Sound of A Memory: People Under The Stairs

The thing death robs us all of is the gift of new experiences. Until that fateful point, it seems life unfolds as the universe is, ever expanding outward into new uncharted waves in space and time. Every day, every minute, every second provides a new opportunity for life to exist and bring something new to your world. A new beat to listen to, a new trail to hike, another spot to go kick back and enjoy a beer and burger reminiscing. It feels inevitable. Then it isn’t. The universe stops, space and time are held in infinite suspension like a mosquito encased in amber from the Jurassic Period. No more expansion, only reflection.

Michael Turner, a.k.a Double K, a.k.a The General of Generosity, died this January in his sleep. He was one half of Los Angeles’ legendary hip-hop duo People Under the Stairs with Chris Portugal, a.k.a Thes One, a producer, MC and DJ who humbly held down the mic and turntables with authentic spirit and respect for L.A. Music lost a beautiful creative voice, Los Angeles lost an underground icon and most importantly, friends and family lost an undoubtedly immense presence in their life that was a great source of love.

People Under The Stairs: Mel Melcon/ Los Angeles Times

People Under The Stairs have always been on the scene as their name implies: in the know but out of view, chillin on their unique flow away from the spotlight. Double K was a childhood friend of Murs and had a direct hand in producing the rapper’s first song and shows when he was a teenager. Thes One applied to the Berklee School of Music and ultimately graduated from USC Magnum Cum Laude in the honors English program.

Each could be found on the scene at the legendary live sessions at L.A.’s The Breaks headed by Miles Tackett from funk band Breakestra, blossoming from a pool of peers and influential scene stealers that included people like Cut Chemist, Chali 2na and DJ Dusk (one of Double K’s best solo appearances outside PUTS is Breakestra’s “Family Rap” with Chali 2na). Their progressive throwback vibe never translated to any kind of watershed cultural following (“Acid Raindrops” being their most influential offering to the masses), yet they appeared on The Simpsons, were still touring internationally and at big festivals across the U.S., and getting guest spots from Greg Nice into their 40’s.

People Under The Stairs: O.S.T

There isn’t a musical perspective on life I’ve listened to more than that of Double K and Thes One. Through their songs I’ve been taken on the adventures that define their personal and in doing so I’ve been given insight of what means to live a life of adventure and action, breathing deep the dopeness of life. In their own ways Thes One and Double K epitomized living an adventurous life and People Under The Stairs is the ultimate expression of that.

Thes One always brought the X-games X-factor to The P. He surfs and skates (and fishes the deeps) and has always tried to represent his passions as best he can in his music. The producer released mixtapes Music to Board to Vol 1. and Vol. 2 for board pursuits on the snow and waves and also scored Rob Dyrdek’s 2009 skateboard movie Street Dreams. Dude even made a full instrumental beat album and documentary, Legend of the 40 Dogz, down in the Maldives with a bunch of friends on a surfing trip, recording on the boat each day as they traveled and surfed.

It’s obvious Double K wasn’t the Tony Hawk type in the group. What’s maybe not obvious is The Rhyme Giant might have been the John Muir.

The musician grew up on Crenshaw Boulevard, one of the most notoriously violent neighborhoods in the country, and told The Los Angeles Times, ““I was surrounded by the negativity, the things going on in the streets, the stuff that I thought that I wanted to be a part of. I decided that this was more important. I just holed up in my room, listening to music, and then I met this dude and I had somebody else to listen to music with.” Living in such a concrete jungle underscores the fact his adventures weren’t always of his choosing and wouldn’t be proudly displayed on an REI magazine, which speaks to the bastardization and commercialization of the term “adventure” (that I fully understand I am somewhat a part of and contribute to). People surely died senseless deaths at the hands of others around him (he was almost one himself a couple times), with suffering and loss a more daily fact of life for him than for people who lived in other zip codes.

The Strand: People Under The Stairs

Yet, despite the odds and deadly entrapments Double K grew up with an eye for life’s wonder and set about building that life for himself. As Thes One revealed on Instagram shortly after his friends death, Double K was a “low-key nature boy.” A fateful road trip from L.A. to Tacoma, Washington with his friend and parents opened the teenager’s eyes to the natural wonder of the outside, to vista’s outside the purview of skyscrapers. People Under The Stairs became his vehicle to get away from the negativity and to as many of those wondrous views across the world as possible.

“Every new place was a big deal. … Mike never took this, the beauty of our planet, for granted. So much so that our off days [on tour] were spent finding and visiting view points, zoos, beaches, forests, mountaintops, you name it. It became more important than digging records even. ‘What do you want to do tomorrow?’ I’d always ask. ‘Find a place to chill.’ Always the same answer,” Thes One posted to Instagram.

