Hometown Heroes; The Undeniable Rise of Basement Gang
Born and raised in Southside Minneapolis, Basement Gang is the product of brotherhood, fate, and Hip-Hop. The trio picked up steam in the fall of 2021, with no indication of slowing down anytime soon. With their debut album still in progress, the group’s sound has stretched far within a sample size that has fans eager for more. Between the work of JuneThaKid & $aiku in the booth and QuasiUno (Melvin Saballos) as producer, the three artists found themselves a remedy that is undeniable. Authentic in delivery, Basement Gang does a great job of getting their listeners invested in their pursuit. Going forward, understanding the origin story of these hometown heroes has never been more pressing. Being a fan of the local group myself, I wanted to know who Basement Gang was outside their music. In turn, the artists sat down with me to walk through their timelines as creators, friends, and collaborators.
$aiku had actually been working at the same place as Melvin, unbeknownst to the two of them. Through some time of getting to know each other, June had met Melvin at this point as well. With June and $aiku being friends since middle school, meeting Melvin was a step towards the curation of Basement Gang.
“It kind of just happened on its own… I’ve been making beats & instrumentals to put on soundcloud for 7 or 8 years. I remember $aiku was the first to hop on any of my beats, before it was just for fun, but now he was rapping really good, taking it seriously. Then June stepped in the booth and on his first track he killed it, we were all like, where did this come from?”
“I’ve known this man (June) since middle school, never once did he mention he was a rapper. I didn’t even know he rapped until a random day in the week when he got into the booth. From there, if there was ever an instrumental playing, June and I would be freestyling.”
“This was all at the homie Cliff’s crib, where I would just kick it, listen & talk about music. That was the place we would first record something together. We had a cheap microphone and set up some mattresses in a square formation, made our little booth and started recording. That was literally the first time we had put anything down together.”
Music is what ultimately brought the collective together, fascinated by the discussion of their favorite artists and albums. All it took was that first time on a microphone together to peak their own curiosities on how much more they could do. The name Basement Gang also came out of happenstance, with $aiku to thank for it.
“Doing it back then, we didn’t think it would turn into a serious group. It wasn’t something official like alright, this is what we’re gonna be. It was just a thing we would say because we were always there. Once we started really doing the rap stuff, he said you might as well just carry over the basement gang to that too, just be basement gang. This was 2017. By March 2019, we had been taking it more seriously”
Evolving each day, the Basement Gang would eventually take things to another level once the pandemic had hit. Being inside allowed them to test their crafts through a more focused lens. The creation process of their music comes from a place of perfect circumstance.
“Melvin had been making fire beats for a minute, I was someone who was writing and trying to rap at the same time with a good producer right next to me. I knew if I didn’t record what I wrote with the help of Melvin, I was never going to do it. It was a mixture of circumstance and serendipity.”
Producers need some love too. Melvin (QuasiUno) is the man behind the scenes on the soundboard. Any emcee understands how pivotal a skilled producer will be for their sound quality. Snoop Dogg has his Dr. Dre like Kendrick Lamar has Sounwave. The relationship between rapper and producer requires immediate trust, propelling the piece forward when two ideas come to a head. Melvin can walk the line among a southern bounce style while implementing a more structured boom-bap approach. The construction and tearing down of samples is Melvin's MO. To mold something into a unified piece of music is as satisfying as it gets for a hungry producer. Full of life in every drum break, Melvin allows June and $aiku to lay down what they wrote in a complementing style.
“For me, looking back on it, one thing that was always important was getting better. I make a beat & then it’s like alright, now we have to record it, mix it, master it… It’s a constant journey towards polishing, crushing that coal into the diamond. That’s what I'm working on with this Basement Gang album that will be out, eventually. Dilla, Madlib, 9th Wonder, S1 all inspire me. JPEGMAFIA also really lit a fire under me to make sure my beats were my beats. Nobody was going to take the same sample and flip it how I flipped it. I taught myself everything in terms of recording and structuring, it took me a while to find my own sound as a producer.”
