Brian De Los Santos
Maybe I was living under a rock.
I was teeth-deep in a tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill when I found out Los Angeles-based hip-hop duo People Under The Stairs (PUTS) was performing at the first-ever Concert in the Plaza at Sunset on Friday.
Stunned, I asked my group of friends when it started.
“It’s in 30 minutes,” they said.
I don’t think I’d ever finished a meal as quickly as I did after that, but I’d be damned if I was going to miss a free PUTS concert. Turns out, though, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know about the show. When I got to campus, the University Union (UU) Plaza was empty. There were a few fans sitting down around the area, but there weren’t many people there.
And it was five minutes before the show.
Maybe there weren’t a large number of students who knew of the group — that could have been it. But since the UU filled up for Hieroglyphics, I surely thought there would be plenty of students packed in between Ciao! and The Avenue. The duo’s been around since 1997 and has released eight albums. The group’s melodic, party-anthem hits — ones such as “Acid Raindrops” — were staples of dorm room living. I mean, this was People Under The Stairs, but not many Cal Poly students seemed to care.
Boy, did they miss out.
From the moment Double K and Thes One ran out onto the stage, they commanded the area with energy. They were humorous, lively and had a presence I haven’t seen in many of my concert-going escapades. They opened with hits, and energized the slim crowd like it was a sold-out venue.
After a while, students walking by the UU noticed and started filling in.
“Props to all the fans in the front row that were waiting here first,” Thes One said on stage. “People are now walking up saying, ‘Damn. That sounds pretty dope.'”
PUTS greeted those new spectators with its happy-go-lucky, jazz-influenced music. The duo started its set with songs such as “Trippin’ at the Disco” and “Selfish Destruction,” sprinkling jokes in between songs throughout the process.
“It’s like comedy hour up here,” Thes One said.
What was most comical was their own subject matter. The two’s music is far from conscious rap, where artists preach about politics and problems in their verses. No, PUTS gladly embraced its lyrical content for the alcohol-heavy, party-going anthems they were.
But the duo did its best to playfully censor its banter.
“Normally, we pour beer on everyone. But today, since this a dry campus, I’ll guess we’ll have to make do with water,” Thes One said. “Drinking is never a good idea, unless the person you’re with is ugly.”
Alcohol aside, the two tailored and mixed their music in ways different than their albums. The two also improvised. Double K broke into a beatbox following a break in a song, and Thes One immediately chimed in with a freestyle. He even ran up to the front row of the audience, grabbed a fan’s knitted Cal Poly cap and ran back on stage, trying to make his new fashion accessory and Cal Poly the topic of his freestyle.
That wasn’t the only time Thes One interacted with the fans. He ran to the side of the stage and allowed a group of students to sing on the microphone. He then lifted that same microphone on a stand over the crowd to let fans sing the chorus to “San Francisco Knights.” And during the beginning of the show, he ran up to a woman in the audience, sat up on the metal barrier in front of her and rapped along with her.
“You smell like a flavored kind of alcohol I haven’t had yet,” Thes One said.
It wasn’t all jokes, though. The two did their best to remind students that they appreciated the hard work they were doing; they were the future, they’d keep saying. Double K then told spectators, in between their work, they can’t forget to have fun.
Call it cliché, but that message felt right in the moment. Maybe it was the faint scent of marijuana in the air. Maybe it was the fact one of my favorite hip-hop groups was performing at Cal Poly for free. Maybe it was the thin, raucous atmosphere behind me.
But all of that, combined with the feeling you get after powering through a meal in 10 minutes, made for one hell of a show in the UU plaza.