Main Attrakionz Clear the Clouds With '808s & Dark Grapes III'
Photo by Justin Howze
Four years can feel like a decade in the dizzying world of rap blogs.
Eons ago on the internet, back in 2011, Squadda B (Charles Glover) and MondreM.A.N. (Damondre Grice) — the masterminds of Main Attrakionz — helped hatch the “cloud rap” movement of hazy beats and introspective rhymes. They were fresh out of high school and still living at home in North Oakland. Fueled by left-field sources like Imogen Heap samples and loud packs of NorCal chronic, they found a crazily prolific zone, reportedly cranking out nearly a hundred songs in one legendary month of their early years. Knowing that, it’s been weird for these workhorse MCs to seemingly slow down and recede from the public eye.
The time away has been fruitful. They’ve been cooking up something in the lab, but this time it’s a slower simmer. To get back in the game, they recently dropped 808s & Dark Grapes III on Neil Young’s Vapor Records, a collaboration with James Laurence and Dylan Reznick, better known as the production duo Friendzone. The partnership was perfect: Friendzone is based in Oakland. Their specialty is abstract beats with bright, polished perfectionism — a major step-up in production values compared to Main Attrakionz’s earlier lo-fi tracks.
Catching up with Squadda B at a record store in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood, blocks away from his middle school, he makes it clear that they left a lot of material on the cutting-room floor. “808s is a collection of all the songs...we just put together [with Friendzone]. I wanted to make it a triple disc — we had so many songs and things we wanted to do — but the time was now,” he says.
While the instrumentals may have been more complex and painstaking, the method was familiar. “This time, it was a good studio you could go and camp out at. It’d be months passing of camping out there,” Squadda says. “It was the same formula as the hundred songs — get there, I like that beat, roll up, spark up, boom.”
808s & Dark Grapes III is uncharacteristically bright and lush. While the production values are slicker, the aesthetic is similarly experimental: Video game influences mix with orchestral layering, creating dense thickets of sound. To offset the loftiness, Squadda and Mondre keep the tracks grounded, showcasing their mood-based, plainspoken raps.
Interestingly, Kreayshawn, who came onto the scene around the same time as the Main Attrakionz fellas, directed the videos for “Dip” and “Ain’t No Other Way.” Squadda had been scheming on this collaboration since day one. “I reached out to her super long ago, like maybe 2008 or 2009," he says. “And I ain’t have no money, so she was looking at us like broke rappers — that was actually her words and shit. It’s funny to come back around. Friendzone is friends with her, so they got that together.”
Just like Kreayshawn’s reemergence behind the camera, this album was meant to reestablish Main Attrakionz’ presence in the rap world, and it does that with psychedelic flying colors.
After the prior installment, 808s & Dark Grapes II, went viral, Squadda and Mondre gradually slipped from the limelight. With early write-ups in the New York Times and Pitchfork and the adoration of global rap bloggers, the sudden onset of fame blindsided them. These were dudes with nary an idea about navigating a murky industry. On “Ain’t No Other Way,” Squadda half-sings the phrase, “In this cold world you get lost.” Clearly, there was some learning they had to do, and they’ve emerged from the absence both wiser and more empowered. The pairing with Friendzone was a natural way to resurface.
Now, with a new record in tow, the duo is hitting the road — sans Friendzone. They’re rocking Webster Hall on July 23 and stopping by Rough Trade records for a free in-store performance on July 25 before eventually heading back to NYC in August for the inaugural Billboard Music Fest in Jones Beach. “New York has always been our third home, after L.A.,” Squadda says. “We’re ready to get out there and branch out.”
They are already fairly well connected throughout town. Back in 2011, the duo was featured on A$AP Rocky’s debut, Live.Love.A$AP. While A$AP’s gone on to ride the cloud-rap wave to the mainstream music and film fronts, Main Attrakionz have hovered in relative obscurity. Still, it doesn’t faze them. They stay comfortably in the cut.
“I ran into [Rocky] in the club, maybe like a year or two ago,” says Squadda. “It’s all love. Whenever we bump shoulders, we dap up and talk. I just went and seen that Dope movie. Little mini Cam’ron, that’s what’s up.”
While they have a history in NYC, Squadda is setting his sights beyond the States. “We wanna go to Japan real bad,” he says. “On Bandcamp, our top source of downloads is Tokyo, then Brooklyn, then San Francisco, and then some other shit.”
Shinjuku Station could get real wavy in the coming months. But first up, it’s the boroughs getting a taste of the Bay’s hip-hop flavor. Main Attrakionz may have evolved their sound of cloud rap to a more sophisticated place, but their earnest approach to rhymes is still striking the same soulful chords.
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