The remaining members of Basement Gang match that with their own flavor and finesse. Storytellers at heart, June and $aiku, can intertwine themes of childhood, struggle and hope within their lyrics. Intricate rhyme patterns are not a shortage for the two rappers, pulling inspiration from artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Lupe Fiasco, and Kendrick Lamar. Drawn to the density in material and poignant descriptions, the influence proves productive sonically for these local emcees. With $aiku, where he travels within his verse seems to be sure ease. Funneling through different subject matter, seemingly gliding over the beat, $aiku extends himself in a natural lens for all who listen. To compliment that, June brings a certain confidence to the track that is contagious. A slow burn can settle within his delivery in proper one-two punch format. Another influence to their sound mentioned was Isaiah Rashad, who talked about vulnerable topics in a light-hearted, melodic fashion. The collective can be heard implementing that same value within their own music, allowing themselves the space and rhythm to drive home issues close to home. That cadence provides an incredible sense of awareness on the track, working well with the overall pacing in collaboration with $aiku.
“I’m writing a story, painting a picture… it becomes an experience when you’re listening.”
For Basement Gang to grow, an audience was the next step in the journey. Their first real push in momentum came in the second half of 2021. That's where the local Minneapolis Hip-Hop community comes into play, allowing the artists to have a home in showcasing their talents. Timothy Wilson, the Urban Lights record store owner, played a crucial part in pushing June and $aiku to perform their work live for the first time. The open mics held at the store, hosted by Vlad G, would be the catalyst needed to take things to a new playing field. The end result could not have been more motivating for the group, as they were now seeing real people enjoying the craft they love so much. The Urban Lights record store is a highly respected part of the local scene that has an irresistible impact on valuable practice with an active audience involved. Timothy Wilson's guidance within the city is principal to a larger sense of community embrace through Hip-Hop. All it takes is the available platform; the rest is up to those who want their voice and sound heard. Basement Gang knew right away they wanted their sound heard.
“That first open mic performance is really what got the ball rolling and set everything in motion. After that, when we knew that people actually liked our music and wanted to hear it, that there was a demand, something about knowing that made us want to lock in even more”
“From then, we just started going to any open mic & event that we could, trying to stay out there to network. I started doing beat battles at the store, we started being regulars at community mics at the record store and Creative Mpls.”
“Man, shoutout to Tim, (Timothy Wilson) that man is a wealth of knowledge. This is coming from someone who doesn’t take advice from just anyone, but when I stopped and listened to what he was saying, he was spitting straight truth and knowledge. He has all this wisdom to give, and whatever you need he will give it to you. He was the reason we put our first videos out, we can only be grateful to have someone like that, especially as new and local artists.”
One month at a time, I witnessed the growth in support for Basement Gang at the local open mic events, leading up to their debut setlist at the Halloween showcase for Creative Mpls. Without having a whole piece of work under their name, the energy generated in such a short amount of time was remarkable to see. Reciting verses back to them, fans didn’t wait to show their appreciation for the new group in the city. It was evident that the rise would only be exponential, especially with their debut project on the horizon. For now, the crew looks to elevate their sound to a more conceptually bound collection, implementing sonic blends that are different from what they’ve put out in the past.
“I want it to be really personal and really pointed. We’re still figuring out the exact direction but the goal is to have it cohesive, put together & doesn’t sound like the stuff you already heard. For me, I’m bringing more funky, bouncy, southern vibes with lots of horns and honestly, taking my samples and doing the best flips with those. Like June said, you can paint a story with the words, you can do that with a beat as well”
“With all the songs I’ve been dropping recently, I’ve been polishing and perfecting a certain style. Going forward I want something more uptempo, funky, while also staying true to the more soulful side.”
Production-wise, the debut project from Basement Gang is set to push the envelope on what they can do sonically. The future holds different landscapes for the artists as individuals and a group. The crew's identity looks to take center stage, riding a wavelength to create the official Basement Gang sound and swagger. Contagious in their approach and honesty in their work ethic, the local scene will benefit greatly from seeing the three-headed monster expand on their early growth. I sense a bit of pride from the feedback I've seen from early supporters. Getting excited about local talent is a rewarding process as we begin to understand the value of people in our communities with something to say. From the basement to the stage, Basement Gang looks to pursue the pride that comes with being some new hometown heroes.