While national attention is largely fixated on its producers, the Low End Theory simultaneously operates as a ’10s extension of the Project Blowed. Alumni like Busdriver, AWOL One, and Ab Rude regularly rock shows, and before becoming the Beat Baron of Alpha Pup, Daddy Kev ran the obscure but oft-excellent Celestial Records, whose legacy was nicely eulogized in this 2003 Stylus article. In other esoteric trivia, Kev and Nobody were influential in producing and helping keep the Fellowship’s legacy alive in LA. Not to mention commissioning Dave Tompkins’s liner notes for Myka 9’s Timetable, which a decade later remains the only prose analogue to “Can You Find the Level of Difficulty in This.”
Even in its heyday, the Blowed was unsung outside of underground circles. Too abstract for radio, but too strident and intense to mesh with Native Tongues alterna-rap, Fellowship, Ab Rude, et. al always existed as outliers — worshipped by a small cult of critics, enlightened heads, and peers, but never able to penetrate the mainstream despite support from Island and Capitol. So it’s unsurprising that in 2010, the shards of Post-Blowed universe would be similarly overlooked. Heady abstract rap was never a commercially viable proposition and with viable indie rap labels practically nonexistent, independent artists need to be publicists, brand managers, and A&Rs all in one. The result is that to quote Open Mike Eagle, “his little brother never heard of Little Brother.”
Like many avant-garde influences, there’s a significant downside in emulating a group like Fellowship. The storage bins of a thousand college radio stations are littered with Mystical Knights of the Vizual Round Table types who lacked the lyrical imagination, conceptual ambition, and technical facility to pull off anything close. Like Wu-Tang, Fellowship are one of those groups so singular that they make all comparisons absurd. But its clear from watching third-gen Blowedian (sort-of) super-group, the Swim Team, that Fellowship continue to loom large over a small but significant pool of subterrananeans. Should you dismiss them as dorks in black plastic glasses and Radiohead tees, watching this video of Dumbfoundead going full Ryu on a would-be battle MC obliterates that notion. And while at times freestyle ability seems vestigial, Swim Team display a musicality rare among hyper-technical types.
They absorbed the best lessons of the Blowed: no biting, awareness that virtuosity isn’t an end unto itself, and a creative liberty that allows Open Mike Eagle to dress like David Robinson at the Naval Academy. Between Mike’s Unapologetic Art Rap LP*, Nocando’s Jimmy the Lock,** and the return of the Fellowship to physical form, it’s been a banner year for fans of polysyllabic raps and roundhouse kicks. Respect due.
* See also this T.R.O.Y. post on Open Mike Eagle and epiphany rap.
** Nocando is not technically in Swim Team. Nocando is a subpar swimmer. Thankfully, he is good at rapping.