w/ DJ Reala
Thurs Jan 25 Ohm

"We've all been offered record deals," explains Scarab, about he and his crew, the Living Legends. "But those labels always want us to change something. It's not on our terms anymore. So we just decided a long time ago that we're never gonna go that way."

Scarab and Living Legends have been involved in underground hip hop for five or six years now--at different times they've lived in and out of warehouses in San Francisco, handed out thousands of low fi tapes, and still managed to play all over the world. And next week, they're coming to Portland

Scarab, who has a solo act in addition to side projects, explains that they didn't choose this underground path so much to preserve their sound, but to preserve their freedom. "These record companies, they always want you to record at a different time, to make the album a different length, to tour in a certain place."

Underground hip hop, as Scarab explains, is different than underground rock because it's less stratified. "I used to think that the only good hip hop was underground," he explains to me. "But now I've come to realize that all those big time artists can be just as good as us in the underground."

Indeed, in addition to his crew, Scarab lists Talib Kweli, De La Soul, Common, and early Tribe Called Quest as artists who influence him and whom he admires, every one of whom is signed to a major label. "It's because hip hop is so young," he says. "It's in its teenage years right now. It hasn't quite reached maturity, so sometimes it tries to do things that it can't quite reach. But mostly, it's good. It's fresh, it's young. It's becoming beautiful."

You should see this show. Even if you don't like hip hop, it's so rare for Portland audiences to actually experience a quality hip hop show that's not on a national tour, not sponsored by Sony, and less than $30, that it almost wouldn't matter if he's good or not. But that's irrelevant because he's fucking great.

Scarab hits some of the most honest, earnest lyrics I've heard lately. With a deep, hollow voice, he raps quick and smart, weaving intricate stories and thoughts into his rhymes. DJ Reala, with whom he'll be playing with, sets all this to a melodic but frenzied mix, using the high, willow sounds of flutes and cutting them sharp with beats.

"We're lucky to be in a time right now when we can support ourselves doing what we love, and not have to answer to anyone," Scarab says. "And that we live in a time when an honest underground artist can make themselves big." Indeed, none of the members of Living Legends have other jobs; on a Japanese tour last year, they played to audiences of 5,000.

They also hand out lo-fi tapes, work out of a warehouse, make t-shirts, have a website, and consistently sell out shows all over the nation. "Everybody has a friend," Scarab explains. "We just use word-of-mouth to do what we love."