings, produced four tracks on In Our Lifetime, Vol. 1 and earned MJG's praise. "Their feel and their groove was like a sound that I was already used to. They made it better," MJG said. "With their own little special Organized touches, it was just lovely. I look forward to working with them cats."
In Our Lifetime, Vol. 1 is the first album for Eightball and MJG
under their distribution deal with Universal Records. Each released solo albums through the label -- Eightball's Lost came out last year; MJG's No More Glory in 1997.
Last year, the pair issued a regional, independent release -- Lyrics
of a Pimp -- that includes "Armed Robbery," a dark, drum & bass song of violence that reappears on their new album.
But In Our Lifetime, Vol. 1 is the group's first national release as a duo since 1995's On Top of the World, which came out on their own Suave House Records. Universal struck a distribution deal with Suave House in 1996.
Eightball and MJG earned acclaim through a series of guest appearances on other artists' albums and on soundtracks. Among those forays was their work with 19-year-old rapper Foxy Brown on "Ride (Down South)," a track from her album Chyna Doll, which debuted at #1 in late January on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
The partners also contributed songs to the soundtracks of hip-hop mogul Master P's films "I Got the Hook Up" and "I'm Bout It."
Eightball teamed up with fellow heavyset rappers Heavy D and Big Punisher to record "On Point," the first single off Heavy D's new album, Heavy, which comes out June 15. In future collaborations, Eightball and MJG will appear on rapper Too $hort's next album, Can't Stay Away, set for a summer release.
MJG said his father, a musician, played several instruments and instilled in him a love of such classic soul musicians as Marvin Gaye, the O'Jays and the Gap Band. But it was hip-hop that brought Eightball and MJG together in 1984.
They met at age 12, found common ground in their admiration of LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C. and others hip-hop artists, and soon were trading rhymes together. They began their professional career after moving to Houston in 1991.
Now 26, Eightball said he feels the two helped the sound of Houston
hip-hop move away from its hardcore, mean-spirited roots over the past
eight years. They celebrate that change with the propulsive track "Started This Shit" (RealAudio excerpt).
Eightball added that he's delighted to watch hip-hop become even more mainstream. "I see it growing," he explained. "It's not just New York hip-hop anymore. It's Houston hip-hop, Memphis hip-hop, Louisiana hip-hop, California hip-hop, Wyoming hip-hop, French hip-hop -- there's all kinds of hip-hop now."