There's blood in the eyes again. Downset is back in the game with a fire that's ready to blow wide open. The Los Angeles-based insurrectionists' third album and Epitaph Records debut, Check Your People is a firestorm of a record that breathes in intense emotions: raw hip hop and raw punk with a directness that both reaffirms and reinvigorates. "We went through a lot of shit just to get this record done," states frontman and lyricist Rey Oropeza. "We had personal problems with the band and then got caught in one of the worst corporate glitches in history. To see it resurrect in this way is just incredible.” A true resurrection it is: spelt out in a tangle of personal and social politick: a graffiti mural of anger and indignity spelt out cross a concrete canvas where mood, meter, and melody merge in a dynamic sound clash.
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If ever a time was right for these Los Angelinos it's now. "The shit's selling millions of records," states Rey on the recent Rap-Rock explosion that Downset have long been at the forefront of. Simple fact: Downset's aggravated sonic alchemy just offers so much more. They ain't just doin' it for the proverbial "Nookie". While Check your People's lyrical bent is decidedly more personal than the activisim-set-to-sound of the band's two previous, critically acclaimed albums: Downset and Do We Speak a Dead Language?, it's still the pure, undiluted shit. "It's as real and straightforward as it gets," says guitarist Ares. The band's third album with producer Roy Z. with mix chores taken up by Randy Staub (Monster Magnet, Metallica), Check your People pounds with an intensity on tracks like the call-to-arms of "Coming Back", the West Indian-infused "Play Big" or the rallying cry of "Together" that few measure up to. "I know that if we didn't get caught up in a lot of the problems we've had recently and the album came out sooner," says Ares, "the music scene would be a bit different now. A lot of the fakes out there would have been seen through."
So what happened? Fact is, since forming under the moniker Social Justice at the tail end of the late 80's LA hardcore explosion, Downset never had it easy. Completed by bassist James Morris, guitarist Rogelio Lozano (who also pulls double duty as live guitarist with Cypress Hill) and drummer Chris Hamilton, Downset has seemingly staked its career on its own personal differences and inherent combustibility. "It's a lot of chaos but when that chaos lines up and clicks on all five levels of membership, all that pain and suffering and arguing is worth it," says James. It's that explosiveness made the band's live shows warming stages with the likes of the Deftones and Slayer or bringing it on in front of the second Ozzfest crowd in 1997 that's earned them the respect of peers and fans alike.
To make matters worse, when Downset entered the studio to record its third major label offering, they rapidly found themselves stuck smack dab in the limbo of a corporate merger between their label, Mercury and its new parent company Universal. Luckily, Downset wriggled free to "bring it" once again. "I feel blessed," states Rey, smiling. It was that steely combination of inflammatory verve and adversity that upped Check Your People's aggro-ante. "There's a lot of turmoil in these songs," the bassist admits. "It really is amazing that this record got done. It was our trial by fire."
Downset has never been a band to shirk away from the harshness of their environs. Talk to the South Central born and bred frontman for a few and you'll come away with the honesty of someone who's seen the worst and is hoping for the best. While all five members of Downset are still 30 or under, Rey, who calls himself "The Messenger," freely admits that "getting older" has turned his lyrical angst inward. "I've learned to walk away from a lot of things," says Orpeza, who has freely fessed up to a history of gang banging as a means of survival on the mean streets of Los Angeles. These days, he's more content focusing on his music, graffiti and painting to get his message across. "I've done a lot of work recently, trying to get kids from the community to come out and paint these murals. Painting leads to other types of art. Art leads to a more positive forms of expression."
For Downset, the first opportunity to get their expression across comes Summer 2000 as part of the massive "Tattoo The Earth" tour headlined by platinum scoring hard rock juggernaut, Slipknot. "It's important that we get out again," states Rey. "The Rap metal thing is so huge now. It's important that Downset gets out there and I hope a lot of kids get what I'm trying to say. It's a lot more than skateboarding in suburbia or the rapes at Woodstock. These songs, these messages. People are going to remember them.” Postcard from Los Angeles; Summer 2000. Downset look forward in anger.
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