Before the Internet, it was college radio that helped put kids on to fresh new music being ignored by the mainstream media. And one of the most popular stations in New York City was WKCR 89.9 FM out of Columbia University, primarily on account of the massively influential six-hour hip-hop show hosted by a pair of hungry, knowledgeable and well-connected industry cats in DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia, who were quick to recognize the promise instilled in that first single. Following "Techniques," the trio was soon invited up to the show on a regular basis and would provide Stretch and Bob with new songs as they created them."We invited them up, and El just killed it the first time right off the top of his head," reflects Garcia. "It's funny, even to this day when I see him I'm like 'with the viscosity!' because of the rhymes he was coming up with back then. He came up with the word 'viscosity' out of thin air, and we were like, 'Who does that?'" For the next couple years, the group kept making music and developing their sound, but instead of releasing the records, they would pass demos and cassettes of unreleased songs to Stretch and Bob, who became close friends. Among those were songs like "8 Steps to Perfection," "Vital Nerve," "Corners." The cuts became immediate successes.
The rawer it was, the more interesting it was for us. So it was really just this garbage dump of everything we were thinking and everything we felt that was funny or fucked up.
"Company Flow and our attitude was a reaction to that lull," says El-P. "Our generation grew up on just nasty ass shit, so when there was a shift and it went soft and began to go pop, it didn't feel right at the time. Everyone was still very protective of the art, and everyone was still of the code. So when things began to get commercial, there was a lot of reaction, and hip-hop fans that wanted the next shit, felt pissed off because they were getting what they thought was a step back. It's all debatable whether or not that's true, but that's the way it felt. And I think the first reaction was this really thriving scene that popped outside of it from people who rejected all that shit and were trying to get busy and try to find ways of defining things that was the opposite of what was out there." There was a punk energy to what they were doing that felt entirely fresh."You have these periods of time that are defined by a middle finger in the air to where the money is," El adds. "But it wasn't really like 'Fuck everyone else' so much as it was 'This shit is happening. This fucked up, raw-assed shit is happening, and we are going to present it to you. This is how we want to sound.'"That attitude brought in new listeners outside the world of hip-hop, too. Journalist Charles Aaron, who wrote for SPIN and was one of the first people in the mainstream music press to cover Company Flow , was exposed to the group through the "8 Steps to Perfection" single.
They just had a different and a very unique pissed-offness. They were kind of Philip K. Dick, and they were kind of punk and just very raw but sophisticated.
"[The 'Independent As Fuck' credo] was just an acknowledgment that we were doing it on our own," El-P recalls. "We were three dudes who didn't necessarily know what the fuck we were going to be doing with our lives." He describes the New York scene of those days as "the family I never had," reflecting on the value of meeting the other members of Company Flow when he did. He adds, "It gave each of us a purpose, and a reason to grow and become who we would become. I'm very grateful for that time. I look back on it, even though it ended prematurely, with great reverence." Without a doubt, there's still a sense of lightning in a bottle that came with the moment."Everybody is staying progressive and I, for one, have been the cheerleader for possibly doing another record," says Jus. "At this point in time, a real Company Flow full-length hasn't even been realized." Yet whether or not the day comes when El-P, Bigg Jus, and Mr. Len decide to capture that magic again, the legacy of Company Flow continues to be felt regardless of where they are in their respective careers."It still very much resonates with people," says El-P. "To this day, no matter what I do, there's always going to be somebody who is going to say to me, 'I love what you're doing now, but Company Flow was my shit.'"Illustration by Adam MignanelliRon Hart is teetering on the edge of outer space, spitting buckshots till black holes surround him. Follow him on Twitter.
We were three dudes who didn't necessarily know what the fuck we were going to be doing with our lives.