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New Artist Spotlight: The Understudies

by Travis on December 22, 2008

Oakland, CAAfter joining forces from unknown origins, The Understudies crew has been making noise on stages all over California, as well as in the streets with their Collective Compliments mix CD series and a slew of solo efforts throughout 2008.

Operating independently out of the East Bay, CA they follow in the footsteps of independent pioneers like Hieroglyphics and Living Legends with a strong DIY ethic and a deep and diverse catalog which showcases the Studies together, as well as each of the members individually. After releases from Livin’ Poetry, Geebz, Sean E Depp and The Understudies acclaimed “CC2: Class is in Session”, Study Music rounds out the year’s releases with the brand new album “CC3: Or Something”. The 18 song effort features guest appearances from California underground heroes such as Pigeon John(Quannum), 2mex(Visionaries/Shapeshifters/Project Blowed) and Matre(T2M Records/Top2Bottom). Production remains mostly in house, by the ‘studies themselves, about half the record is composed of carefully crafted bangers from in-house producer Myers. Outside producers include the “chop-aholic” Geebz, and Cinema.

The Understudies CC3: Or Something was released Dec. 5th on Study Music and is available now through a “name your price” system in the Study Music Store @ www.theunderstudies.bandcamp.mu.

The Understudies will be appearing live @ The Emergenza Festival in San Francisco @ The Rockit Room, Feb. 7th @ 10 PM. Tickets are $10

Find The Understudies and all Study Music artists online:
Study Music Store: www.theunderstudies.bandcamp.mu
Myspace: myspace.com/understudiescrew
Youtube: youtube.com/understudiescrew
Squidoo: squidoo.com/understudiescrew

Coming straight outta the Bay Area, my man Citizen has been involved in the game for quite awhile and in a bunch of aspects of the game, from DJ, to MC, to radio personality, to even some engineering. You may remember Citizen as one of the first New Artist Spotlights I did back in April, when he was pushing he joint with Livin’ Poetry, Live Hard, Die Free. He is also responsible for The GOD Hour that blesses WYDU quiet often. My man Citizen has another joint out, and this time he brought friends, in the form of The Understudies. The Understudies are made up (roughly) of Citizen, Fly Cobb, Livin’ Poetry, Self Advocate, Sean E Depp, Manifest, Welsed, Mr. E, J Myers, Venture Caps, and Maintain. Moving a big pack of people all in one direction can be difficult as evident with Wu-Tang, but The Understudies have done that with a free mixtape CC2: Class Is In Session, which was released this past fall and CC3: Or Something…., which was released earlier this month. Both contain a signature sound that should make any Hiero fan happy. It’s not hyphy music, it’s simply quality hip hop with that classic sound and with eleven members and close affliates, you definitely have variety.

I always find large groups very interesting as I know how hard it is just hanging out with a group of eleven different people, let alone trying to make music together. I like discovering the the working psyche of the group, I guess I’m in the psychology aspect of it. Talking with these cats, they have their shit together and are working toward a common goal; Dope Music!

The Understudies – CC3: Or Something……
Featuring 2 Mex, Piegon John, The Movement Fam and More…
Purchase Here (Name Your Price)
http://theunderstudies.bandcamp.mu/

The Understudies – CC2: Class Is In Session

http://rapidshare.com/files/175917987/Understudies_-_Class_is_in_Session_Promo_2008.rar
1.Intro – Citizen
2.Banshee – Fly Cobb
3.Bounce, Rock – Sean E Depp ft. Citizen & G
4.Stand Guard – Self Ad ft. Cuzn J & Dap Tha Stampede
5.Axe Cologne – Sean E Depp
6.Dreams – Understudies
7.Death of the B-Boy – Venture Caps
8….and you suck. – Citizen f. G
9.Junkie – Understudies
10.Alvazan – Livin’ Poetry f. Sirah
11.Space Shook – Understudies
12.Lucid Dreams – Understudies
13.King of The Bongos – TSF
14.Hip Hop(For Real) – Citizen & Livin’ Poetry f. Kevorkian
15.Black Monday – Venture Caps
16.Un-Hook – Citizen & Livin’ Poetry
17.Do You Do-Wop?(A tribute to Nina Simone) – J Myers
18.Just Do it(Preview) – Understudies
19.Blast From the Past – TSF
20.Aspects – Maintain & J Myers

WYDU: What’s good guys? So let’s get the boring generic questions out of the way first. Let’s have everyone drop their introductions, letting us know who you are and some of your background.

