Like a lot of formerly clear concepts, hip-hop currently finds itself in a state of flux. The days of ’90s gangsterism have crystallized into tales of legendary producers and MCs; hyphy is dead and buried; and with a few exceptions, pretty much everyone is sick of the top-40 bullshit. Perhaps because of this general dissatisfaction, the past year has seen the rise of many new rappers and producers: Twitter-savvy, genre-crossing pioneers of a new wave of hip-hop, all of whom have barely come of age.
While acts like Lil B and Kreayshawn have made it out of the Bay and into the international spotlight, somewhere in North Oakland, five long-time friends spend their days holed up in a cramped bedroom — constructing beats, perfecting rhymes and watching their music blow up like fireworks online. Like the previously mentioned rising artists, Main Attrakionz and their other project Green Ova bypassed big labels and radio hits to get attention, spreading their music through free album downloads and eye-catching music videos.
First, let’s get the basics down: Main Attrakionz are Squadda B and MondreM.A.N., two 20-year-olds whose raw rap style and psychedelic-dreamland beats (which have been labeled cloud rap) set them apart from the current players of the industry. The duo belongs to the collective Green Ova, which also includes Dope G, Lolo and Shady Blaze. The collective shares a neighborhood, a personal history and, most importantly, a keen ear for music composition that defies genre classification.
Surprisingly, Main Attrakionz and Green Ova didn’t get their start at underground Oakland venues like East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club or Sugar Mountain — I heard about them from the blog Altered Zones, Pitchfork’s lo-fi baby brother. The first time their music appeared there, they didn’t have much more up on the Internet than a somber, black and white video of them rapping over a beat with a chopped up sample of British singer-songwriter Imogen Heap’s “Hide & Seak” (That song you’ve probably heard a million times with an a capella chorus of female voices asking, “What the hell is going on?”)
Main Attrakionz’s willingness to venture into musical territories far removed from hip-hop, bringing back sonic gems to incorporate into beats, was clear from the beginning. The group’s street sensibility and unabashed experimentation generated a buzz in the blogosphere — producers began approaching them left and right, and invitations to perform at indie music festivals at the New Museum in New York and Adult Swim-sponsored events came flying into their Twitter feeds and inboxes.
“It’s not weird, I just wouldn’t expect it. It’s all new to me,” explained Mondre when asked about the duo’s sudden success. “I thought I was gonna be performing with rappers but at shows and backstage, I’m shaking rockstar hands. So it’s different, but their music is good to my ears… I didn’t think I’d be hittin’ no New York in 2011.”
Both in their production and lyricism, Main Attrakionz and Green Ova demonstrate unparalleled complexity. Main Attrakionz’s latest album 808s and Dark Grapes II is a meditative, introspective effort. Unlike the famously sensitive Drake (whose main grievance in life is being too rich and too cool) or the criminally over-the-top rap bandits Odd Future (whose horror-flick lyrics aren’t really fooling anyone), Main Attrakionz don’t veer toward any of these extremes. The album is a collection of honest narratives about the hardships of their neighborhood, their partying ways and their desire for positive change, both social and personal. Drugs and the street life remain in the equation (Squadda’s upcoming project is titled Back $elling Crack), but always with undertones of faith and possibility.
On their mixtapes and albums, Main Attrakionz and Green Ova’s production is multifaceted and baroque. Like watching candlelight dance across a gilded altar, each time listening to their songs reveals previously unnoticed details in their layered samples. Main Attrakionz’s blend of musical genres is truly their own: Rather obviously borrowing from rock or electro, they create an alchemy of disparate influences that float along within a hazy, echoing ambience that always remains hip-hop.
Though they have collaborated with other producers, Main Attrakionz and Green Ova base their operations in Squadda B’s bedroom. His closet has been cleaned out and padded with foam, outfitted with a laptop, a microphone and a notebook of lyrics. The group hangs out, watching movies and rolling blunts, letting ideas flow naturally from their mutual creative energy.
“We live here, we eat, shit, sleep here. We do everything here.” Mondre explained as he showed me around. “We’ve recorded in other studios too but everything started here, we made our videos here. You’re in the mecca of the Green Ova shit right here,” added Squadda.
Their quick rise in Internet fame allowed Main Attrakionz to skyrocket to big-name events rather than taking a steady ascent, but now that their name is out there, they’re returning home to continue recording in their bedroom studio and play at Bay Area venues. If you ask Squadda, this is only the beginning: “I feel like we ain’t never going to stop making music. We’re still living on this earth, and doing something, and we can just talk about it … Call it cloud rap, for sure.”