VURSATYL and JUMBO the Garbageman, the MCs and heartbeat of LIFESAVAS, were drawn together by fate and necessity. They first met playing basketball and rippin’ freestyling sessions in Portland, Oregon city parks. Working different projects out of the same makeshift studio, their eventual mutual respect for each other led to an explosion of writing and performing songs and routines with JUMBO at the decks. JUMBO and VURSATYL gained local notoriety by playing a lot of shows as a last-minute duo, thereby becoming known to promoters as, literally, “lifesavers.” Shortly thereafter, Jumbo’s emceeing talents came into play when VURSATYL witnessed JUMBO “destroy” another emcee at a late night freestyle battle. With the addition of Rev. SHINES holding down the turntables, LIFESAVAS were born.
JUMBO and VURSATYL write and arrange all of the material, with JUMBO holding down the MPC and production while both VURSATYL and JUMBO apply lyrical and verbal pyrotechnics. Rev. SHINES, a walking musical encyclopedia in his own right, can tell you the catalog number, year of release, producer and artist of whatever might pass through his ears after hearing two bars over a weak-signal cell phone.
Chief Xcel from Blackalicious recognized JUMBO’s distinctly angular, “pregnant” production style and VURSATYL’s soulful emceeing pounding from a store stereo system while crate digging for vinyl in Portland. X soon tracked down LIFESAVAS and invited them to perform in San Francisco with Blackalicious where the rest of the crew from the artist-owned label, Quannum Projects (owned by Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, and Latyrx), was first exposed to their sound.
VURSATYL was invited to tour the world as a part of Blackalicious’ live performance, covering backup vocals and elevating their sound with his vocal style of rapping and soul singing, an ability he honed as a youth, partly in gospel choirs and partly on the streets. Shortly thereafter, Chief Xcel offered LIFESAVAS a record deal from Quannum Projects. On his desire to work with LIFESAVAS, Chief Xcel said, “They’re like the essence of hip-hop. They’ve got the same energy of a Pete Rock and CL Smooth – that’s what attracted me to them. JUMBO is definitely going to be a force on the production end, as well as lyrically. We’re really excited that they are part of the Quannum family.”
“Hip-hop is divided and people are being forced to choose between what industry insiders consider ‘hot’ and what is important as far passing on the traditions, knowledge, and responsibility that hip-hop culture grew from. The culture has grown fast and furious. It went from the Bronx to Germany, from independent to big business. There have been growing pains,” say LIFESAVAS, whose jobs would range from public outreach speakers advocating youth programs, to teachers, to doing voice characterizations for the Cartoon Network if music wasn’t their profession. LIFESAVAS’ thoughts on social and political responsibility in hip-hop can be summed up by a quote from their second Quannum single, What if it’s True?: “You gotta stand for something even if you’re sitting down.” They see their audience as people that are still fans of “real” hip-hop. Their personal stereos are currently banging music from Common’s Electric Circus, Mr. Lif’s I Phantom, Chocolate Milk’s Action Speaks Louder than Words, Beans, J-Live’s All of the Above, Jaylib, Kim Burrell’s Live, Sly Stone Anthology, and Dudley Perkins.
- Toured with Blackalicious, and Chief Xcel offered them a record deal
- Their album, Spirit in Stone, rose to classic underground status, reaching #1 on the CMJ hip hop chart