There’s a special pedestal in music criticism for the experimental rapper. These artists are often lauded less for what they are than for what they are not. Specifically, like those other rappers. But what to make of the rappers who are like those other rappers and still somehow end up creating something dramatically different? The story of Main Attrakionz is the story of tens of thousands of aspiring emcees—regular teens who fell in love with music and found an alternative to the allure of the streets. The North Oakland duo raps about the things that most rappers rap about, but their output is something completely alien.
Twenty-year-old rapper/producer Squadda B shrugs off the near-cliché of the saved-rapper narrative with a striking self-awareness. “Our personal lives were kinda boring, outside of the stereotypical shit,” he says before casually alluding to car theft, misadventures and fallen friends. “We went to rap because we had nothing else.” He met his Main Attrakionz rhyme partner, MondreM.A.N., now 19, when they were both in middle school, and they’ve taken a heads-down approach to music making ever since. After a few years of bouncing around the Bay Area underground, chasing an actual record deal that failed to pan out, the duo quietly hit the web circuit, slowly becoming minor blog darlings after Squadda laced then-rising rap eccentric, Lil B, with a handful of beats. This was an uncharacteristic move for a rapper who produces mostly for his own crew and, even then, only out of necessity.
“I’m not even a real producer,” he downplays. “I just know what I want to rap on.” This, it turns out, is something just a little strange. His tracks are airy and angular, built around clipped vocal fragments and warm synth washes. He instinctively draws out the more experimental elements of his influences—the lo-fi fuzz of early Three 6 Mafia, the cocaine ’80s haze of Nas beatsmith L.E.S., the low-end squelches of the hyphy movement, the empty space of Atlanta snap rap—to the forefront. Though some critics have been quick to link MA’s work to underground strains of electronic music, Squadda listens to rap exclusively. Like many in their ever-expanding pool of internet-savvy peers-turned-collaborators, it would seem almost as if they were creating art rap by accident.
Often double-tracked and echoed, Squadda and MondreM.A.N operate in strings of icy declaratives whose precedent exists in the gruff Queens rap of Cormega and Mobb Deep. But where those NYC hardrocks went directly for the nose bone with their shit-talking, the Attrakionz rappers tend to flutter around the track with a nonspecific coldness. Their songs are hauntingly hookless and devoid of structure, and that’s an appropriate choice given their obsessions with—but not fear of—their own death and tales of drugged out zombies on the turf when the night falls.
Yet despite their stonerish stylistic detachment, the duo remains hyper productive. Their GreenOva collective has already released no less than seven albums by way of BandCamp this year, and they’re currently preparing the long awaited Attrakionz full length Legion Of Doom for 2012, as well as the second installment of their 808s & Darkgrapes mixtape series for later this year. “All we really do is focus on rapping,” says Squadda, as blunt about his motives as he is with his rhymes. “I do this shit because it’s always been the only shit I love.”