Citizen: Citizen, born and raised in The Bay, Producer/MC, dropped “Live Hard, Die Free” with Livin’ Poetry earlier this year.

Self Ad: Self Advocate, born in Walnut Creek, raised in Orangevale close to Sacramento. I produce/ mc/engineer/ mix and currently go to ex’pression[college] in Emeryville. Grew up on this…

WELSED: Welsed, 1 half of Venture Capitalists with Self Ad. Member of ICU graffiti crew out of the North Bay, in association with UM and LORDS family, water the plants. Dropping “Rate of Exchange” with Self at the beginning of the year.

Fly Cobb: Cobb here, fools call me Cobbo. I’m not from around here like most of these cats, I’z be from that there Mississippi. I like to rap and make dope beats.

WYDU: Since I’ve been hipped to Citizen and Livin’ Poetry in the past, and have seen some of the other names around, I’m assuming you have all been around each other for a decent amount of time. What is the story of the you guys getting together and “forming together like Voltron”?

Citizen: Self Ad and I met through a mutual friend at school. He was working on a record with Fly Cobb, Manifest and E as “TSF”, as well as Venture Capitalists with Welsed, and I was working on projects with Livin’ Poetry, Sean E Depp and J Myers. Ad and I started working on a ep together and when we started doing shows for that, and all the other projects we each had going on, we all sorta ended up agreeing that “one for all” was going to make us stronger and more efficient. It just so happened that everyone fit into their own niche and became a unique piece of the puzzle. Its awesome to be able to tailor our setlist/style to many different situations. Between our crew material and everyone’s solo and side projects there is definetely something for every hip hop fan, from intellectual to party jams, drum machines and mpcs to live instruments, collectively we keep evolving.

Self Ad: I’ve known Welsed the longest, about 7 years now. We’ve been working on our “Venture Capitalists” endeavor for a while now. Its been a long time situating our ideas and locations to match up in a way that it all worked out. I met Fly Cobb, Manifest, and E at my school ex’pression. Citizen also went there and had left for financial reasons but I met through a mutual friend of our JD. From there I met Myers, a producer from El Paso that Citizen had been working with. We started working on an e.p. called R&R and I met Sean E Depp and Livin’ Poetry through Citizen as well. We all just started working on more songs together and hanging out.

WELSED: I met Self about 7 or so years ago while I was staying with a friend in Sacramento. He introduced me to all these crazy nut cases and we’ve all been dealing with Manifest’s antics ever since! Nah, for real tho, I’ve just met L.P., Foss, and Cobbo and the rest outside of Self over the past couple of years, and next to ICU, I’ve had no other down ass homies like that.

COBB: The homie E was actually the first cat I met. The whole crew pretty much met in school but E Buddha was the first dude that was like “what up bro?”. We were chilling out in front of school on like the first day and shit, and this fool was all “yo, wanna kick a session?” And of course Cobb was all “Ok”. After that I met Self Ad and Manifest. We formed TSF ( The sHELLmound Few) and like Citizen said, we started rocking shows and decided to just become one like 2-1.

WYDU:Is there any deep, philosophical meaning behind the name, “The Understudies”?

Cobb: No.

Citizen: Once we decided we needed a universal moniker for the group, Self Ad came up with the name, and it works out well because what drew us together originally was digging each others unique styles and enjoying each others music as if we didn’t know each other. When you love a song, its natural to learn the words and want to sing along with it, and thats the case with us and each others music. By definition an Understudy should be able to stand in for any performer in the production. Fly Cobb is a great example, dude knows everyones sh*t.

WYDU:You guys be rollin’ pretty deep, how difficult is it to keep all the “egos” in check and work together as one unit?

Cobb: HARD!

WELSED: I wouldn’t call what I have an ego. Does that sound egotistical? I think what we have to keep together is our addictions and vices, that shall go unspoken here. And our psychological defects and hang ups, especially in my case. We all pretty much make huge jokes out of each other. Fly Cobb in a white wig looking like Andy Warhol is pretty funny, or summmthinnnng.

