I believe my first encounter with the wide-world of “underground hip-hop” was in ’94 or ’95 when I went to this free concert at DeAnza College back when I resided in good ol’ San Jose, California (home of the worst rappers in the country). The headliners of the show were The Pharcyde, The Alkoholiks, and The BUMS, but the show opened up with a string of local artists who I had never heard of: The Derelicts, The Mystik Journeymen, and Bored Stiff. Frankly, I don’t really remember much from the opening acts except for the Journeymen doing that song “What If.” They pretty much killed that shit, surprising the whole audience. But, after copping one of their tapes, my boys and I quickly realized that dudes were basically good performers but terrible rappers. Anyway, that day opened my eyes to the fact that there was and is a whole community of underground and independent artists that were doing the damn thing without the financial or promotional support of the record industry. Since I was only like 14 or 15 at the time, this was a pretty important discovery for me and got me hella interested in all-things underground and independent. Of course, my infatuation with underground hip-hop turned out to be more of an attempt at achieving some sort of authentic sense of identity that is both-within-yet-outside the world of hip-hop, but that’s for another post. My only point here is that this was a day that was pretty damn important to me and introduced me to a world I had previously never paid much attention to. And, for the purposes of this post, this was how I discovered the SF rap collective known as Bored Stiff.
Let me start by saying two things about Bored Stiff: one, I don’t know very much about them or their history and two, they’re really not very good. Mostly, they’ve got some pretty good production and they do a mediocre job of not ruining their beats. But, fuck it, I like some of their shit. To be sure, a lot of my affection for these dudes is based on some nostalgia shit but even having said that, I was never really a HUGE HUGE fan of these dudes’ records. I threw ’em on occasionally and basically just enjoyed the shit for what it was. Now re-listening to some of the shit makes me smile, but, gotdamnit, a lot of it makes me cringe, too. I mean, dudes, some of the verses are just fucking AWFUL. However, I do think Bored Stiff is worth posting about here because they act as an interesting demarcation point both temporally and spatially. In other words, while their music certainly isn’t wildly compelling nor was it hugely influential, it marks the attitude (DIY) of a certain place (the bay area) and time (early-to-mid 90’s). And, to be fair, while perhaps not the most invigorating hip-hop music you will ever hear, it was most certainly honest and adventerous.
But, for the most part, all these dudes rapped about was how they were independent artists that refused to sign to major labels because these majors only wanted to exploit hip-hop but Bored Stiff wasnt gonna sell out because they were Bored Stiff and they were positive artists and they had things to say and blah and blah and blah. I mean, basically, it’s all pretty cliche stuff that you love to hear when you’re a rebellious little teenager looking to hate on anything popular in order to set yourself apart from “the clones.” But, what’s important about a group like Bored Stiff is precisely this DIY, independent sentiment. Of course, Bored Stiff didn’t invent the dirt hustlin’ aesthetic pioneered by Bay Area foellies like Too Short and E-40, but they did abide by it (and they most certainly fucking rapped about it) along with other contemporaneous, Bay Urreah dirt hustlers (the aforementioned Mystik Journeymen, the Hobo Junction, etc). But, the thing about Bored Stiff (and you can say the same thing about the Mystik Journeymen and the rest of the Legends) is not only did these dudes abide by this DIY, “independent as fuck” sentiment, they fucking based their entire existence on it. It was their entire musical identity. While Too Short and E-40 were hustling their tapes on corners as a means to an end (getting their music heard and, of course, getting that dough), groups like Bored Stiff took this dirt hustlin’ aesthetic as the basis for their content and identity.
I guess I just find that interesting.
So, anyway, enough jabbering. Here’s a few tracks off of their 2 EPs: 1995s “Explainin’…” EP and 1997’s “Timeless” EP. Enjoy.