Having Already Influenced Every Rapper You Like, Freestyle Fellowship Are Back
Sunshine men go dark and sky rappers eventually touch cement, but Freestyle Fellowship swore that they would never fall the fuck off. That was the promise of 1991, the pre-riot boiling point when their first hand-hawked collection of songs, To Whom It May Concern, crushed cassette decks across Los Angeles. At the time, the epicenter of the West Coast alternative movement was The Good Life, a liquor-less Cedar St. tavern in Leimert Park known for its legendary open mic night where abstractions became expressionist.
The quartet constructed a brilliant civilization underground, but seemed to be perennially returning from a trip to outer space. These were the astral jazz-cracked geniuses of sherm-strafed South Central, rapping with caged bird cadences about sleeping on park benches, biblical books, and gangsta rap carpetbaggers. Myka 9, Aceyalone, and Self Jupiter had been friends since grammar school, while the fourth member P.E.A.C.E. joined them in 10th grade. By then, everyone knew Microphone Mike (Myka 9's first alias) as the adolescent prince of KDAY, bagging on would-be rivals every morning on the radio with Bobby Jimmy and the Critters.
Now, twenty years after taking flight, Myka 9, Aceyalone, and Self-Jupiter pile onto folding chairs in the record room of Fellowship DJ Kiilu Grand. It's a sleepy September afternoon and they're discussing their first record in a decade, The Promise, out next month on Decon Records.
"It's a commitment to the promise that we made on To Whom it May Concern. Not to stop and to stay dope," says Self Jupiter, the jovial planetary-sized rapper, who has spent roughly half of the last two decades behind bars for various infractions, ranging from armed robbery to parole violations.
"We're not trying to make this a one-time thing, just for our 20-year anniversary," chimes in the group's anchor, Aceyalone, whose backwards baseball cap and baggy denim make him look more youthful than his 41 years.
Even though the press pegged Fellowship as incense-sparking herbivores hailing from some expletive-free health food utopia, they had the same scarcely sublimated rage and street roots as their peers. Self Jupiter was arrested for robbing stores on tour, after all, while Myka 9 ghost-wrote a pair of tracks on N.W.A. and the Posse.
Not to mention that everyone from a young Ice Cube, Kurupt, and Snoop Dogg were known to pop up at The Good Life, and Fellowship were rumored to have influenced every fast rapper from Busta Rhymes to Bone Thugs. Then there's their influences on their peers and spiritual descendents: The Pharcyde, Jurassic 5, Busdriver, and the art rappers and beat producers who congregate every Wednesday at the Low End Theory, The Good Life's most direct legatee.