Citizen: It’s very much a love/hate thing. Some of us spend A LOT of time together, so naturally we’re at each others throats sometimes. Also, with the creative process and planning of shows, everyone wants their vision to come to life and be as good as they/we can make it, so everyone is very outspoken about things.

Self Ad: I agree with Wel on this one, more so the traits that make or break ya. I’ve been in a large group before and it definatly isn’t easy. It’s like a relationship, everyone’s got to handle their part or else it just won’t work, and by doing so we also make each other stronger and able to play more parts to share in that process.

WYDU: Let’s dig up some dirt, every group whether it’s artists or just friends, has one dude that is always going against the current of everyone else….who gets that vote in the Understudies?

Citizen: Sean gets my vote. But it’s all in good fairness because he wanted his style to be easily digestable as opposed to super “rootsy” from the begining. His style is mostly about having fun and Bay Area living, where as a lot of other ‘Studies are more “hanging onto the golden era” style sound, less polished and synthy, more samples and what not.

Self Ad: I’d have to say in my opinion Fly Cobb and WELSED on the production tip. Cobb has been making some of the craziest compositions I’ve heard in a long while, I’m constantly being suprised with his latest works. WELSED has been doing this on his own level after hearing some of his more recent creations I am so compelled and happy with my surroundings, how could I not stay inspired. I’d have to say lyrically Livin’ Poetry and WELSED have kept me pushing with there content and story telling.

WELSED: I give it up to Sean E. He got that slap. But I’d have to say, that there are a few of us, older cats, L.P., V.C., Cobb at times, pushing some other shit.

Citizen: I interject– Poe is like second youngest, he is a pretty wise dude though.

WELSED: I’ll put it like this: Self and I push some HEAVY tongue and cheek with seriousness hidden spiritual multi dimensional shit. Cobb be pushing some “how can I cut the fuck up out of this beat and make it ill as hell” down south slurry. Foss (Citizen) has this meccagodzilla flow and super after school special sample selection that brings the kid out in me. L.P. makes everyone hate themselves for not being more enlightened and killing the oppressors. Gangsta Stomp politics, ARGH!. Sean E. makes me think that I should be drinking more. D, makes me pissed like an older brother, but concerned like one too. And E. well, E makes some bomb ass lumpia.

Cobb: 4 Wheeler

WYDU: It appears often that two or three of you will appear on a track together? How is that worked out?

Citizen: Usually, unless something is pre-planned for a side or solo project, a few of us just get together and make a song for whatever we’re feeling at the time. We all make beats at home so a lot of the production is brought to the table near completion. The reason that we don’t have the majority of the crew on every track is really just that it’s difficult to get 7 grown men under the same roof. We all have our lives outside of music, and some of us have families. One of my favorite parts of having such a large, diverse group is the variety of “tools” you have when conceptualizing the material. Instead of how it was a year ago, me and Poe[Livin’ Poetry] sitting there like, hmm…”what are we gonna do to change up the third part of the track” or something of that nature, and instead of having to sit there and scratch our heads, we can say lets get maintain on the 3rd part or hey cobb would sound tight on this one.

WELSED: We’ve all been slacking for one reason or another on getting the crew cuts. We’re still pretty fresh, so it’s more like a collective at the moment than a full fledged CREW. But believe me, we’ll get there sooner than later.

Cobb: Or sumsing

WYDU: How often are you guys able to get together and record together? Is it difficult for you all to agree on a certain beat or song concept?

Citizen: All of us together at once, is a steep order, and a lot of times the creative process will start with one person writing or recording a 16 bar verse or a hook. We all make beats so lots of times it just takes one person to “spark the match” so to speak on a track, and then others follow feeding off each others energy and concept.

Cobb: Don’t listen to this fool, we all get together but we end up getting ripped up and passing out. Ain’t no party like an Understudies party!

Self Ad: I’d have to say as Citizen mentioned we all have different lifes we lead and distances between us. Three or four of us see each other daily with our school, so that helps with some of it, but with family life and school as well as Citizen and Dems doing their radio thing, we all come together when we can and spread things around when were apart as much as we can.

WELSED: Mostly all of us can record in our homes. So it’s a long distance relationship for me, since me and Self were working in Sac, where I’m out of, but then moved for school to the Bizzerk. I’m also a painter, so it’s hard for me to make the trip. I go out to the bay three or four times a month. Getting people on concepts or a song is hard, cus cats be lazy, I included. No which way about it, we are trying to do too much, with not enough time, for the BIGGER picture, and getting there slowly but surely.

