In 2000 rapcore pioneers Downset released a musically fierce and brutal counterpart to the Nu Metal of the 2000s. “Check Your People” was the band’s third album with its unmistakably raw hardcore sound and its relentless lyrics about sexism, animal rights and global crises that sounded at the time like a rebellion against the music of an entire generation, which under the influence of bands like Limp Bizkit has since devoted itself primarily to a dull party interpretation of this once so grueling sound. In order to celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary End Hits Records is therefore releasing a new high-quality edition, which will enable fans to enjoy “Check Your People” on the turntable again for the first time in a long while.
The fact that soundwise Downset position themselves so clearly against the Nu Metal sound of the 2000s correlates paradoxically with the fact that they themselves were once signposts for the iconic mixture of rap and heavy guitars. The band’s history begins in the late 1980s, back then under the name “Social Justice.” The band recorded their first EP together with Epitaph founder and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, and thus became the new hope of Southern Californian Straight Edge Hardcore. The fact that Downset also incorporate distinct hip-hop influences into their sound is primarily due to frontman Ray Oropeza, who as co-founder of a respected Latino hip-hop crew wanted to bring his two musical passions together.
In Downset’s debut single “Anger,” Oropeza sings with brutal frankness about the murder of his father by the Los Angeles Police Department. The song becomes such a hit that Downset get a major deal. The band plays numerous tours in very different musical worlds, but always keeps its socially critical roots; no matter if they play with Straight Edge hardcore icons like Shelter, global hardcore phenomena like Biohazard or in front of stadium audiences with huge metal acts, such as, Slayer or Ozzy Osbourne – Oropeza’s frustration about the social injustices in the USA, the self-destructive effect of drugs, rape culture and sexism are present on every stage.
In 1998, Downset’s label Mercury is taken over by Universal, which puts the band not only in a contractual dilemma but also their third album on hold. In the meantime, guitarist Rogelio Lozano joins Cypress Hill, Oropeza barely makes social contacts after years of touring and is even homeless for a short time. Only two years later, the band manages to get out of their contract and signs with Epitaph where “Check Your People” is finally released. The frustrations of Oropeza’s past history and Downset’s unyielding insistence on their ideals doubtlessly reflect themselves in the album’s sound. Never before did the band play as hard as on their third record – a stark contrast to all the other rap metal acts of their time, which were opening up more and more to a wider audience. The band’s punk and hardcore roots blend with new dub and metal influences giving songs like “Together” and “Which Way” a bloodcurdlingly rough touch.
Above all, however, “Check Your People” is the album which amidst numerous MTV acts with increasingly mindless lyrics does not forget its substantial ideals. While the striking influence of Limp Bizkit’s sexist lyrics could be experienced in the bitterest way at Woodstock ’99 at the latest, when brutal riots and rapes took place in the audience, Downset always stood by the values of the Hardcore scene and have always clearly addressed sexual violence in their lyrics – a circumstance that is perhaps more important than ever in the early 2000s. When Ray Oropeza rages about the genocide of the Native American population and our planet’s destruction in the songs on the record, it was as explosive and important then as it is still now. “Together, it never meant as much as it does right now” the singer storms in the song “Together.” One wishes that this line would not sound so urgent today.
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