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Built from Scratch

Chuck D. once said, "Move as a team, never move alone." And that's what musicians do, especially in hip-hop culture. Independent hip-hop heads argue over the merits of record labels the way everyone else charts the rise and fall of Def Jam and Cash Money Crew. These days, the hot imprint is Rhymesayers Entertainment.

Rhymesayers began as a modest venture formed by Sean "Slug" Daley and Brent "Siddiq" Sayers in 1993. Years later, Rhymesayers would gain renown as the label of Atmosphere, a group featuring Slug and producer Ant that popularized so-called "emo rap" (a term Slug doesn't like).

In 1997, Rhymesayers issued Atmosphere's first album, Overcast. The group then took to the road, visiting small towns in unlikely Midwest locales. No other rap group at the time, major or indie, was conducting such extensive trips.

"We put it down for the whole travel aspect of it," Slug says. "No one was fucking with us as far as how much we were down to get in the van and just go for no money." Atmosphere's adventures, which resembled the busking journeys punk rock bands undertook in the '80s, earned them a loosely organized but dedicated following.

Three years later, Atmosphere released Ford One and Ford Two, EPs that finally brought them to national attention. These discs were an aesthetic breakthrough for Slug as a confessional rapper who is as prone to ruminate over his life and loves as kick b-boy-styled battle rhymes. In 2002, Atmosphere's God Loves Ugly sold more than 100,000 copies, becoming the first underground rap album to reach "indie gold" (a feat regularly achieved by rock bands such as Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie) since Blackalicious' Blazing Arrow in 2000.

Rhymesayers' fortunes soared as Slug ascended to indie-god status. But more than the house that Slug built, Rhymesayers has issued strong efforts from Eyedea and Abilities, Soul Position (überproduer RJD2 and MC/DJ Blueprint), Semi Official, and Mr. Dibbs. All of these artists illustrate a credo of raw, classically minded hip-hop made from solid, sample-driven beats and dexterous, vocabulary-rich rhymes.

DJ Blueprint is from Columbus, Ohio, and has his own small record label called Weightless Recordings. But when he recently released his first full-fledged solo effort, 1988, he turned to Rhymesayers. "When you run your own label and you're an artist on that label, it's really hard to push yourself," Blueprint admits. "I'd rather put it into the hands of somebody I know I can trust."

Like most of Rhymesayers' releases, 1988 has slowly caught the ears of hip-hop fans since its release last March. It's gradually making its way into magazine reviews and rolling along on a strong word-of-mouth campaign. In time, it may be another example of why Rhymesayers is surprisingly successful: no expensive marketing, no major-label financing, just the continued support of fans of good music. -- Mosi Reeves

Rhymesayers crew members Blueprint, Mr. Dibbs, and Glue rock the Scribble Jam tenth anniversary tour at 7 p.m. Friday, May 27, at Sweat Records, 2320 NE Second Ave, Miami. Tickets cost $15. Call 305-573-5681.

Start Wasting Time, Damn It

That lawsuit for downloading music got you down? Buck up, music addict: The web still abounds with free legal sounds. "Viral" videos can provide hours of visually enhanced audio jollies while you're preparing your latest motion to dismiss. These are those random vids sent to you by a blog-happy co-worker, funny or weird enough that you dutifully pass them along to your old college pals all over the country. Cable modems were invented for this stuff.

South Florida dispensed some true mob justice in booing Ashlee Simpson after the halftime show of this year's Orange Bowl. Search on ebaumsworld.com.

Someone cleared a bunch of karaoke-quality nobodies to perform Tina Turner's "Simply the Best" in a soccer stadium. Yeah, it's as wretched as it sounds. Search for "worst halftime show ever" on ifilm.com.

An animated music video stars a rabbit singing the catchy number "Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me." Best lyric: "Resist, and then later you find out there's more/Regret in not doing the sin." On several sites; the version at tism.com.au isn't the highest quality, but it has the best presentation.

Conor Oberst's balls-out performance of "When the President Talks to God" on Leno won't be enough to prevent the next illegal war, but it's a damned good start. It's also on ifilm.com.

The spare, deliberate, animated interpretation of Radiohead's "Creep" at lowmorale.co.uk/creep is so very special.

Also: "Chicken Barbie Girl" at ebaumsworld; the late Frank Zappa on Crossfire and William Shatner's rendition of "Rocket Man" on ifilm; "Combat Avenger" on kontraband.com; and Google banana phone at your peril. -- Sam Eifling

Dropping Acid

In the early '70s, before the misleading appellation acid jazz even existed, Roy Ayers was fusing solid grooves to sinuous melodies. A vibraphone whiz, songwriter, and bandleader, Ayers fused the improvisational flights of post-bop jazz with R&B hooks and funk's on-the-one backbeat. His music formed the template for countless others, from Jamiroquoi to Groove Collective to A Tribe Called Quest, and he's still revered by the hip-hop community for his soulful, organic licks and hip, urban style. Ayers' Virgin Ubiquity II comes out Tuesday, May 31, on BBE/Rapster Records. Outtakes recently spoke with the master about the birth of the groove and its continued role in modern music.

Outtakes: How'd you come to define this soul-jazz sound?

Roy Ayers: I got the beat and the concept from Lionel Hampton. Lionel Hampton always played with a funky beat -- it's called a shuffle, that's what he used to do. D-dat d-dat d-dat d-dat. It's an R&B figure that's used quite a bit in swing. Two of my favorite musicians are Miles Davis and James Brown. If you listen to both, there's a similarity there, far as I'm concerned. Also, Miles never did stay in one bag all his life; he changed all the time. He motivated me to the point where I had to really focus and look at his career and say, "At least mine has been similar to his, in the versatility, playing many different bags."

Are you surprised at the continued interest in your music?

I never knew anything was gonna happen with this stuff! I'm doing it because there was somebody like Peter [Adarkwah of BBE Records] that was interested in bringing it out. I can show it to a million people, but they don't wanna bring it out.

You ever hang with the other funky forefathers?

I always see George Clinton, and he'll give me a high-five, and Bootsy. I used to do shows with them. I remember one time I did a show with them in Louisville, Kentucky, and we all found ourselves at the hotel -- I think at that time it was a Holiday Inn -- and they were raving at me, like, "You gotta open the show like that every time when you work for us! You gotta put that fire in 'em, because that means that same fire is there when we come on-stage!" I'll never forget that.

What do you think about hip-hop artists' sampling your stuff?

I just hope we don't get too many people that are copying other artists without doing something themselves. I like Pharrell; he's young and he's creative, and it seems he does things new and fresh. I like him because he's not exactly sampling; he's experimenting with sound and instruments, and we do need more musicians out here to play the instruments. That's very important, because everybody can't go through life just sampling. As well as they can do sampling, they can do just as well on a musical instrument to create music. -- Jonathan Zwickel

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Sam Eifling
Contact: Sam Eifling

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