They chilled all over the world, from Brighton Beach in London to Banff Mountain in Canada to the favelas of Brazil. Have you ever experienced a secluded snowy morning on The Great Wall of China? Double K did. They were always the unexpected pranksters, loving life in places they never dreamed they’d be, laughing with people who’d never experienced people like these L.A. knuckleheads in their corner of the world. People Under The Stairs might have flown under the radar for their whole careers but it gave them incredible views of the Earth they were traveling from such humble heights.

One of PUTS’ last songs, “Drinking and Jivin,” in a very simple way underscores the uniqueness of this band and the adventurous life they’ve celebrated in their music. The cover of the single is from Double’s trip to Tacoma, a teenaged MC standing as stoically as the forest behind him at the rest stop vista. The song itself is a wobbly acoustic jaunt about road trips and camping that exudes sunny warmth with a hippie zing. It feels unique to the genre, refreshing in vibe, par for the course for this duo. Thes One is sure to make clear that “seeing some majestic shit” out in the woods isn’t just for the white people that seem to have a cultural monopoly on the scene, it’s for anyone who finds wonder away from a phone screen.

The smell of pine needles and charcoal under the grates
I can faintly hear some children laughing over in the canyon
I know some more families having brunch below the banyan
Black folks barbecuin’, Latinos are kickin’ balls
It’s a four mile hike to find a hidden waterfall
Baby this is America, my American dream
I went the whole day and didn’t see a cellphone screen

Drinking and Jivin’: People Under The Stairs

It’s that type of singular creativity and unique storytelling that us fans lost with the passing of Double K. Fans like me lost a source of stories, dreams and possibilities; in many ways a companion in life. Music serves many functions but almost anyone who admires the musical art can speak to how music follows you and joins you in your day-to-day, acting as a friend that will build you windows into different worlds and experiences. Some are instantly relatable, others blow your mind and inspire you to move your life to different rhythms. People Under The Stairs has been my number one source for all of those things for the last 16 years, half of my life. That part of my life is over. No more albums, no new verses and beats from L.A. Mike. I’ll only have the sounds of memories.

Those memories sound like summer farm parties and late-night drives through the cornfields of the eastern shore of Maryland. They sound like sailing across lagoons in the Marshall Islands, skiing bluebird days in Lake Tahoe, the roar of The Other Tent at Bonnaroo in Tennessee. It’s the sound of living a life at its most high and engaged wavelength and indulging in the adventures and experiences that color your life most vibrantly. They make this inexplicable gift of life worth it. In music and in person Double K and Thes One have been with me at some of the most memorable times in my life.

Before he left Double K was able to give me one last memory. PUTS released its final album Sincerely, The P in February 2019. The duo had explained to fans this was their swan song, they were retiring from recording as a group. The game was too much of a grind at this point in their lives but they wanted to make one more album together, their tenth. I knew they meant what they said. To me, that meant one last opportunity to listen to a brand new People Under The Stairs album with virgin ears. Last call for fresh tracks.

When the album released I waited a couple days (weeks?) until I was able to receive my copy of the CD in the mail. My car had always been my preferred (and practical) method for music and I didn’t want to waste the experience on laptop speakers. I wanted it big and loud in front of my face as I drove around Lake Tahoe; a P fan in his natural habitat.

I decided I wanted it to be as serene as possible. So I gassed up the car and took a dawn patrol drive along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. I silently bobbed and weaved along the coast as these new last sounds reverberated through my body. Crisp pine tree smell in the air, the world in a periwinkle haze of calm. I made it from my home in South Lake to the northern hamlet of King’s Beach. I pulled into an empty parking lot that had a perfect view of the lake. The twinkling kick of the album’s last song “Sounds of a Memory” hit just as I put the car in park. It’s a song all about how one moves on from the end of something, how to accept a goodbye, not a see you later. It’s one of Double K’s most impactful verses in his career, especially now in the context of his recent death. A perfect last feather in a hat full of them.

The Sound of a Memory: People Under The Stairs

Before me, the whole of Lake Tahoe, the sun just beginning to crest the white capped mountains with a pink glow. As the new dawn was rising, another was setting on People Under The Stairs. The poetic alignment of these natural, sonic and philosophical forces was not lost on me then and it’s not lost on me now. I had given myself an opportunity to appreciate People Under The Stairs with all my attention one final time, give them the respect their finale deserved. I’ll never forget the feeling of that drive, an experience like none other.

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