So I identified with the song "Route 25 Via Troost," from the album that the Crew released just before graduating high school in 2004. In the song, after observing a mentally ill bum chug hairspray, the narrator notes that The majority on the bus are minority.
Like many tracks on The Pro-gressive Movement: A Step Forward, "Route 25" is earnest and serious at the climax, the speaker sees a kid reading a book and is overcome with hope and is a bit on the amateurish side, though not ruinously so.
Last week, I went back to that same house. It was warmer, and I had a car. The other thing that was different: The young hip-hop act had grown up by a couple of long strides.
First, there was the tour that didn't pan out. Last January, MC FlareThaRebel, then 19, and MC-producer DJ Eternal, 18, were preparing to open for Ludacris, Fat Joe and Redman as part of a deal offered by a New York-based 721 Productions.
Anti-Crew had shelled out a thousand bucks to play those gigs.
Flare, whose real name is Jeffrey Shafer, says that before he and his partner agreed to the contract, he'd researched the company and found that it had put on shows of the right caliber. Just not the ones that Anti-Crew had been promised. "That's how the music business is," he says.
Overtures of postponement have been made, but the Crew intends to get its money back. "It was going to be a big deal, but it's not holding us back from doing anything," says Eternal, whose real name is Matt Peters.
Shafer agrees. "It hasn't dampened our spirits about anything."
The truth is evident on their new mix, which almost isn't a mix because it contains so many Eternal-made beats.
Dat's Wassup is more laid-back, lighthearted and, in a sense, mature, than The Progressive Movement.
"We worried that our first CD niched us into this superserious, save-the-world attitude," Peters says.
"We are trying to save the world," Shafer adds. "We're just going to have fun doing it."
And yet the two are wise enough not to distance themselves from The Progressive Movement or write it off as an amateur experiment; a banner of the album artwork still hangs in the Crew's third-floor studio, and plenty of tracks from it are certifiably kick-ass enough to keep in the repertoire.
And it's just now catching on in Japan.
Evidently, a popular Japanese blogger found it on CDBaby.com, and it caught on with readers. Now a store in Osaka keeps the album in stock.
But that's just luck. The rest of Anti-Crew's accomplishments are the results of hard work and planning.
Peters studies music production, and Shafer takes classes in marketing and promotion at the media-arts-oriented Columbia College of Chicago. Shafer has learned a lot, and it's evident in the way that Anti-Crew operates as if it were on a label. The two stick to a recording-and-release schedule, book shows here and in Chicago and Minneapolis, distribute sampler CDs to various street teams, maintain press materials and a Web site, and basically run a tight little ship.
That way, if a label does come calling, the Crew can show that it already knows how to run the business side itself.
Dat's Wassup also shows that Shafer and Peters really know how to make music.
To cite just a couple of examples, "Gangsta Coat," featuring Reach and Lucid (under the aliases Get'n Bread Sanford and Benny Brock), is a hilarious sendup of the idea that everything that happens in a gangster rapper's life is gangsta. During the chorus, Eternal (a pencil-thin white boy) busts out a pretty mean Lil John-style What? Ayyy! On the nonjoke tip, "KC Shuffle" brings together seven top-notch local rappers to record pretty much the definitive love letter to Kansas City. And the eight tracks that showcase only Flare and Eternal, rapping in their trademark spitback (i.e., "duet") style those are badass, too.
It sounds great in the car.
Listen to "KC Shuffle" by Anti-Crew (featuring Approach, Brother of Moses, Joe Good, Lucid, Qan, Ubiquitous and Reach), from the album Dat's Wassup: