Hip hop homecoming 

Portland-based hip hop group gets back to their roots in Whistler, with the help of Chief Xcel

click to enlarge Guttaflys AwayThe Lifesavas team up with Chief Xcel of Blackalicious for a night of old school hip hop and more -- think vinyl, not Serato.
  • Guttaflys AwayThe Lifesavas team up with Chief Xcel of Blackalicious for a night of old school hip hop and more -- think vinyl, not Serato.

Who: Lifesavas with Chief Xcel
When: Wednesday, Jan. 28, 9 p.m.
Where: Garfinkel's
Admission: Tickets $15 in advance at Garf's, Billabong, Katmandu & The Hub, $20 at the door
Hailing from Northeast Portland, musicians Vursatyl, Jumbo and Shines incorporate an old school flava into their hip hop. Unlike many of the modern mainstream offerings available today, the Lifesavas' sound hails back to the days of the "original hip hop blueprint."
Growing up on a steady diet of De La Soul, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Poor Righteous Teachers, the Freestyle Fellowship, and others, its clear where these musicians get their courage of conviction.
"A lot of the people who were pushing the envelope early on really influenced us," Vursatyl conceded.
"The key thing about artists like Eric B. and Rakim, those artists, they showed you what was possible, they showed you that it was possible to take hip hop and put your individuality on it, and that's important."
Now, the Lifesavas try to deal with a broad range of subject matter.
"We try and maintain enough creativity in the music to just be individual," he said.
Well, it's certainly true that their music doesn't follow any particular trend. Rather, these guys like to stand out from the crowd while exploring important everyday social issues.
"We just want to make music that is a true representation of what we're going through and what we face, so everything in our music is just that, from relationships to issues that concern or confront our community or neighbourhood, racial issues, all of those things are what everyone goes through on a day-to-day basis, so its important to let our music reflect that," Vursatyl explained.
"It's just our canvas, if you will, that allows us to paint the picture that we want to paint."
In fact, their latest full-length, Guttafly , which was released on Quannum Records, was a huge departure from your average hip hop group - it was a concept album, an audio film, if you will.
"Guttafly was a slang term that Jumbo came up with in the early '90s... it means that we're from poverty and we still fly," he explained. "We take the least and make the best out of it."
They decided to challenge themselves by exploring their interests in Blaxploitation and Japanese fantasy films through their music, creating alternate personas with dialogue and a storyline that carried through the album.
"After our first album, the biggest thing about Guttafly was, for Jumbo and I, specifically, it was a reconnection between him and I, and we wanted just to kind of reintroduce ourselves to everyone out there," he said.
They had toured extensively with the Quannum label before even producing their first album, and unlike many other labels out there, they're clearly okay with giving artists creative control over their projects.
While Quannum was certainly supportive of Guttafly , it was still considered to be a bit of an ambitious concept.
"They loved the record, but originally, when we were like, 'we want to make a concept album for our second album,' everybody was like, 'oh wow, really?'" Vursatyl recalled. "Once they heard the music and kind of saw how it was panning out, they were onboard, and we had sent out some press copies of the record without even having it totally finished, and when Rolling Stone Magazine was like 'hey, we love it,' then that... made everyone take a sigh of relief."
In this age of MP3s and Serato, artists who choose to stick with vinyl need to make some special arrangements - calling ahead to ensure the right gear is available, and lugging the heavy crates of records around from stop to stop. But true to form, the Lifesavas are also true to vinyl.
"When we're on the road, we know that we're going to be hitting up the various record stores, and we gotta bring home everything we find, so usually by the end of the tour, the car or the van or the bus is loaded up with all kinds of vinyl that we found along the way," he said.
And they've managed to find some treasures in the most unexpected places.
"We were literally at a gas station in Houston, and come to find out where they used to fix cars, this guy had a wealth of records," he said with a laugh.
Now, they're in the studio, recording material for yet another new album, and preparing to head out on the road for a short, six-stop tour.
Vursatyl sees this leg of their tour as something of a homecoming, because they haven't been on the road with the members of Blackalicious for a long time. But this time around, Chief Xcel is replacing Shines as their DJ.
Xcel actually discovered the Lifesavas - taking the group under his wing after hearing their cassette single.
"I think he was the first one to kind of see something similar in their vision and ours, and he came on board just to help us paint the picture," he said.
"...This is going to be the first time that people will really see the core movement, in terms of how this Lifesavas thing really got started."

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