Do Remember: The Nonce’s Mix Tapes (Video)

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2015’s Los Angeles, California Hip-Hop scene includes a plethora of colorful figures. It is now cool (and accepted) to be unconventional. Whether Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, or Blu, plenty of MCs from Southern Cali have come to creative forks in the road, and blazed trails by simply going straight. In the lineage of thoughtful MC’ing from the region, there are plenty of pioneers, who took risks at a time when they were not always rewarded.

Project Blowed was (and is) a conglomeration of L.A. talent that rivals any in terms of ability. While Aceyalone and Freestyle Fellowship were moderate major label successes, acts like Volume 10 found hit records (of sorts), and Open Mike Eagle today tows the line with acclaimed work of his own. One act within the Blowed that fails to get proper consideration it seems, is The Nonce.

The L.A. duo of Nouska Basetype (a/k/a Sach) and Yusef Afloat was working with Rick Rubin before Jay Z had any label distribution, and had a music video in rotation before Earl Sweatshirt was born. Sadly, Fate has not been kind to The Nonce, which is by no means a testament to the pair’s talent and style.

In 1993, “Mix Tapes” released from The Nonce. Applying the melodic and harmonic routines heard weekly at The Good Life Cafe, Nouska and Yusef took their love of Hip-Hop, their trajectory up in the world (through L.A.), and took that age-old story, and applied it to an elemental beat. The song was sparse, simple-story-driven, and very much akin to what Common, Blackalicious, and O.C. were also doing at the time, with their own projects. Moreover, the chorus of the song reveals how integral the tape scene was in the L.A. underground. “Now I’m an MC,” The Nonce chanted, having Rick Rubin’s Wild West/Def American/Warner Bros. Records backing, and an album in tow.

That album, World Ultimate, would release more than one year after the promo wax to “Mix Tapes” was pressed. With the video in circulation, the pair’s debut, self-produced LP featured Aceyalone and Figures Of Speech, among others. However, even as label-mates with Sir Mix-A-Lot, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and Chino XL, the charts evaded The Nonce. The pair produced on Acey’s acclaimed All Bounces Don’t Bounce solo debut, and loaned a new mix to Project Blowed’s heralded ’95 compilation. By 1998’s Sight Of Things EP, Warner and American was pulling out from Sach and Yusef. The duo’s indie swan song was not widely received.

In one of the more heartbreaking and lesser publicized deaths in Hip-Hop, Yusef Afloat (whose government name was Yusef Muhammed) died 15 years ago this month. On May 21, 2000, the MC/producer was reportedly found dying under an overpass on L.A.’s 110 state route. In a bittersweet way, “Mix Tapes” tells the story of when things were good, dreams were being achieved, and above all, the timeless Hip-Hop story was being presented beautifully:

Check out other Ambrosia For Heads’ “Do Remember” pieces.

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