WYDU: Every large group is likely going to be compared to Wu-Tang in one way or the other. How important was Wu in your guys minds when it comes to showing cats and the industry that groups can be larger than two MC’s and a DJ?

WELSED: Wu didn’t show me that, graffiti did. Graf taught me how to work in an environment where it wasn’t just you and a few cans. It was you, a few cans, and bunch of other cats with a few cans, trying to convey a message. That’s what I learned from. Wu showed me that you had to have a collective consciousness and idea to work from in rap if your group was to be that big. But look at BDP, or Hit Squad, they did the same thing, just not so thematic or theatrical. Shit Sugar Hill was a fucking crew. But yeah, back in the day, the elements were separable only by their mediums. Everyone in a crew rapped, wrote, broke, or scratched, a little bit, with focuses on some other things. That’s the school I come from Hip Hop wise.

Cobb: Man I hope people don’t compare us to Wu, we’d get smoked! It’s always Wu-Tang Forever! But yea, they let fools know, and so do we….you know?

WYDU: On the Wu tip again….Who would be RZA (the Abbot or the leader) in the Understudies? GZA (the wise lyrical one), ODB (the crazy one), Meth (the ladies man and charismatic one)….and of course the rest of the gang on their roles?

Citizen: We don’t really have a leader per se, I mean, a few of us kinda run this thing together. Manifest is the crazy one, he fell off the roof at our Halloween show [rolls eyes].

WELSED: Manifest be breaking roofs and shit. Fuck raising em! BREAKING’EM! haha…Nah… I’d say we are more like an L.L. or Def Jux, or Rhymesayers. We are quite past the Shaolin thunny action, but I do have to say that Cobbo in his own right embodies all of them in Wu. He’s like the Kung Fu tape aficionado.

Cobb: We got’s no leader, D is definitely ODB (he did pull a Jimmy Fly Snuka off the roof) and we all know who the ladies man is.

WYDU: Fly Cobb, you also had an Instrumental project you dropped earlier this year under the moniker “Geebz”. It was a very interesting concept. What was the story behind that?

Cobb: The story behind that was I did the track Big Spender and a few folks who run yesyesyall.org, which by the way you should all peep, heard it and suggested that I compile an EP of similar joints for the site. So I was pretty much down with that. So I stuck with the Big Spender theme, taken from the Broadway show Sweet Charity, and just flipped the whole EP from the different numbers from the show. The concept was pretty much a dude who came out to frisco with some money and got caught up w ith some expensive ladies. Those damn tutes! From high roller to big spender, having pocket’s swole to down deep. Also, part 2 of the Ep will be dropping soon so be on the look for that. I took the Big Spender EP, flipped the beat’s a little more rhyme friendly and got some big guns slinging it up, including the homie Matre, 2MEX and Pigeon John, big the hell ups on that Tre!

WYDU: Let’s talk about the music….It’s 21 tracks deep….how would you guys describe it? How long was it in the works?

Citizen: Really you could say it was in the works for like a year-

Cobb: Nah dude less than a year

Citizen: I mean, not with the intentions of all these tracks being a crew mixtape, you know?. Its a lot of tracks that preview albums we have in the chamber. Venture Capitalists, Sean E Depp, J Myers and
pan style=”font-weight: bold;”>Maintain, Tribute to Nina Simone, U.S.Aint...we got a lot of cool stuff coming up to round out the year and start 09 with a bang. There’s a few joints that, you know were for projects that changed in scope as well, but we didn’t wanna forget about like “Dreams” with Livin’ Poetry and Self Ad, that joint was originally for Poe’s solo joint but he scrapped it all and has got some crazy things in the works, starting from ground zero for Oil, Soil and Cigarettes. Look out for a joint or two from thos e sessions on CC3 Mixtape.

Cobb: Besides that, look out for the Official Understudies LP, U.S.AINT, coming soon, but first

CC3: “or something” mixed by Geebz!

WYDU:To me, CC3 sounded modern, but it also had that late 90′s Heiro, underground LA/Bay Area sound to it, which I’m sure is due to your location. What are your thoughts on what you are trying to do with the music you create in general?

