April 27, 2007
Kids look up to rappers. And since the most popular ones glamorize misogyny, materialism, violence, drug-dealing and any variation of hustlin’ on the block thereof, our future is looking pretty bleak. Thankfully, there are folks like the Lifesavas who strive to preserve the culture and keep hip-hop afloat.
Emcee Vursatyl and DJ Rev. Shines, two thirds of the trio, just wrapped up a nine-week after-school hip-hop history class in their hometown of Portland, Ore. Originally approached by Self-Enhancement Inc., a community center in Portland, to teach kids how to rap and DJ, Vursatyl thought it would be more valuable to teach them history instead.
“Most kids have the raw talent,” he says. “I just wanted to make them aware of where hip-hop came from, and that would help them keep the culture and integrity alive.”
Through the class, students were exposed to the music that influenced their favorite contemporary emcees and producers. The duo brought in special guests, such as hip-hop pioneers Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore. One of the students’ favorite activities was Beat Jeopardy. While DJ Rev. Shines played the original breaks from funk, jazz and soul artists, students guessed the correct rapper who sampled them.
“If you have an opportunity to help people beyond music, you should take it. It doesn’t hurt to step out the box and take action,” Vursatyl says. “For me, that’s what the class is and what we’re trying to do in our community.”
But it’s not just kids who can learn something from the Lifesavas. With the release of Gutterly on April 24, their followup to 2003’s Quannum Projects debut Spirit in Stone, Vursatyl, DJ Shines and emcee/producer Jumbo the Garbageman, continue their mission as humble, positive, socially conscious artists whose creativity stretches wider than the collective overgrown egos of today’s pop-rap stars. If you haven’t already, start taking notes.
Inspired by blaxploitation movies such as Coonskin, the Mack and Superfly, and named after the late Baraka Feldman’s unfinished blaxploitation film from the early ’80s, Gutterfly is similar to other cinematic albums such as Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves and Mr. Lif’s I-Phantom. But whereas the aforementioned albums rely on every song for the story’s progression, each song on Gutterfly can stand alone.