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Running nine members deep and likened to a West Coast Wu-Tang Clan, the Living Legends crew has embodied the heart and soul of underground hip-hop for over a decade. By producing and distributing their albums and organically cultivating a following with relentless touring, the California outfit helped cement the modern indie hip-hop template. Success has seldom been a byproduct of making great music, and the Legends' blend of spare basement production and lyrics that emphasize confessional street reportage definitely stands in stark contrast to the soulless spit-shine of their contemporaries; yet their last album, Creative Differences, has sold an impressive-for-the-underground 23,000 copies. And while it retains that patented Legends twist, the group's newest album, Classic, is their most cohesive and polished to date and will likely find them even more success.

While their story starts with the Legends selling homemade tapes on the crime-ridden street corners of Oakland, the latest chapter finds our underground superheroes calling L.A. home and recording amid the immaculate beaches and cool vibes of Maui. It may seem like an odd spot for a crew that made its name in hip-hop's urban dungeons, but the island's isolation allowed the Legends to record as a whole for the first time in years.

"It was paradise," says founding MC Luckyiam. "We're living in a phat house with acres of land with grass and palm trees. All the other distractions in life aren't there. We wanted to put everyone on the island where they couldn't escape and get things done."

The result is an album that feels more consistent and fleshed-out than any other Legends release to date. "Blast Your Radio" – produced by indie producer du jour Madlib – riffs off the varying definitions of the word "classic" and is the most radio-friendly track that the Legends have ever recorded, while "The Man Who Sold the World" is a more difficult (if no less satisfying) affair. Using the classic David Bowie song as an anchor, they issue a trenchant critique of those in both the street and the White House who are willing to exploit tragedy for the sake of personal gain. They may not be posted on street corners selling their tapes anymore, but Classic is still vintage Legends.

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More by Samuel Chennault


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