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Can You See It 

L.A.’s underground Visionaries make “honest music for the masses”

Thursday, Jul 28 2005
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Photo by Baldemar FierroPangaea — what’s that? It’s the latest album by Los Angeles’ Visionaries. And it’s the hypothetical supercontinent said to have included all Earth’s landmasses. “Instead of races, we say continents,” says the hip-hop outfit’s Rhettmatic. “It’s all of us coming from different backgrounds, coming back and being one.” Visionaries are six diverse individuals with distinctive styles: 2Mex is of Mexican descent, Zen is black, Dannu is Filipino, Key-Kool is third-generation Japanese, J.K. LMNO is “a child of God,” and Beat Junkie extraordinaire DJ Rhettmatic is a 36-year-old Filipino who was baptized in the music business by deejaying for Brotherhood Creed — remember the catchy hit “Helluva”? Visionaries are so underground they can hide in plain sight; we’re talking today in the canyons of Laguna Beach, where they’re doing a photo shoot for the “underground inventive overground effective” urban-clothing line LRG (Lifted Research Group). The motto and the gear both fit the band. Pangaea’s “If You Can’t Say Love,” produced by J Rocc of the Beat Junkies, speaks to what the Visionaries are all about: love, truth and humanity. “Caring about human beings is most important,” says Key. The group follow up that sentiment with raps on imperialism, materialism and “brainwash” culture. “So they think we’re a weak majority,” LMNO spits on “Strike.” “How rich are they when they treat people poorly?”While capitalism and corporate mentality continued devouring mainstream hip-hop in the early ’90s, diminishing conscious voices, the stars were aligning for the future Visionaries. LMNO knew Key. Key knew Doug Kato, co-owner of Up Above Records, who knew DJ Rhettmatic. That was the foundation; now they needed a crew. Zen and Dannu, who work together as Writer’s Block, were brought on, and then finally “the Busta Rhymes of the Group” (as Rhettmatic puts it), 2Mex. On Key-Kool and Rhettmatic’s 1995 Kozmonautz, the group put down their first recording together, “Visionaries ?(Stop Actin’ Scary),” and a tribe was born. Solidified! The group toured heavily most of 1996. “With six people, it’s a continuing challenge to keep being able to grow and evolve together,” says Key-Kool.Visionaries dropped their highly acclaimed debut album, Galleries, in 1998; 2000’s Sophomore Jinx took them to a new level where they were opening for the Wu-Tang Clan (whose members are also associated with the Rock the Bells festival).Yes, Visionaries were influenced by hardcore groups like N.W.A — Key-Kool even lived behind the Roadium, the abandoned drive-in-turned-swap-meet where he bought mixtapes from Dr. Dre. But the six are trying to offer an alternative to gangsta rap and its lifestyle. “The media promotes it,” says LMNO. “The world loves gangsters, they love Bush, they love Game. For us, we just try to promote love.”Although many listeners prefer mainstream rap, L.A.’s underground scene is alive and poppin’ with hip-hop acts like Aceyalone, Freestyle Fellowship, Abstract Rude, the Project Blowed camp, Likwit Crew, Beat Junkies, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, The Pharcyde, Self Scientific and Strong Arm Steady. “L.A.,” says Rhett, “is definitely crackin’.”“It’s about infiltrating the mainstream and popping that bubble,” says LMNO. “We’re not trying to stay in the L.A. bubble — we take Southern California to other cities and properly represent it.”Visionaries avoid the “underexposed” aspect of “underground” by running their own label, Up Above Records, home to every Visionaries album and all individual members’ albums. “Doug Kato named it,” says Key. “In the music industry there’s a lot of shadiness, unethical things going on. His vision was to be ‘above’ the sliminess of it, on a spiritual level as well.”What’s the future of underground rap? Look no further than Visionaries. “We’re headed toward making honest music for the masses,” says LMNO. “Making music for the people.” VISIONARIES | Pangaea (Up Above Records) Visionaries perform at the Rock the Bells Fest on Saturday, July 30.

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