"You always hear the word 'legendary' as if it's like, 'Wow, they did something a long time ago and haven't been prevalent all through the years.'"
Myka 9 is in Cali, reflecting on the word "legend" while working on tracks that will eventually become (Title of Record), the heavily anticipated new album from hip-hop pioneers Freestyle Fellowship and their first group effort in nearly a decade.
"Legendary" is far from a hyperbolic claim. Emcees Myka 9, Self Jupiter, Aceyalone, and P.E.A.C.E., along with DJ Kiilu Grand, have made an indelible mark on hip-hop since the independent release of 1991's To Whom It May Concern, traveling in stream-of-consciousness rhymes, intricate wordplay, powerful battle raps and thoughtful spoken word poetry that incorporated jazz, funk, soul and reggae all under the umbrella of hip-hop. With subsequent releases Innercity Griots, Shockadoom and Temptations (the former instantly earning "classic" status upon its release), the Los Angeles-based group rose from their initial ciphers at the storied Good Life Café and solidified their stronghold as influential leaders in the underground hip-hop movement.
Never one to rest on their laurels, the group returns harder than ever on (Title), a __-track instant classic that finds the group picking up immediately where they left off. "When I got out, it almost felt like I never left," says Self Jupiter, referring to his recent release from prison. "Nothing had really changed so it was automatic that once I got out, we were going to do another album."
"It was like a little kid hooking up with his brothers all over again," adds Myka 9.
While the group has collectively appeared on countless solo albums, splinter groups and guest spots over their 20-year career, it was an impromptu reunion show in Los Angeles in 2009 that sparked the realization that the whole was greater then the sum of its parts and it was time to get back to the groundbreaking project that started it all.
As P.E.A.C.E. explains, the group soldiers on with new aliases indicative of their unique styles. "Myka is Michael Serling because his stuff is always "Twilight Zone"-ish. He could go way out there, but still remains intelligent and meticulous. Acey is Acey Allen Poe because he's got that folklore, old school way of thinking and brings that writing rhythm element to the party. Jupiter is Jupiter Hitchcock because he brings the suspense and the theatrical craziness. And I'm Peace Twain 'cause I got that country swagger. I still have the wheat straw in my mouth bringing that Southern swing."
"I think that (Title of record) comprises the best of all our past albums," says Self Jupiter. "We want to get the stuff to boom and bap for the DJs, but also have those same sensibilities of jazz and underground hip-hop where the focus is more on the artistic quantitative efforts."
"We're coming with a little funkier side than before," adds Myka 9. "We still incorporate all of the old-school unison stuff, but we're trying to come harder with the music and vocal arrangements."
Each member comes from a diverse musical background and brings with them a pedigree and virtuosity other hip-hop groups can only dream about. But if the members of Freestyle Fellowship never recorded another note, their contributions, both individually and collectively, would still be firmly established in the hip-hop firmament. For this perfectionist group of consummate artists, though, there's still work to do.
"We're doing this for the fans and to carry on with the legacy that we never continued," says Myka 9. "We do think about the legacy, but we don't get hung up on that because that'll stifle your creativity to keep doing more. In the end, there ain't nothing like a family. You can live on your own all you want, but it's always better if you got family."
"It's not the first coming or the second coming," adds Aceyalone. "This is what we promised."