It's hard to think of a better poster child for breakthrough music in the digital age than Main Attrakionz. Every step of the way, the Oakland, Calif.-based rap duo's success has been fueled by technology. The group's early, DIY recordings were created on a cheap, at-home Pro Tools setup; it first broke through thanks to love from blogs; the pair frequently met collaborators like rappers A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown and producer Clams Casino online; and aside from its national debut, "Bossalini & Fooliyones," due on Oct. 23 on Young One Records, Main Attrakionz released their music almost exclusively through Twitter and Bandcamp.
"We were just recording out the closet," says rapper Damondre "Mondre" Grice, 21, of the group's early music. "We didn't know how to make songs or nothing, but we would still send them to blogs, and they'd still put them up. It's funny -- my mama told me not to go on the Internet and talk to people, because there be crazy people on there."
Maybe. But some of them also happened to work for influential indie clearinghouses the Fader and Pitchfork, Main Attrakionz' earliest and most prominent boosters, along with other left-leaning blogs that were drawn to the group's self-proclaimed "cloud rap," a dreamy juxtaposition of hard-edged raps floating over ambient-inspired lo-fi beats. After a furious pace of free Web releases in 2011, the group's online shine reached a fever pitch with "808s & Dark Grapes," sponsored by Mishka, the street wear company that also backed Brooklyn rapper Mr. MFN Exquire's breakthrough "Lost in Translation" mixtape, which landed him a deal with Republic.
"808s & Dark Grapes" had similar results for Main Attrakionz. While in New York to perform at the Fader Fort during last year's CMJ Music Marathon, the act was courted by the future founders of new indie imprint Young One, a sub-imprint of Brooklyn-based Partisan Records that launched in March. "We were getting hit up by major labels," says rapper and sometimes producer Charles "Squadda" Glover III, 21, the other half of the group. "But Young One had a great plan that fit us-one that seems we can really win off of, instead of a deal that will hold us back."
"We're trying to position them in a more urban way," Young One founder/manager Nevona Friedman says of the label's campaign for "Bossalini & Fooliyones." "They have the Internet and the indies down pat now, to the point where they can push something out on their Twitter whenever they want and it will get a lot of pickups, but they don't have that kind of love from urban mixshow radio and print press. We're trying to push them out of that Internet world, because they really can move records on the street, especially in the Bay Area."
It's fitting then, that the album's first single is "Do It for the Bay," featuring San Francisco rapper Davinci and a feel-good beat from critical darling Harry Fraud, the producer behind recent releases by underground-rap faves Curren$y and new Vice/Warner Bros. pickup Action Bronson. There's also "Superstitious," an unexpected collaboration with Gucci Mane and his go-to beat-maker Zaytoven. All told, there are 13 producers on the 17-track album-a far cry from Main Attrakionz' DIY days-but the project jells, as the collaborators mold their sound to the group's distinctive aesthetic. "It's always going to be cloud, whatever we do," Glover says. "Just because it's Zaytoven doesn't mean it can't be cloud."
The results, Grice and Glover hope, will help them graduate from their digital niche to real-world impact. The duo played CMJ 2012 ahead of release and aims to launch a national tour soon. "We're doing what we dreamt to do," Glover says. "This is our dream album."