OAKLAND’S CLOUD RAP PURVEYORS TALK STRUGGLES, SUCCESS AND GREEN OVA.
Main Attrakionz is the unit formed by MondreM.A.N and Squadda Bambino, two 21 year old hip-hop artists who’ve been creating rap tunes together since childhood. Hailing from impoverished neighbourhoods in Oakland, California, their lyrics are both emotive and streetwise, beats hazy and ambient but anchored by punchy 808 sequences.
With limited access to resources, Main Attrakionz created an online platform for their prolific series of lo-fi mixtapes. 2011 was the year that they became an online sensation. This year they’ve released their first physical CD, Bossalinis & Fooliyones, taken their music on tour and continued to exhale life into the cloud rap aesthetic.
Some rappers might have been eager to brush off the ‘cloud rap’ tag. The bonus of being categorised within a journalistically convenient buzz genre is that those artists undergo a rush of attention. The bad news is they also get stamped with an expiry date. But Main Attrakionz wave the cloud rap flag with pride. The formula is comprehensive: create a melodic and atmospheric soundscape and balance it out with hedonistic and introspective raps. It’s a term so loose that it could be used to describe the output by anyone from Odd Future to Drake to any artist who’s rapped over a Clams Casino instrumental, something that Main Attrakionz have done numerous times. And for Main Attrakionz, the cloud analogy isn’t just descriptive of their sound, it’s appropriate to their opaque lyrical content. Mondre and Squadda express a desire to escape their gritty reality psychologically, through music or their leisure activities as dedicated weed smokers and codeine enthusiasts.
But for the fans who’ve explored Main Attrakionz’ prolific output on their bandcamp page or browsed their low-budget hood videos and interviews on YouTube, it’s known that Mondre and Squadda B have an electric chemistry, often shown to be disarmingly funny and optimistic. And with transnational attention, a modest amount of cash in the bank (their mixtapes are free to stream, usually around two to five dollars to download) they’re embracing the good times and giving off good vibes.
Judging from the level of background noise during Crack’s phone call with Squadda B, life for Main Attrakionz is pretty hectic right now. “Hang on, let me move outta here, there’s too much music”, he says with beats blaring from the background. “Aww man, all these people are super loud, hold on a second I’ll go somewhere I can hear you”. At one point, Squadda’s voice is obscured by the sound of female giggling, “What, you want a picture now? Goddamn!” he quips. A few minutes later, the giggling reprises and Squadda surrenders to the request. “Look I’m gonna have to take this picture so that we can do the interview with no interruptions”, he explains, “very unprofessional man, I’m so sorry”. All pretty impressive considering that it’s just gone 9am in Oakland.
“We’ve had a crazy ass year, everyone is being super nice to us all of a sudden”, Squadda tells us of their rise to a prominent, touring act. “I love performing live, but travelling? I hate travelling with a passion man. After the shows I like to just go back and chill. I mean we’re 21 now so we’re legal to go to clubs and shit. But we already been drinking and taking girls home since we were young.”
As children of the 90s, Main Attrakionz already had a multitude of chapters from hip-hop’s fast-moving narrative to discover when they were growing up. And as devoted fans of the likes of UGK, Clipse and Wu-Tang during their childhood, Squadda explains that Main Attrakionz were inspired to start making music before they’d even hit adolescence. “Me and Mondre started rapping together in 7th grade, which I guess was 2004. We were like 12. But we’d been rapping for a hell of a long time before 2004. We thought we were gonna be like Lil Romeos or Lil Bow Wows, but we got too old for that.”
It doesn’t take too many listens to hear the words ‘Green Ova’ pop up in Main Attrakionz’ tunes. A record label and collective identity, Squadda speaks passionately about the form of fraternal solidarity they share. “Green Ova, that’s my life man. That’s our record company, that’s our family”, he explains. “It’s our organisation of people who do music with us, people we grew up with man. We wanna keep our side, we don’t want nothing happening to them, so we keep ‘em Green Ova”. So what about the dynamics of Green Ova? Are Main Attrakionz the leaders, or are they just the most recognised members? Squadda reveals a manifesto which could only vaguely make sense in the depths of an all night smoking session. “I know this is kinda confusing, but Green Ova is organised in five chapters. I’m Chapter One, Mondre’s Chapter Two, Dope G is Chapter Three, LOLO is Chapter Four and Shady Blaze is Chapter Five. And it’s really just a record label, we’re not a gang or anything, we just make music.”
