Freestyle Fellowship! Underground Hip Hop Legends!!
I came across Freestyle Fellowship during a classic hip hop deep dive, and was blown away. I immediately thought about Kendrick Lamar when i first heard the group rip apart Jazz beats with a unique tempo. Dropping bars full of black empowerment and positivity, this is one of hip hops true underground gems. I had never heard anything like it. They never got the mainstream attention they deserved, but the ones who know know. If you weren't hip at first, like me, make sure you take a deep dive into their catalog, and check out the Innercity Boundaries video that made me an immediate fan. The below excerpt is from an article in the LA Weekly by Jeff Weiss.
Sunshine men go dark and sky rappers eventually touch cement, but Freestyle Fellowship swore that they would never fall the fuck off. That was the promise of 1991, the pre-riot boiling point when their first hand-hawked collection of songs, To Whom It May Concern, crushed cassette decks across Los Angeles. At the time, the epicenter of the West Coast alternative movement was The Good Life, a liquor-less Cedar St. tavern in Leimert Park known for its legendary open mic night where abstractions became expressionist.
The quartet constructed a brilliant civilization underground, but seemed to be perennially returning from a trip to outer space. These were the astral jazz-cracked geniuses of sherm-strafed South Central, rapping with caged bird cadences about sleeping on park benches, biblical books, and gangsta rap carpetbaggers. Myka 9, Aceyalone, and Self Jupiter had been friends since grammar school, while the fourth member P.E.A.C.E. joined them in 10th grade. By then, everyone knew Microphone Mike (Myka 9's first alias) as the adolescent prince of KDAY, bagging on would-be rivals every morning on the radio with Bobby Jimmy and the Critters.
Fellowship may have been tabbed to be the West Coast Tribe Called Quest, but their career arc is as erratic as The Five Heartbeats. Despite recording the 1993 oracular jazz-rap classic, Innercity Griots, their label Island/4th & B'way failed to break them on radio. Then Self Jupiter got locked up. Acey and Myka got six figure solo deals from Capitol, but the label shuttered its urban department almost immediately, leaving a pair of Myka solo albums in permanent purgatory. P.E.A.C.E. nearly got a deal with Death Row, but the story goes that Suge Knight thought he was too wild even for him.
Rather than slow down for popular appeal, they sped up on songs like 1999's “Can You Find the Level of Difficulty in This.” Mirroring their rise was the Death Row regency, the post-Chronic era when gangsta rap became the local hip-hop world's chief export. Big Boy might have bought a tape from Aceyalone, but he wasn't about to play him on the Power 106 Morning Show.
by Jeff Weiss of La Weekly, 2011