Hip-hop that knows its history
By Simon McCormack
MC Runt and DJ Deeko feel like they're a dying breed in hip-hop.
James Owens (aka MC Runt) and older brother Jason (aka DJ Deeko) started as unknowns in 2000, handing out thousands of homemade CDs to passersby. Now their hip-hop outfit, Jivin' Scientists, is an established fixture of the Tucson music scene. "We make very touchy-feely hip-hop," James says. "I think the genre is becoming less personal, to where now people make a few songs, get a few plays on their MySpace, and then think they can start playing shows, without really recognizing what it takes."
For the Owens brothers, making a name for themselves required an understanding of where hip-hop came from and an awareness of the days when funk samples were as common as today's vocoder trend. "You need to be experiencing the full culture," Jason says. "A lot of MCs don't go out and support b-boys, graffiti writers and DJs, but then they get mad at those guys for not coming to see them. Why should they support you if you're not doing the same for them?"
Their strong foundation came in handy—they hit the ground running. Both brothers grew up in Gallup, N.M., and each eventually moved to Tucson, Ariz. After piecing together their first album, Good For Nuthing, the boys opened for Atmosphere at one of Jivin' Scientists first shows in Arizona. "All I ever wanted to do, when we started this whole thing, was open for a group I look up to," James says. "When I heard the news, I was so excited, I even cried a little bit. Everything else we've done has been icing on the cake."
That icing includes five albums, a handful of tours and opening slots for groups like J-Live, Wordsworth, Cali Agents, Jean Grae, Brother Ali and Murs of Living Legends. Jivin’ Scientists has stayed methodical in its approach. The flows don't shoot out of the gate with blazing speed, but they're delivered with purposeful precision. The beats, usually composed by producers Chase Crusher and Phen, establish deep, organic grooves, without synths or other distracting racket.
For their latest release, the brothers teamed up with Oklahoma and Las Cruces-based 8Bit Cynics to create Self Help. James worked closely with 8Bit MC Dewey Binns throughout the recording process, and the project required both wordsmiths to swallow their pride. "Making Self Help made me mature more than anything else I've done," James says. "Sometimes it's hard because all MCs have an ego. It's important to learn to control it so that you can try new things and be able to do what you both wanna do."
"A lot of MCs don't go out and support b-boys, graffiti writers and DJs, but then they get mad at those guys for not coming to see them. Why should they support you if you're not doing the same for them?"
When it's time to bring the tracks on the road, James applies the MC’s golden rule onstage. "I treat the audience the way I'd like to be treated at a show," James says. "You almost act like a father: You're assertive, but you talk to them like a friend you want to show something great."
The stereotype of dueling brothers competing for attention seems far removed from the dynamic at work when the Owens brothers take the stage. "I'm his older brother, but he's my boss," Jason says. "I got into DJing because I saw how good James got at MCing. He's the voice of Jivin' Scientists."
Jason reciprocates the respect. "Deeko's a humble dude," he says. "He's our secret weapon. I know when he's there with me, things are going to work out."
Jivin' Scientists will make a guest appearance at the weekly Vinyl and Verses Underground Hip-Hop night on Wednesday, May 7, at Burt's Tiki Lounge. Before you catch the free show, hear cuts from Self Help on the group's MySpace page: MySpace.com/jivinscientists.
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