When eight like-minded emcees who constitute a hip-hop collective refer to themselves as "living legends," they have a lot to live up to.
The members of Living Legends sprouted their blossoming careers in Los Angeles and East Oakland in the early '90s and have produced high-quality, conscious hip-hop ever since. Consisting of Murs, The Grouch, Luckyiam, Eligh, Sunspot Jonz, Aesop Fables, Scarub and Bicasso, the West Coast rappers officially evolved into Living Legends in 1997. Co-founders Sunspot Jonz and Luckyiam had already gained substantial notoriety performing under the moniker The Mystik Journeymen, while they simultaneously connected with various crews throughout the Bay Area.
Tireless self-promotion combined with a street hustling mentality served as an inspiration for other Bay Area heavyweights, such as Hieroglyphics and Hobo Junction, who, along with hip-hop heads nationwide, decided they could live without major labels. Consequently, they relied on independent efforts to drive their budding success.
A crucial factor in the creation of Living Legends was the popular Underground Survivor shows held in East Oakland during the late '90s. It was at one of those performances that The Grouch was introduced to The Mystik Journeymen.
"We built a stage in a warehouse loft and had our friends perform. I remember when Atmosphere opened up for us. We'd charge four or five bucks at the door just to pay the light bill and keep the shows going," Luckyiam recalls. "It started off small and kept growing and growing until we had to switch to bigger venues. Soon enough we were selling out shows in San Francisco at places like Maritime Hall that held 1,000 people plus."
The notorious Good Life Café in Los Angeles also played a fundamental role in the development of the crew. The Good Life Café was the equivalent of The Lyricist Lounge in New York City, which hatched the careers of artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Alternately known as PSC, Luckyiam steadily networked ***image2***with a slew of artists in the underground circuit, building a solid reputation as a hardworking and dedicated emcee. Around the same time in midtown Los Angeles, The 3 Melancholy Gypsys (Murs, Eligh and Scarub) went their separate ways, later reuniting when they ultimately crossed paths with the other five members. The pieces of the puzzle naturally fell into place and Living Legends was born.
With influences that include Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Freestyle Fellowship, Pharcyde and KRS-One, the diversity of Living Legend's sound is undeniable.
Boasting a catalog of more than 50 full-length albums and singles, the hip-hop scholars show no signs of slowing down. Their latest release, The Gathering, is the first album that features all eight members since 2005's Classic.
While Classic allowed plenty of room for maturation, The Gathering appears to be the culmination of each member's experiences throughout the past decade. Although merely a septet of sound essays, the flawless production and effortless flow is a notable display of their growth as a group.
"This is our style-the 2008 version," Luckyiam explains. "This time we put all of us in the house and didn't use any outside producers. There's more structure and more precise production. Bicasso, The Grouch and Eligh are the sole producers."
Nonetheless, Luckyiam admits that it's often incredibly difficult to orchestrate such a large collective.
"We're talking about eight entities, eight separate views and eight separate egos. It's hard to get it all together but there's a healthy competition when we're all in the same room. Somehow it just works out," he tells SFR.
Luckyiam racked up piles of featured spots and recordings with all of his groups, but also released vast amounts of solo material. Justify The Means (2002), Extra Credit 2 (2003) and Most Likely To Succeed (2007) carried him across the world and back.
Now on his "Child Support Tour," Luckyiam brings his arsenal of jazz-infused hip-hop to Santa Fe for an impromptu performance.
"Being on stage is a good workout, " Luckyiam says with a laugh. "It's a great energy release and a way to connect with the people that love your music. I like being in the studio too, but being on stage is fun. I get to come in contact with some cool people. There's a give and take from the audience that's infectious."
The Living Legends has left a monumental impression on the underground hip-hop scene. Selling more than 300,000 units in true do-it-yourself fashion, Living Legends is living up to its name. It's an incredible feat for eight kids with a simple vision.
"We never really thought we would be this successful. While you're doing it, you don't really think about the impact you're having. We're just doing what we love. We're very blessed, " Luckyiam concludes.
The Living Legends serves not only to break up the monotony that dominates the mainstream music scene but, thankfully, delivers the right formula to overcome it.