Citizen: I’d have to say all of the stuff we create is straight from the heart in every aspect, and it sounds the way it does because that’s the feeling and sound we’re truly trying to communicate. I won’t say that my creative input doesn’t ever concern gaining a wider audience, but everyone does their own things in this crew and when we come together the diversity of the catalog pretty much covers the bases, where as other 1 or 2 person groups may find themselves in a situation where they have to sit down and say “ok we need to make this type of song or that type of song”.

WELSED: Self and I have been mixing down [Rate of Exchange] the last few months, and I’d say our sound comes from a really good engineer during that process! haha… Nah, our sound comes from having MANY, MANY conversations about fringe science/spirtual and just alternative views on popular stimuli. I think we are trying to create a music that is accessible, easily digestible, but poison to the bodies not acclimated to the nutrients.

Cobb: I would say it’s definitely not due to location, like I said Im from Mississippi, this is just what we do and where we want to take it.

WYDU: This is labeled as promo, so I’m assuming this is simply the first shot fired in a volley for Understudies project we can expect in the future? What else is in store for the near future?

Citizen: We’ll keep putting out more CC’s(Collective Compliments mixtape series) and setting aside things as we chip away at the crew album ‘U.S.Ain’t’. Plus everybody, pretty much, has solo and side projects going on. Sean E Depp is coming out now digitally and on limited edition discs before years end. Tribute to Nina Simone around the holidays.

Self Ad: The Venture Caps album is the main emphasis for me and Welsed at the moment. I’ve been adding live instrumentation to my first major solo endeavor which is coming together and should be out around early next year. We also have a side group called T.S.F. the shellmound few with Fly Cobb, me, Manifest, and E which we’re about to start mixing along with me and Citizen’s R&R. So this coming years looking like a new door for all of us. The studies album is underway but we’re taking out time with it and in the mean, we’ll be releasing these mixtapes every couple months or so with a different member of the crew at the helm of choosing what makes the mix list. Fly Cobb’s CC3 will be next and its got so much goodness the world might not know how to handle it.

WELSED: Self and I have a few things in the works, first would be “Rate of Exchange” at the beginning of the year. Then in the next couple of months, getting together with a Sacramento band by the name of the The New Humans (myspace that shit!) for a different sound and collective project. Then we work on “Checks and Balances”, the sequel to “R.O.E.” I have solo shit I’ll never put out. I’m like the Cezanne of the group.

Cobb: The near future looks dope, we got U.S. Aint, we got the long awaited TSF album bout to drop. Of course The Big Spender EP version 2, Collective Compliments 3, and Geebz 2nd album “Hebegeebz” has also entered production. So look the ass out for all those joints, especially whatever Cobb’s on! And come see the Understudies live before the end of the year, hot damn! We rock socks!

WYDU: Any last words for the people?

Citizen: Shout out to the homie Four Wheeler, and thanks to all our East Bay folks who came through and made “The Freaks Come Out @ Night” a Halloween to remember. We’ll be back next year with the sequel. Check out the Understudies Digital Music Store(theunderstudies.bandcamp.mu) for all of our music, most of it is NAME YOUR PRICE! You can listen to the whole albums first, support with whatever contribution you can manage and download in whatever format you want.

Cobb: Large Up’s to WYDU and the folks who rock the Studies, and
yea, Halloween was nuts, fuckin Vlad was there….what do you expect. U’s up.

Self Ad: Stay rooted in your inspirations, open to the changes a coming, and rise to the occasion’s life brings. Peace to the U Fam, Sounds of Rebirth, Brwn Buffalo’s, Dems 1, Foss, Fly Cobb, Matre, Maleko, Kayer, Ray, my brother, Muses, and all the artists making something aspiring, fun and thoughtful in these crazy times. Peace

WELSED: Big ups to ARC, GEIST, LATEX, SORROW UM, BESET, SINCE, YAEL, BERST, SWORNE, MA, KMO, Maleko, Who Cares, The New Humans, Bisc 1 outta NYC, MERES TD4, ROBREPS KD GOD, Matre and all the homies, and all you other fly human beings. Up the modern modifications. UNDERSTUDIES! ICE COLD UNIT! Eat, sleep, shit, live and die HIP HOP!

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{ 1 comment }

Lil Dee March 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm

shit was interesting… ill check out some newer blog posts see what it do

rap

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