Hip-hop collective Righteous Movement plots a trajectory toward bigger and better things
You’ve probably never heard of Righteous Movement. Unless you’re a drum-and-bass devotee, it’s likely you don’t know about Underground Movement Sounds (UMS), either.
That’s all going to change. UMS, a collective of local musicians, is growing, and quickly at that. Built around drum-and-bass DJs Slim and Tofu, UMS started focusing more on hip-hop in 1999. Righteous Movement got together in earnest about a year ago, combining Slim and Tofu with MCs Tais, S.O.L., Theek and Skurge. If that’s not enough bodies for you, there are plenty of extra names. Skurge’s alter egos include P.R.O.F.I.T. and Lenny Lawless, while Slim and Tofu morph into Jubae and Ouch! Add in producer Rick Reed and consider that Tais does beats as well, and that’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
The music doesn’t suffer, however. Righteous Movement is versatile without sacrificing consistency. The drum-and-bass influence is evident; with deep bass and the breakbeats spaced out, most tracks offer a sound that’s both heavy and spare. That’s a solid foundation for the group’s four MCs, who share the mic easily, with a slight southern drawl suiting both P.R.O.F.I.T.’s laid-back pontifications and Skurge’s breezy braggadocio. Both voices mix seamlessly with S.O.L.’s East Coast swagger or Tais’ articulate wordplay.
Musically and lyrically, Righteous Movement shares in George Clinton’s famous maxim about freeing both your ass and your mind. They prove you can stress positivity and drop intelligent lyrics while avoiding the superior, overly intellectualized tone assumed by too many independent MCs. Whether on a gritty floor-shaker, such as “Heavy Rotation,” or the down-tempo jazz of “Magnificent,” the rhythms are supple and the melodies are sugar-sweet.
So, the group is ready musically; now it only needs to be heard. That’s a position, Skurge noted, that’s not at all unique in the capital city. “There’s so much talent out here, and it’s virtually unknown,” he said. “There’s a lot going on here that’s just waiting to erupt.” Skurge described Sacramento as a potential “next Seattle”—making it the millionth city to earn that dubious post-grunge moniker.
There’s a paradox to always being next, however, and Righteous Movement is painfully aware of it. Sacramento can nurture acts as diverse as Cake, Out Hud or Die Trying. How many of those acts can afford to stay here, though? The Quannum clique, started by Sacramento native Gift of the Gab and DJ Shadow (then a University of California, Davis, student), had to move to the Bay Area to make things happen. “We’ve been thinking about moving and taking what we have to L.A. or San Francisco or even New York,” Skurge confessed. “The thing is, I don’t want to leave and forget about Sacramento.”
None of the group’s members wants to leave their hometown, however, and they all insist there’s a vibrant scene here. Tais has no problem with paying dues but says local hip-hop acts have to face additional obstacles. “The cops try to lock it down. They try and keep it pretty here. Venues are hard to find, especially when you’re new to the scene; people are kind of standoffish. That’s what we’re experiencing now.” When it comes to hip-hop, Skurge offered, “they automatically assume there’s going to be problems.”
Still, the group is determined to succeed here. The UMS label continues to diversify, giving home to members old (MC Da Spokesperson, who named UMS) and new (disarming soul chanteuse Laura). Skurge compares the collective to the early days of Wu-Tang. And in keeping with that comparison, UMS is set to unleash a slew of releases, from a label compilation to a Righteous Movement full-length. The group hopes this weekend’s hip-hop showcase will kick open a few doors and wants it known that its doors are already open. “We’re constantly looking for new talent,” Skurge explained. “Anyone that’s doing anything positive, we’re down to work with them. Whether it be punk, rock, hip-hop—any genre. We wanna start repping local artists.”