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People expected us to maintain the sound of Blacklicious but we're the Lifesavas, we got our own style. Let alone, us coming from Portland where people don't think Hip-hop exists, but it's still Hip-hop, it's h..
Lifesavas: Gutterfly         by Jasmine Foster
Da Garbage Man, The Reverend, and the Gospel Singer...

Lifesavas, a group who broadcasts reality through their vibrant sounds and true-to-life issues, has redefined Hip-hop by incorporating their distinctive Northwestern flavor. Despite critical acclaim, their debut LP Spirit in Stone had some fans pigeonholing them as 'conscious' rap but on their follow-up Gutterfly, they return to the essence, weaving a would-be tale from scenes ripped straight from the streets of Portland. And although Oregon isn't generally associated with Hip-hop, the Lifesavas know what it means to be true musicians, as well as mentors to the youth.

Co-MC and lead producer Jumbo took time from his busy schedule to chat with GLmag on topics ranging from the group's latest album, the transition between their debut and sophomore releases, and why Hip-hop is lesson waiting to be taught…

For those who haven't heard your latest album, explain this project as compared to the first one?

Gutterfly was inspired by a movie that was never released. It was inspired by classic blaxploitation films like Cool Breeze, The Mack, Superfly, and Sweetback's Badasssong. We created characters that were very similar to characters that were in the movie. It was very important for us to show people how we really get down. We're from Portland so we thought, 'what better way to come out?' 'What better way than to do it than in three-part character?' With our first album, we felt people pigeonholed us. Coming from our area, we wanted people to see our swagger and slang. So we created these three characters Sleepy Floyd [played by Jumbo], Bumpy Johnson [played by Vursatyl], and Jimmy Slim Water [played by DJ Rev Shines]. You got these three characters that are small time boys who are hustlers. They take out the big crime boss, just like the typical blaxploitation theme. They take the drugs out of the community.

That made me think of the song "Night Out"

Now see that was a true story that wasn't in character. That was a true happening. We weren't even trying to make it a single; we just thought 'let this buzz out.'

For which member?

Both, I mean… the album is in a little bit of character, but the majority of the album is pretty much true. We thought it was time to bring back the rebirth of Funk. So we thought 'what better way to do that than with Hip-hop?' We were zoning out to a lot of Funkadelic records. We decided to get down with some of the funkiest cats in Hip-hop that we grew up with and respected, like Camp Lo, my man Ishmael Butler from Digable Planets, Dead Prez, and some more of our people. We thought if we had all these people from different regions, different eras, and different genres of Hip-hop and black music in general, we thought we could come with a well-rounded story. I mean, we even got Rock legends on there. You know, Fishbone is on there so it was cool.

So how was Lifesavas formed?

Well me and Vursatyl been getting together since we were young, we used to play ball in the park on the streets of Portland. I used to DJ at hole-in-the-wall spots or after hour spots. I used to throw parties in my basement just to make some money. At first, I didn't know Vursatyl did music and he didn't know I did music. He was actually in a gospel group. Imagine a gospel group coming hard like Jodeci, so they were really trying to do their thing. They were a singing group trying to come on some street stuff and they needed a DJ to play beats for them at performances in the park and I ended up becoming their DJ. You know when some of the other members would flake out, organizers would be 'like what are we going to do? The event is gonna be trashed.' So me and Vurs were like 'Nah, we're gonna make it happen.' So they were like 'y'all are life savers.' [laughing] We got a lot of support, so from there we decided to do this thing for real. We started doing local shows and we thought we could make a career from it.

Now wasn't Vursatyl in a choir when he was younger?

Yeah he's multi-talented. He's one of the most talented cats that I know. I'm blessed to be in the presence of such greatness He used to sing in the choir when he was real young. He fell in love with Hip-hop and now he's one of the most dangerous MCs out there.

Is he still an avid churchgoer?

Oh yeah, definitely. When we're on tour he will get it where he can get it. But, when he's home he goes, and he's actually in charge of the youth program, so he's still involved. To take it further, he teaches a Hip-hop 101 class. He plays all genres to show people what inspired him. Even though he's a teacher, he realizes that he's still learning and he feels he's still a student of Hip-hop himself. These kids are really advanced, they suck up stuff really fast, so they teach us as well. But, it was Vursatyl's destiny to do that.

Do you and Rev Shines assist with the class every once and a while?

Well, I live in the Bay Area so he has me come up every once and awhile. He's the main teacher and my man Shine helps out a lot. He has had a lot of people come speak, like my man Jeff Chang who's famous for [the book] Can't Stop, Won't Stop. He's had a lot of educated cats to come through. The class is not in session now, but he's gonna have more influential people coming through next semester. To see nothing but the whole hood up in there was good, but now the attendance is so down. It seems so empty. Everybody that goes to school there is hanging at the store outside. It's really bad right now.

I read you used to be a Janitor at Lincoln High School, is that where your name Jumbo "Da Garbage Man" came from?