It’s at this point that Squadda decides to share an anecdote about the Green Ova crew’s most agile rapper. “Imm’a tell you a great fact about Shady Blaze. He was actually an original member of Main Attrakionz back in middle school. But then we never saw him for years. So me and Mondre just took the Main Attrakionz name and ran. After I flunked ninth grade I met Shady’s brother and then got reconnected with him. And his little brother has just passed away recently, his little brother who we reconnected through. Crazy story man.”
Lyrically, Main Attrakionz confront issues of poverty, mortality and lack of prospects in their environment. Their motivation and desire to transcend the barriers which push down on them is expressed in the poignant tone of the woozy atmospheric beats and their aspirational but depressed lyricism. In conversation, Squadda touches on this duality, explaining that however much Main Attrakionz might want to escape, they remian loyal to the Bay Area. “I feel if you can make it here then, shit, you can make it anywhere. It’s a good battlefield, it prepared us for the outside world. And I’ll stay in Oakland all my life, I never want to move.” Main Attrakionz’ wounded but persistent pride for Oakland shines through on Bossalinis & Fooliyones, notably on the bittersweet single Do It For The Bay.
Around a year ago, Main Attrakionz were generating heat on the blogosphere by throwing out tunes produced by of-the-moment beat makers like Clams Casino and Keyboard Kid. Their mixtaoe 808s and Dark Grapes II is considered a cloud rap benchmark, and it remains their most definitive work to date. For the debut album proper they’ve recruited a combination of low-key affiliates and hyped up breakthrough producers like Harry Fraud, who provided the beat for Action Bronson’s Bird On The Wire and has worked with the likes of Curren$y and Smoke DZA, as well as Supreme Cuts, who’ve recently released a murky collaborative mixtape with Haleek Maul. Squadda explains that they’re reaching to outside producers as well as representing their friends. “With Supreme Cuts,
they’re our friends, we really do chill with them. But Harry Fraud, he was the only producer who we didn’t pick ourselves, our manager hooked us up. We knew Harry Fraud from his work with French Montana, and I was a big French Montana fan. I’m glad it happened. That shit worked out great.” One tune that’s got Crack hooked is On Tour. The beat, as decadent and garishly colourful as a tequila sunrise, is attributed to an obscure individual going by the name of Uptown Greg. “Yeah, Uptown Greg! Now that’s a new official Green Ova producer you got right there.” Says Squadda, audibly grinning. “He’s a young guy out of Connecticut. He had a lot of faith in us, so we’re definitely rockin’ with him. I hope everyone takes a lot of notice of him because he’s really good. Uptown Greg man, he’s crazy.”
Main Attrakionz have collaborated with high-profile members of rap’s new brigade in the past, most commonly Detriot’s clown prince Danny Brown, who went through a phase of shouting out Main Attrakionz in every interview. Squadda is respectful of the contemporaries he has been so commonly filed next to, but happy that their journeys have gone down different paths. “Shoutouts to Danny Brown, shoutouts to Spaceghostpurrp, shoutouts to ASAP Rocky, they’re cool guys and we fuck with them but we’re doing our own shit. Our music doesn’t really sound the same. I think it’s crazy that we even got lumped into a category with those guys.”
2011 was a landmark year for Main Attrakionz, but they’ve not let themselves get complacent since that particularly wave of hype. They’re working hard, getting progressively better at what they do and morphing their formula while still creating a sound that’s distinctly theirs. And it’s good to know that Squadda and Mondre are enjoying the ride. “Yeeeah Bossalinis & Fooliyones man. Well I can tell you about that. We wanted to have two sides, side A is us trying to be Boss, y’know, the cool guy, that Boss life. Fooliyone is just being a fool man, like how we are in real life. We can be real fools man, we do crazy shit on the regular.”
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Bossalinis & Fooliyones is out via Young One Records
Words: David Reed
Photo: Chris Brennan