Styles of Beyond emerge from L.A.’s hip-hop demimonde
“We’ve become kind of bitter and angry in the past couple of years,” confesses Ryu, one-third of the L.A.-based, hip-hop trio Styles of Beyond. Two years after the 1998 release of its critically acclaimed debut, 2000 Fold, the group—Ryu, Takbir and DJ Cheapshot—are ensnared in a multi-layered dilemma familiar to many musicians who sit precariously on the bubble of mainstream success. How can you blow up in an industry designed to keep you underground? “It seems like, in L.A., when you get labeled underground, that’s the ceiling. There’s nowhere you can go after that,” Ryu explains. “All you’re going to do is play the Hollywood club circuit until you’re 30.”Part of the group’s disillusionment with the underground rap scene, Ryu reveals, has to do with the participants in L.A.’s fervent rap world, which spans from Dr. Dre’s Aftermath empire to local legends such as Freestyle Fellowship and the Likwit Crew. “The hip-hop scene in L.A. is a big high school,” he complains, “all these artists shit-talking behind each other’s back, then kissing your ass when they’re in your face. It’s old and tired—there’s too many egos involved.”
Ryu’s soft-spoken partner, Takbir, adds in a separate interview, “I’m so sick of hearing that word ‘underground.’ No offense … I hate to come out the box and say, ‘Yeah, I’m underground,’ because I don’t really feel we are. We have this sound that can just reach out to everybody.”
Like Angeleno peers Dilated Peoples and Jurassic 5, Styles of Beyond’s music, at least on 2000 Fold, is uptempo and lyrically obtuse, quick to dismantle rival MCs and eager to draw in curious listeners from L.A.’s commercially dominant rap-rock scene. It’s that ethos that has led to a major tour with Linkin Park, which plays the Crest Theatre this Monday.
Ironically, the last time Styles of Beyond appeared in Sacramento was in 1999 with pop-rock group Len, which was touring off the success of its novelty hit “Steal My Sunshine.” “Linkin Park are really close friends of ours,” says Takbir. “We want to target that area more, without a doubt, because those are the heads—the skaters—that are really supporting our flavor.”
“We’re friends with Limp Bizkit, Len, House of Pain, [and] we’re also friends with underground hip-hop groups like Anticon,” Ryu explains. “We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. If friends of ours want to give us an opportunity to put our music out there because they honestly believe in our music and love it, then we’re going to take advantage of that. I think we have a different kind of crowd, anyway. I don’t think our crowd lies in the L.A. scene.”Styles of Beyond has also been relatively silent on the music front since 2000 Fold placed it at the forefront of L.A. independent rap, save for a handful of singles on DJ Cheapshot’s Spy-Tech record label. Shortly after the group signed with superstar producers the Dust Brothers’ Ideal label, a joint venture with Disney division Mammoth Records—Mammoth dissolved Ideal and grabbed Styles of Beyond.
“As soon as that happened, we didn’t hear from [Mammoth] for, like, nine months. So we we’re like, screw it,” Ryu says, mentioning that Styles of Beyond is in the final stages of extricating itself from Mammoth and is fielding offers from other major labels.
Label woes and growing disenchantment with the hometown crowd are all part of the painful maturation process most hip-hop groups have to go through. The question is whether Styles of Beyond will be able to successfully navigate the industry’s pitfalls—as well as its own awareness of its “true” audience, the rap-rock crowd—and get the gold and platinum.
Ryu says he’s prepared for the long haul. “I feel we might have to put out three or four albums independently before anybody catches on to it,” he confidently admits. “But sooner or later, everything does a 360, and our kind of music is going to be in demand.”