Clouded: Oakland’s Main Attrakionz rise up from the fog

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MondreMAN (left) and Squadda B go wherever the beat takes them.
PHOTO BY RENATA YAGOLNITZER

Maybe it’s the dreamy, celestial quality of their ethereal beats, or the cloud of weed smoke that seems to float from the speakers whenever Squadda B or MondreMAN spit one of their sky-high verses. While the origin of the term “cloud rap” may be up for debate, it’s undeniable that Main Attrakionz is carving out its own place in hip-hop by pioneering a new sub-genre.

Squadda and Mondre diligently recorded track after cloudy track in a foam-padded bedroom closet in North Oakland before entering a professional studio to lay down their most recent mixtape 808’s & Dark Grapes II. Thanks to its more polished production — and an ever-growing spotlight on the emerging DIY rap movement — 808’s & Dark Grapes II catapulted Main Attrakionz to the spotlight.

The pair is back at the home studio where it all began when I call them one winter afternoon. Mondre and Squadda, both barely 20 years old, are in high spirits, laughing and joking while we chat. The self-proclaimed “best duo ever” has been rapping together since age 12; they met in a seventh grade math class, and they’ve been inseparable ever since. “We would write and perform at talent shows,” says Mondre.

“Old school Cash Money, back in the ‘90s, those were the first CDs I ever bought,” he says of his formative influences. “No Limit, DJ Quik, Snoop Dogg, Too $hort. East Coast, West Coast, the South, all of it.”

Back in their talent show days, Mondre and Squadda were members of a four-piece called 4Figgas. The summer after they met, they recorded their first track – rapping over the Neptunes-produced beat for the Clipse’s “Grindin’.”

Beats for other early Main Attrakionz releases were often supplied by Shady Blaze, an Oakland rapper, producer, and prominent member of Main Attrakionz’s hip-hop collective Green Ova Undergrounds. More recent work has featured ambient, new-agey beats by up-and-coming artists like East Bay duo Friendzone, whose praise for Main Attrakionz’s off-the-cuff writing process sparked my interest.

“They make a brand new beat, we gotta write brand new shit to go along with it,” explains Squadda. He describes his studio mentality as “blank minded.” The pair listens to a track, rolls a few blunts, and cultivates breezy, zoned-out rhymes on the spot. “Wherever the beat takes it, that’s where we take it,” he says.

A refreshing realness runs throughout Main Attrakionz’s lyrics. The hardships of coming up in Oakland are neither downplayed nor glorified. Smoking weed is a continuous motif, as are the young rappers’ lofty ambitions and dreams. When there are mentions of money, it’s usually in the context of having enough to get by.

Main Attrakionz’s mixtapes have featured a slew of guest appearances from rising stars like ASAP Rocky and Danny Brown. When I ask Squadda whom he’d recruit if he could collaborate with anyone, alive or dead, he responds with youthful cockiness. “It’s gotta be a producer first off, cause I gotta have somebody that can bring something to the table,” he says. “It’s gotta be [UGK’s] Pimp C. Hands down, case closed.”

“It’s crazy that it came at this time, cause now we don’t even care about all that,” Squadda remarks on his recent critical acclaim. “[I’m just] glad to put music out that people can hear from anywhere.” Upcoming projects for Main Attrakionz include solo efforts from Mondre and Squadda, a Green Ova Undergrounds compilation, and a debut full-length.

Since it accompanies every mention of the duo, I can’t resist asking for a definition of cloud rap. “Hold on,” says Mondre. There’s a lot of commotion as he hands the phone to Squadda, and all I can make out is, “We’re higher than everybody else.”

Main Attrakionz
With G-Side and DaVinci
Tues/20, 9 p.m., $15
Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

www.theindependentsf.com

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