Truth be told, when one hears of a group named “Community Service,” they’ll either associate it with social work or ex-offenders in orange jumpsuits doing trash duty along the freeway, not a co-op minded group of MCs spitting a broken-glass-in-the-gutter type of unadulterated Hip Hop.
Bonded by shared personal ethics — like agreeing to put work first and not get onstage drunk — Westsiders Ezra “Grease” Sebastian, Kevin “Natti Rosco” Plavsic, Eric “E-Cypher” Loukinas, Chris “A-Wall” Wall and their DJ, John “Tao Jonez” were all affiliated in the same network over the past two decades but hadn’t worked any tracks together. The core members — Natti Rosco and Grease — first talked about recording after they met at a GZA show three years ago. Instead of focusing on getting to know each other first, they got right to work.
“I’ve recorded more with Grease in the last two and a half years than I have in my lifetime or the 20 years of doing this,” Rosco says.
Being so focused paid off when they landed a national distribution deal with Long Range, which released their 2012 album, Bastards of Saints. With the same distributor as DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill and Soul Assassins, Community Service’s unfiltered beats and sediment-caked verses — grimier than grit wedged into the grooves of old vinyl — make Millennials tell them they sound “throwback.”
Explaining the album’s title, Grease, who self-identifies as the “RZA of the group,” says, “We felt like we’re the bastards of the old-school Hip Hop guys, the old church.”
“When you think of the word ‘bastard,’ ” Rosco chimes in, “that’s a parentless or a motherless child made out of wedlock.
We’re the product of the ’90s, of what Hip Hop made us. We realized who our fathers were through Hip Hop. These guys were gods to us when we were teenage boys.”
Sharing insight behind the album’s underlying “good vs. evil” concept, which could easily be confused with theology given the album begins with “Genesis” and ends with “Revelations,” Rosco says, “It’s more like the industry and the way they want Hip Hop to be — evil. The way we want to keep Hip Hop preserved is good, almost in a religious aspect, where we’re stickin’ to our guns.”
Of course, the beats maintain the raw, true school soundtrack they set out to deliver, from rough kicks and snares filled in with lines of melancholy flutes and violins. On “Binded Society,” Rosco pours out lyrical libations to the vanguard of MCs who aren’t here.
“All the people I admired either dropped out or died,” he rhymes.
He and Grease both say they fell away from rhyming for a period when they felt the scene became lackluster. Now they are serious about helping preserve its polish.
“I’m not in this music just to be some fly-by-night-type of group,” Grease says. “We are a movement. It’s almost like a revolution to us.”
“When I look at these local artists and I see their hunger and I see what they’re about, that motivates me to provide a service to them,” he adds. “From beats, to studio time, even to advice, I feel like I have an obligation to do that.”
“He should get a tax write-off for all the studio time he be giving some of these guys,” Rosco says, laughing. “He’ll give them that open door policy like, ‘Man, if you’re a true head and this is what you love to do, then come on down and lay something down with us.’ ”
However, some people didn’t work out because they were distracted by personal demons or unable to commit to thinking of music as a second full-time job.
“It’s business before pleasure,” says E-Cypher, who appears on the squad’s forthcoming release, Konkrete Kingz, set to release this August. “I quit my job to do this. I put my heart and soul into this.”
One of the artists Grease collaborated with is Chief Thunda, a skilled MC who recently appeared on the cable music program, NXS.
“I love working with Grease because he puts out quality material,” he says.
The crew also collaborated with multi-faceted Hip Hop artist Jibri, a featured singer and MC of Cincinnati Jam/Fusion band, Eclipse. Grease recalls meeting him at the bar at Baba Budan’s during an open mic night and they became kindred buddies over a freestyle.
“That guy can freestyle for hours and not skip a beat,” Grease says. Even once Jibri introduced himself, Grease didn’t realize he was “Jibri Wise One,” who’d put out 1991’s No. 1 Rap single, “The House the Dog Built.”
“I didn’t even put two and two together, and Jibri didn’t come off like that,” Grease says. “When we did ‘Concrete Streets,’ Jibri was at the studio and he was like, ‘Yo, I can throw a little Reggae on it,’ because it was a Reggae track, and he killed it.”
The socio-political track lashes out against systems that uphold economic inequalities and has a video produced by Ken Maxwell that captures the back alley grunginess of Over-the-Rhine.
“(Maxwell is) actually in a hardcore Metal group,” Grease says. “ He’s not by any means a fan of Hip Hop, but he loved our stuff. We get these fans, they’re kind of, like, on the sidelines about Hip Hop, you know, they don’t really understand it or they only think it’s one way.
“It’s the aggression he tapped into,” Rosco says.
“Exactly,” agrees Grease. “He said, ‘It just seemed like you guys were raw and hungry.’ ”
“On the West Side,” Rosco explains, “it’s real heavy Lil’ Wayne and whatever’s mainstream and easiest to find. Like sports — I’m always rooting for the underdog. Everybody else wants Kobe Bryant; I’m always for these rooks that come up and do something on their own.”
Sample more COMMUNITY SERVICE tracks and find more info at reverbnation.com/communityservicemusic.