Above The Clouds: An Interview With Main Attrakionz
, October 16th, 2012 07:40
Across a series of mixtapes and now a full-length album, Oakland rap duo Main Attrakionz have sunk their voices deep into a blissful fog of reverb and weed smoke. They speak to Kyle Ellison about why they're unfazed by the increasing attention on their music
How do you describe Main Attrakionz in a word? The Oakland duo makes Bay Area hip-hop but not as we know it, repurposing a familiar West Coast bounce for the modern day rap fan. These are club sounds rearranged for a smoke-filled bedroom, layered with wistful hooks and reverb, but not distorted beyond recognition. It's at once aspirational and sad, boastful yet modest, with no pretension of reflecting anything other than real life experiences and desires.
Cloud rap is what it's been dubbed, a term the pair have embraced in everything from their beats to song titles ('Cloud Skating', 'Cloud Life', 'Cloud Body', etc...) and lyrics. Chasing rap zeitgeists isn't always a wise move, but the clouds in Main Attrakionz's music are more than surface deep. The duo, made up of Mondre Man and Squadda B, have helped foster an aesthetic that is by now instantly recognisable, whether that be through their own beats or the mutually beneficial relationships they've formed with rising producers like Friendzone, Ryan Hemsworth and Clams Casino. Their vision for cloud rap reaches further than just beat selection, though; it's more a question of perspective.
"Basically cloud rap was a name that was given to us," says Mondre, pondering the term. "But it all makes sense to me now. We recorded that shit in our rooms, and now we taking off in planes. I'm playing this music we made in our rooms and I can see the clouds from up high and it's giving me this whole other feeling y'know? That's why I see clouds when I write."
The idea of aspiration in hip-hop is nothing new; the genre was virtually founded on rags to riches stories. But the Main Attrakionz sound is so pure, so emotive, that it's difficult not to be sucked in and become fascinated by their world. Both in their early twenties, their lives are not so different from ours, and when not on tour they immerse themselves in music. They write and record a lot of music, so much so that their experiences are continuously being documented. Their latest record, Bossalinis and Fooliyones, is their first widely released physical album, but despite their rise to prominence over the last couple of years, Mondre insists not a lot has changed in terms of lyrical content.
"We probably gonna rap about some shit we did two minutes ago. These are everyday experiences and that's why a lot of people can relate to them. You don't hear us talking about big, big money – because we ain't got big, big money. The people out there who ain't got that yet can relate to it because they want the finer things in life too. Everybody wants the finer things in life."
Their hometown of Oakland is infamous for its high rate of violent crime, but unlike the often frightening lack of empathy in Chicago's drill scene, Main Attrakionz find only sadness in the city's struggles. There's a strong sense of the lightness brought to their lives by their bubble of rap music and weed smoke, but still a darker quality lurks beneath. It's as though Main Attrakionz spend 90% of their time rapping out their hip-hop fantasies, but as they draw back, a stone cold nihilism creeps in to catch you off guard. The title of Squadda B's standout solo record, for instance, is I Smoke Because I Don't Care About Death, and on 'Zoney Nights' from the pair's latest album, Mondre conjures a harrowing image of drug use; "Gon be a Zoney Night cos my eyes already bleedin' / From the hash rip that I took, Nigga easy, believe me."
What's striking about speaking with Main Attrakionz is their reluctance to over-think either their own music or the industry they're involved with. Their sound is one that comes naturally to them, as two hip-hop enthusiasts who've dreamed of being rappers since getting together in middle school aged 12. Mondre Man instantly perks up as our interview touches on Clipse and UGK, he exudes pride as he describes how Gucci Mane ended up on his new album (a hook-up from producer Zaytoven), and talks at length about looking to write his equivalent of Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt. But pressed on whether the duo's perception of the music industry has changed at all, now that they've made a small dent in it, Squadda merely replies, "industry just seems easier to get into than we thought," as if with a shrug.
Similarly, they don't claim to separate the reams of music they release for free from a retail record like Bossalinis & Fooliyones. "We don't feel no pressure. Late nights in the studio, just doing what we normally do," says Mondre of recording the new album. "We used to call our shit self-made classics – SMCs – it's not an album or a mixtape, it's a self-made classic. That's what we still call them to this day."
Even so, there's no question that the bar has been raised on Bossalinis & Fooliyones, just as it was on their last high profile release 808s & Dark Grapes II. With their prolific release schedule, both Mondre and Squadda have been learning on the job to some extent, and their development on the mic from record to record has been unmistakable. Both emcees have fairly unique voices which can be almost abrasive in full-flow, but they've learned when to use them and when to hold back. Squadda particularly has tempered his vocals and struck a great balance; his measured, affecting verse on 'Take U There' is one of the highlights from the new record.
A seemingly endless list of producers queuing up to supply beats has also helped, such as man of the moment Ryan Hemsworth, who has gone one further and begun mastering Main Attrakionz records as well. "We used to demo the .wav files ourselves, and that's where that lo-fi shit came from," says Mondre of Hemsworth's influence. "He helped us out a lot, cause we had no idea how to mix songs y'know?"
With the benefit of proper mixdowns and the continued refinement of their on-record chemistry, Main Attrakionz are beginning to sound like the finished article. What's more, this hazy, shimmering style which they've helped to popularise has never had so much clarity; two voices no longer blending into beats, but rising above the clouds and observing the world as they see it.