School’s in session
I never thought I’d see kids break dancing in Reno—we’re talking waxed floor, Adidas and whirling limbs—but each time I’ve seen Unified School District, there’s a circle. Break dancers are like the sideshow at a hip-hop concert: Between the crews, you still get entertainment. (Not like rock shows that play Gloria Gainer in between sets.) When Unified School District’s DJ Ecto One starts tugging at the vinyl, though, heads slowly turn back to the stage.
DJs Ecto One and SelfUno formed Unified School District in a cold garage in Reno three years ago, after a mutual friend in Reno’s low-key hip-hop scene introduced them. The DJs moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a couple years ago, but frequently return to Reno for gigs with local DJ (and Keyser Soze member) DJ Saurus. Since moving to the Bay, they’ve played solo shows and big concerts such as the 2000 ZuluNation DJ Battle and North by Northwest. Their first CD, Hacienda Acapulco, available at most Reno music stores, is a collaborative effort between the duo and many of their friends, including DJ Saurus, Dean of Gehenna and local record producer Tom Gordon. An as-yet untitled 12-inch single focusing on SelfUno and Ecto’s rhymings and stylings is currently in the works.
The DJs say their sound combines elements of several musical styles and traditions. Soul, jazz, classical and ‘80s metal go into the blender and get a new thesaurus. SelfUno calls their style “deep house transcendental sub-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip, with just a pinch of bluegrass.” DJ Ecto One generally does the beats, and SelfUno, who says he can’t write without a beat, supplies the lyrics.
“We have the ability to complement each other,” Ecto says. “The lyrics make the beats sound better and vice versa.”
Listening to their CD is one experience—but a live show brings it all home.
“All I want is for people to come and shake their rears and break their necks,” SelfUno says. “We do a lot for the crowd during the show, ‘cause we know you guys don’t want to pay to come and stand around in a sausage factory watchin’ ‘MC Syllabus’ and ‘DJ Watch Me Scratch’ describe their angst and pain using words and music only they get. We put on a show. Period.”
Reno is one of their favorites towns to play, too. The fans here have remained loyal and loud.
“We would just like to give big ups to all of Reno for supporting us all this time," says SelfUno. "Heads in Reno have got a bunch of our music and we love the fact everyone has shown us love."