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People Under the Stairs – Highlighter

on October 20, 2011, 7:58am

Here’s the answer to a potential trivia question: Highlighter, Los Angeles-based hip-hop duo People Under the Stairs’ (PUTS) eighth full-length, is the first album to ever be released in 24-bit HD-AAC format. In layman’s terms, that means it sounds fractionally better than most albums while munching up a whole lot of hard drive space. Apart from that, it’s mostly a typical PUTS album: warm, slick, and unmistakably sample-heavy. And that’s hardly something to gripe about.

At this point, the group’s members, Thes One and Double K, are becoming underground rap elder statesmen; their first album together, The Next Step, was released in 1998. But while that would seemingly give them a certain swagger, they still come across as workhorses. Highlighter’s songs evidence that in spades. The brass-driven “Too Much Birthday” evokes EPMD’s “The Steve Martin”, while the reflective “This Lifetime” would probably sound great while sitting on a Cali beach and watching the sun dip below the horizon. Most of the innumerable samples used here were probably culled from the bottom of an Amoeba Music dollar bin, but a few are easily recognizable. Just to name three, there are slices of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”, a sitar cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and a brief interpolation of Audio Two’s “Top Billin’”.

Lyrically, the guys are giving us more of the same. “Can’t Hold It Back” is an ode to PUTS’ loyal fan base (“The radio dissed us, but the crowd kept clappin’”), “Foolish People” features an account of a Double K acid trip, and “WRLA” references the Wu-Tang Clan and Tony! Toni! Toné! Few individual rhymes are especially impressive, but based on PUTS’ history, that’s not surprising.

Since only a handful of the 18 tracks here really stand out on their own, Highlighter is best taken as a whole. If you aren’t a fan of PUTS’ previous efforts, you won’t be into this either, but it’s a sturdy production from two guys who have a catalog full of them.

Essential Tracks: “Too Much Birthday”, “This Lifetime”, and “Can’t Hold It Back”