Actually that's part of it. Before we met DJ Shines, I kind of inherited collecting records from my uncle. He used to have a crazy basement full of records and I watched and studied him. Shines came over my crib one time and he was the guy when it came to collecting records. Most of my records were given to me by family members cleaning out their basement, so they were in horrible condition, but I still played them. He [Shines] was like 'Man, these records are trashed, why do you collect these? This is garbage - one man's trash is another man's treasure.'

The day he said that, I invited him and Vurs over to listen to some new tracks I had been working on. I like my music really loud and I would always get city ordinance complaints from my neighbors and my man was like 'Turn it down, that's big, it's too loud.' Then my boy Vurs was like 'That's Jumbo, that's how he gets down.' At the time I was a janitor too. At first I was working at Jefferson High School, and then they transferred me to Lincoln High School. I found an exercise aerobics record when I was cleaning out one of the locker rooms. So I actually used that as a sample on our first record. They were like 'That's you, Jumbo Da Garbage Man!' So the name stuck with me.

So how did DJ Rev Shines got his name?

Yeah, it was kind of a joke at first. People kept trying to call Lifesavas a religious group. But, we're not, we're just real Hip-hop. They started saying the 'Reverend was doing offering plates,' when they referred to Shines spinning the turntables. At first, we thought they were poking fun at him and we didn't like that. But the name kinda stuck as he put out mixtapes, and people actually liked the name so he kept it.

What Lifesavas' reaction when Xcel from Blackalicious invited you to perform on tour?

Ay… It was the most amazing thing. Since we were doing local shows, we thought it was gonna be like 50-100 people. It was like 3,000 people, we got down there and so many people knew our music, and we didn't even have a record out. It was mind blowing. I think that was one of the first times when I was really nervous. My energy was so high I lost my voice because I was so hyped.

What was your mental state during the release of your first album, Spirit in Stone? Did you like the fans' reaction to the album?

People expected us to maintain the sound of Blacklicious but we're the Lifesavas, we got our own style. We're not a spin off. The record was kind of an acquired taste. The rest of the world embraced the record because at the time it was out, there was nothing that sounded similar. Let alone, us coming from Portland where people don't think Hip-hop exists, people was like 'Man…' But it's still Hip-hop, it's hood out here. We were originally gonna do Gutterfly at first, but we thought it would've been too much for the audience.

Where do you see Lifesavas in the next five years?

Potentially, I see us as playing a very important role on the survival of Hip-hop culture. We got a lot of work to do, but I feel like with every contribution we make from here on out, we're definitely gonna be road warriors going from city to city. We will be going to the smallest places, schools, youth camps, and colleges. Hopefully, even stadiums and we'll be able to travel the world and have an affect on a global scale and show the masses that there's still hope. Most importantly, show them that it's okay to be an individual and be you, and that if you keep doing you and network enough that you can reach people and make your own following.

What advice would you give upcoming Hip-hop artists?

Do not be afraid to be yourself. I think people have a misconception about Hip-hop. They see all the money and they sometimes feel like it's all play, but it's really a lot of work. You gotta be built for this. It's really ruthless and it'll rob you of your life. You can get caught up in it and forget about how you were living at home, and how things is going in your life and your family. So, you have to have experience.

So you would say to come at it more realistically?

Yeah, take a more forward approach. You have to do research and know your history. There's no going forward without knowing that first.

So what keeps you busy outside of music?

I haven't done it professionally yet, but I'm an artist also. I also paint and draw. Vursatyl will probably end up becoming a professor because he definitely has a way of connecting with students. I see Shines doing some kind of thing like owning a spot or even coming up with his own reality show. You never know. For me, I would love to jump into the modeling game because all of us love style.

Can you explain briefly the gap between the two projects Sprit in Stone and Gutterfly?

We went through a lot. There were some tough times during that gap. There were a lot of deaths in people's families. There was also a lot of relocating going on. We built a studio and used it to record Spirit in Stone, but a lot of people didn't know it was a studio at first. The community ended up getting flooded with drug addicts and we had to get out of there. So, there were a lot of life changing experiences. It was just a transition. We had been on the road so long. We got families at home, so we had to come back home and make sure our family was cool. Some people don't know that in order for us to make a good album we gotta vibe. It takes time for us to come up with ideas without focusing on music. We didn't want to rush it. But, we felt if we do it right, the people would appreciate it. We took our time and the gap helped us grow as people and artists. We're fortunate to be able to grow as musicians and as brothers, and feel it is some of our best work.

Are there any other projects that fans can look for in the near future?

Definitely, Vursatyl has a solo album coming out soon. Shines has a mixtape that he puts out. It's an incredible collection of soul, jazz, and obscure records. He's working on Volume 3 with various guest appearances. I'm working on an album that will come a little later on. We're also heavily involved with the next Lifesavas project and will be collaborating with other artists. It'll be a good year.

The Lifesavas' latest release, Gutterfly: The Original Soundtrack, is out now on Quannum Records

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