Band of the Day

2011.12.15

Freestyle Fellowship

Legendary Los Angeles MCs mix witty wordplay with jazzy hip hop
I gotta be righteous, I gotta be me, I gotta be conscious, I gotta be free.
lyrics from Inner City Boundaries

Freestyle Fellowship is a hip hop group that formed in Los Angeles, CA in the early 90s. The group is made up by rappers Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E. and Self Jupiter as well as producer J Sumbi. Freestyle Fellowship was part of a scene that existed around the Good Life Cafe, a health food store in Leimert Park, a neighborhood in South Central LA. The Good Life hosted a freestyle night that helped rising MCs, poets and musicians perform and hone their craft. Freestyle Fellowship's music was in sharp contrast to the popular gangsta rap coming out of L.A. at that time. Freestyle Fellowship's MCs focused on rapid fire, witty wordplay and incorporated jazz, funk and soul sounds into their tracks with the help of live instrumentation. The group released their debut To Who It May Concern in 1991, then followed with the classic Inner City Griots in 1993. The group was forced on hiatus as a result of member Self Jupiter's 4 year incarceration and, reunited briefly in the late 90s, recording Shockadoom (which was released until 2002). The group came together again to record Temptations in 2001, then disbanded to allow members to pursue solo careers. Freestyle Fellowship reunited again a decade later to record and release The Promise in October 2011.

In 1988, N.W.A. burst onto the rap world with Straight Outta Compton, beginning an era of incendiary gangsta rap in South Central LA. While this sound was being perfected by Dr. Dre a few years later, there was another movement going on in South Central. If you drove 20 minutes north of Compton, up towards the 10 freeway, a bit east of the University of Southern California, you'd have found a bustling underground scene in Leimert Park. Centered around an open mic night at a health food store called the Good Life Cafe, young MCs displayed their freestyling skills. They eschewed the often bland, unimaginatively violent lyrics of the Compton MCs for more playful styles that pushed the boundaries with rapid fire, story-based lyricism and jazz heavy samples. Freestyle Fellowship emerged as one of the stars of the scene alongside groups like the Pharcyde and Jurassic 5, and the group's 1993 album Inner City Griot established them as legends. One of hip hop's great LPs, Inner City Griot merges the fun of old school 80s party rap, with jazzy textures and electrifying lyrical tag teaming -MCs Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E. And Self Jupiter juggle verses amongst themselves so smoothly they make it sound easy. Live instrumentation by the Underground Railroad gives the tracks a super-charged feel, as if the record will start throwing sparks and jump off the turntable if you try touching it. Fast forward nearly 20 years: the band broke up, reconvened for 2001's Temptations, then finally broke their decade long silence with The Promise. They sound older for sure, more laid-back, but still totally compelling. “Step 2 The Side” rides a plodding, crunchy beat, sinister horn samples and twirling flutes. The crew brings out their speed on this one, trading bullet quick verses that make an interesting contrast to the chilled out instrumentation. “Candy” has another blunt beat that's complemented by super smooth production and a breathy female vocal hook. “Ambassadors” is a party jam updated for 2011 with its rippling synth and spacy atmospherics. The Freestyle Fellowship let themselves go, lyrically dancing around the synth and clearly enjoying themselves. While the Promise may not be as groundbreaking as their early 90s work, it's an exceedingly well crafted comeback, showing Freestyle Fellowship's wit and production style is as sharp as ever.