Homegrown Brain Food 

Oakland hip-hop four-piece the Attik wants you to dance, then better yourself.

Not many local underground hip-hop groups can say that the nationally known group dead prez served as the opening act for their record-release party. But then, not many local underground hip-hop groups are the Attik.

The Oakland-based four-piece recently celebrated the release of its self-produced effort Jungle Electric with a triumphant concert at Oakland's 2232 MLK (which is fast becoming the East Bay's go-to spot for raw, dope, underground hip-hop). With opening sets by the highly respected dead prez (who was added to the bill at the last minute) and Ise Lyfe (who staked a claim to be taken seriously as not just a spoken-word poet, but a rapper on a par with any MC in the area), the atmosphere inside the venue was absolutely charged. Putting the evening's vibe into perspective, it was much the same feeling as watching Freestyle Fellowship and the Pharcyde at the legendary Bomb showcases at the DNA in 1994, or seeing Zion-I rip encore after encore at La Peña in 1999.

Emotions ran high from the beginning of the Attik's set, when a full-fledged gospel choir set a spiritual tone that got more intense as the concert went on. It's in the jungle, the choir sang, warming the hearts of all those present. The cold streets outside the venue may be beset by crime, drugs, violence, and all the other problems associated with inner-city Oakland, but you hardly would have known it from the kinetic energy exchange between the audience and the performers.

The Attik's flows were ridiculously fresh — intelligent but not preachy — in a way that evoked the best qualities of Tupac, the Roots, and KRS-One, while DJ Treat U Nice lived up to his name. When the group unleashed its best-known song, "Mnah (Sleep Don't Come Easy)," a palpable wave of excitement rolled through the crowd. Though commercial radio continues to pump hyphy anthems and strip-club soundtracks ad nauseam, there's obviously still a sizable audience who goes crazy for underground hip-hop with substance. You have to wonder what would happen if "Mnah" or songs like it were added to KMEL or KYLD playlists.

After I spent some quality time with Jungle Electric, it seems a shame that the Attik hasn't been embraced in the same way hyphy artists have. The album's original-sounding music — which bounces and rolls, but also provides food for thought — proves that slumps and knocks aren't limited to the scraper contingent. Then again, lyrics like Got us lost in the sauce like tomato and Prego and we should be fighting for so much more might actually make you think. Most impressively, the Attik clearly follows its own path; tunes like "Get Up Get Down" and "The Ceiling" bring you back to the days when hip-hop was actually saying something, without being nostalgic.

A few days after the show, the Attik dropped by Oakland's community-minded coffee shop Jahva House for a chat. Present were the group's three emcees Elefant, Do Dat, and Amani (who handles the majority of the production chores). The three were initially reticent to describe what it was like to have a group like dead prez open up for them, but after a little prodding, they admitted, "Looking back, we got a lot of love." Still, they describe the experience as "a blessing; at the same time, nerve-racking." That was the first time, they realized, "Okay, cats are listening."

The Attik's members are used to operating more or less in a vacuum, but they might have to get used to people paying attention real soon. With a sound that's neither obviously hyphy nor overtly backpack — Amani describes it as "conscious slap" — and influences as diverse as Donny Hathaway, Led Zeppelin, Alice Coltrane, and Pimp C, Jungle Electric revels in eclectic creativity without coming off as pretentious. "The object is so nobody can deny it's good music," Amani says. "The emotion is there. We try hard to bring that to it."

Though the independently released album won't benefit from a plethora of promotional dollars, word of mouth is definitely out. "We bridge gaps between different crowds," Elefant notes. "With the Attik, it's not so much marketing the sound, it's about the music."

At the same time, they're a little wary of being typecast as conscious rappers — a label that could fit any MC not talking about kilograms and rims. "I would like to move away from [perceptions of] what a conscious artist is," Do Dat explains. "We strive to express ourselves as human beings. Conscious artists float. We fuck up. We're not perfect." Their rhymes, Elefant says, don't reflect a false image of what they wish they were, but "represent an authentic struggle." Jungle Electric, they add, is actually a somewhat self-explanatory title — it's a description of their sound, which might seem puzzling on paper, but makes sense when you hear the music.

To its credit, the Attik doesn't ride a bandwagon or jump on trends: "We're not trying to sound like anyone else," Elefant emphasizes. In an era where hip-hop has become derivative and predictable, it's refreshing to find a group that has its own thing.


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