The Main Attrakionz story starts with a karaoke machine in the basement of a house on 43rd and Market streets in Oakland. Down there, in the house where he lived, Damondre Grice began recording lo-fi rap songs with Charles Glover III, a friend he'd made after they were both kicked out of a seventh-grade math class at Carter Middle School. ("Probably for having paper-ball fights," is how Grice remembers it now.)
At some point Grice and Glover took on the respective M.C. names Mondre M.A.N. and Squadda B. That was a decade ago. Now Main Attrakionz are the recognized faces of the "cloud rap" movement, a splinter sound that's ethereal and often hooked around cascading synth lines and amorphous beats. But Bossalinis and Fooliyones, the group's debut album out this week, sees them aiming to shake off the limitations of being pegged to a hip micro-movement.
Glover admits that the "cloud rap" label helped advance their career in its early stages, especially when they benefitted from a wave of blog buzz a couple of years back. The idea of the sound was supported by their future peers, too: As break-out Detroit oddball artist Danny Brown rapped on "Cloud Skatin'," his collaboration with the group, "Main Attrak, cloud rap/ Lo-fi indie rap/ God, I'm fuckin' with that."
Cloud rap's roots can also be traced back through the Bay's hip-hop history. The more experimental efforts of the Anticon collective tapped into a similarly relaxed and airy sound in the late '90s. (Strengthening the bond, Main Attrakionz worked with Anticon's Jel and Zachg earlier this year for the cLOUDLIFE EP, named with inverted-caps in homage to the ambient style of Anticon's earlier cLOUDDEAD project.) But like any label, it threatened to suffocate the group's actual music. "The biggest misconception about us is cloud rap," Grice says now, the disdain audible in his voice.
So now there's Bossalinis and Fooliyones, a first full-length that moves the two out of their hazy niche while retaining a distinctive charm. The album wields a curious allure: A bewildering 14 producers are employed across 17 songs, with Bay Area staples Zaytoven and The Mekanix complemented by East Coast street-hit-maker Harry Fraud. But the diversity of beatmakers gels beneath Mondre and Squadda's vocals. Their slurry flows give the whole album a warm glow. Grice credits this looser vocal style to two things: deciding to freestyle their verses for the project, and enjoying studio sessions fueled by "Grey Goose, sizzurp, and hella weed." The combination allows their words to contribute to the album's atmosphere at least as much as the music behind them.
The vibe Main Attrakionz create on Bossalinis And Fooliyones also points back to their underground roots. Verses give shout-outs to regional rap movements like the Bay's Mob Figaz and the early incarnations of New Orleans' No Limit and Cash Money families. There's also a song in tribute to Houston's U.G.K. duo of Bun B and the late Pimp C ("L.F.K."). These groups sparked their careers by building reputations in their immediate neighborhoods — capturing the block first, then the wider world.
Glover says Main Attrakionz graduated from making basement tapes on a karaoke machine to cutting their first mixtape in a similar fashion. Walking down his block one day, he saw a poster advertising a rap show put on by his cousin. Struck by the closeness of the link, he spoke to his cousin about it. Soon after, he and Grice were given their first opportunity to record in a proper studio, where they rapped over instrumentals of Lil' Flip's "Game Over" and The Clipse's "Grindin'." The latter is originally a song about local drug dealers working block-by-block to push their product. In their own way, Main Attrakionz took a similar path, releasing a series of EPs and mixtapes that spread across the Internet, broadening their Oakland roots. Despite all the mellifluousness of cloud rap, there's a hardworking side to the duo that's been instrumental in their rise.
Grice says that Main Attrakionz's ascent has left them at a tipping point: "Real talk is, we ain't really seeing big money yet, so it feels like we're outside the club," he says. "Inside the club is the music industry, but we outside, so we're seeing all the people that's coming in and out of the club." He jokes about how he and Glover have only just come of age; they used to get kicked out of their own shows after they were done performing. "But we're 21 now so they're actually letting us in the club, and we're coming with no gimmicks," he says. "We're coming up off that raw shit." They may seem to be living the cloud life, but Main Attrakionz are succeeding by staying grounded.