The Strangers of the Elevated Underground dropped “Pay Attention” at a time when no one really was — 8:23 p.m. Jan. 25 to be exact.
It’s been almost two years (exact time unknown) since the hip-hop group released the hit song “Destin” on the “Iamdjdeezy” project. So when the six-member group surprised its Facebook following with the music video for the first single off of its debut album, “Brotherhood Built This,” one Friday night, it was unexpected and long awaited.
“I don’t think people really knew who we were based on the ‘Deezy’ album,” said Obliq the Architect. “I think people liked the music, and they liked that we were doing something, but I think with this album you’re going to get a more introspective look at who we are as artists.”
Obliq doesn’t want to confuse people with the word “debut.” Although most of the same members collaborated on the “Iamdjdeezy” album released in May 2017, they weren’t The Strangers yet. They became The Strangers through the album.
“If you look at that album, under artist, it says various artists,” Obliq said. “This album will say The Strangers — that’s what makes it the debut.”
The Strangers of the Elevated Underground is composed of Hollywood Mechee, Obliq the Architect, King Whoady, Chase Carter, Price on the Mic and Thaddaeus Royale. “Brotherhood Built This” will release April 19 on streaming platforms. The Strangers of the Elevated Underground will host an album release party featuring other artists at 9 p.m. April 19 at Green Door Music Hall, 158 Miracle Strip Parkway SE, Fort Walton Beach.
The $10 admission includes a CD until the group runs out of hard copies.
Obliq has a vision. He calls Mechee. Mechee shows up.
It’s the time-old tale of how the two collaborate and how “Pay Attention” was born.
“He calls me up, and he’s like, ‘Yo, I got this idea. Where you at?’” Mechee said.
“It doesn’t matter where he’s at,” Obliq said. “If I call him and tell him I’ve got one, he’s on the way.”
They’ve been here before.
“He’s always coming up with different hooks, concepts — he’s that guy,” Mechee’ said. “He doesn’t disappoint me. It brings out the best in me.”
The concept behind “Pay Attention” is the two of them addressing their younger selves.
“I know it sounds cliché, but literally every line is to ourselves,” Obliq said. “I wasn’t writing it to someone else’s child; I was writing it to myself. If I could mentor myself as a child, this is what I would say to myself.
“These are the life lessons I’ve learned through pain.”
The message is aimed toward their adolescent selves, but others need to hear it, too. It’s about accountability for children and adults, Obliq said.
“Don’t address a problem without a solution,” Obliq said. “I think that’s the message of the video. Yeah, you can say, ‘Hey, stop. You’re doing this wrong.’ But am I offering you an alternative?”
Many discovered The Strangers through the anthem “Destin” — the one with the catchy chorus saying, “Miami’s cool, but I’d rather live in Destin.” While that lyric might be true, the track didn’t pack the layered punch rappers live to create.
They rectified that in “Pay Attention.”
“It was the perfect lead single, because it didn’t box us into a certain style,” Obliq said. “It let people know that we’re way deeper than ‘Destin.’ It’s not just about turning up at the club. If you see our shows, we turn up, but we’re men. We think.”
‘Make Ice move’
The album is a more modest 10 tracks, as opposed to 24 previously.
“It takes you on a journey, just as the ‘Deezy’ project did,” Mechee said. “I think in these 10 songs you’re going to get everything you need to know.”
“King’s Assembly” is one of Mechee’s favorites. The song features a back-and-forth between King Whoady and Obliq with no hook in the vicinity — and without it, no expectation of what it’s supposed to be.
“They’re talking about some really deep, intricate things,” Mechee said. “It’s super dope. You have cameras flashing in the background of the beat, so it gives you this ambiance of them being at a table, and they’re talking to their peers, who are other kings. They’re just giving you the game of who they are.”
Obliq thinks “Brand New” is a stand-out.
“It’s a steppers kind of groove, hip-hop soul type vibe,” Obliq said. “Chase Carter sings an incredible hook on there.”
His favorite part is that it features hip-hop pioneer and mentor DJ Cool Ice Water, formerly Master Ice. Obliq met him at a concert at the Hard Rock Café in Destin before it closed.
“I’ve been telling him for years, ‘One day, I’mma get you on a song,’” Obliq said. “I’m a producer. That’s what I do. I’m really good at figuring out who needs to be on what songs. When ‘Brand New’ came to fruition, I was like, ‘This is the one.’”
Having Master Ice on the record is legendary, Obliq said.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for people like him,” Obliq said. “He’s literally a walking legend. He was there at the beginning of hip-hop.”
Recording the song with Ice — who’s unaccustomed to a digital studio — created a humorous memory.
“Ice didn’t move the mic stand, so it was lower than what it was supposed to be,” Mechee said. “He’s rapping on top of the mic. We were laughing like, ‘Pull up the mic.’”
Ice is old school, and that’s what they love about him.
“He’s a smooth guy. He’s a smooth oldhead,” Mechee said. “He’s taught us a lot just being able to be around him. He doesn’t sugarcoat things … it makes you step up your game. When he gives you your accolades and tells you, ‘Yo, I’m feeling that,’ it’s a big thing.’”
“If you can make Ice move, you’re doing something with your record,” Obliq said.
‘Brotherhood Built This’
The Strangers got a bit lost in the hype of its own hype song.
Mechee said they didn’t completely forget why they started their journey as a group, but the notoriety surrounding “Destin” definitely blurred it.
“The first song, ‘Pay Attention,’ we were in a place of bringing light to a dark place,” Mechee said. “We didn’t know who was going to be a Stranger, or what we were going to do, but we knew we had to do something.”
They rested on their foundation. “Brotherhood Built This” is not only their album title, but also their slogan, the heart of who The Strangers are.
Obliq doesn’t want “brotherhood” to be an ambiguous term. They’re real family, he said.
“It means we fight. We cry. Sometimes we don’t talk to each other. Sometimes it is just all good,” Obliq said. “We’ve been through some of the best times of our life together. We’ve been through some really terrible times together, but that’s what makes it brotherhood.
“I might have a problem with you, but no one else can touch you.”
They went through trial and tribulations in the chunk of time between “Iamdjdeezy” and “Brotherhood Built This,” Mechee said. But, this record was different.
The first time around, the album built the brotherhood. This time, the brotherhood built the album.
“It would’ve broke a lot of people,” Mechee said. “When you have so many group members, you don’t know where you stand with them.
“For us to still be here doing this and coming out with a second album is a blessing.”