If you haven’t heard of the hip-hop group LIFESAVAS yet, I guarantee you’ll be inspired to seek out their music and become a fan by the end of this article. I know you’ve heard people make this promise before, it’s hip-hop, after all, but I’m serious. Lifesavas is a sleek musical group featuring Vursatyl, an MC’s emcee; Jumbo’s a wicked Producer/MC; and Rev. Shines, a decade defying beat visionary. Together, they represent the best of beloved classic hip-hop, while reflecting the sonic majesty of the best of contemporary hip-hop, and audaciously venturing in to futuristic sonic innovations that tread into hip-hop territories.
Lifesavas are known for their fierce tag-team lyricism, broad humor, self-deprecating wit, vivid storytelling, and passionate wordplay. Vursatyl brilliant and skilled lyricist, whose rhythms are masterpieces; Jumbo’s chunky, soulful, distinctive, chopped beat arrangements deliver a balance of ambition, depth, musicality and genre-hopping eclecticism that has become the group’s trademark. Rev. Shines, a decade crossing beat visionary, inspired by golden era hip-hop, Southern gospel singers and funky Brazilians from the 1970’s.
Vursatyl and Jumbo met playing basketball and ripping free-style in Portland city parks. Initially, working different projects out of the same makeshift studio, the two decided to join creative forces. They quickly gained local notoriety, performing incredible sets as openers and filling in for headliners at the last minute. As a result, the promoters knew them, as being—literally— “Lifesavers”.
I discovered the sounds of Lifesavas watching the 2007 NBA Finals at my sister’s house in New Jersey. A commercial played during a timeout in which a GMC Yukon truck was flying off of a downtown skyscraper onto another building with a jubilant 70s hornline that sparked my interest to find out who recorded that song. I was shocked to learn it was a hip-hop group outta of Portland, Oregon. I became a fan instantly, which encouraged me to attend the legendary Doug Fir Lounge in Portland to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the group’s first release, “Spirit In Stone.”
Finally, at 11:15 p.m. sharp they pounced onto the stage with Vursatyl and Jumbo looking triumphant and Shines fired up. Lifesavas raw energy electrified their hometown fans as they shoved their way closer towards the stage, screaming in excitement. They kicked off the set with their high-powered track “Soldierfied.” The crowd was noticeably anxious to hear Lifesavas songs like “Hello Hi Hey” and Resist”. “Hello Hi Hey” is one of my personal favorites because Vursatyl’s lyrics are ridiculous, pure genius. As the song went on, the trio had the crowd and myself clinging onto every word, laughing and singing along as Vursatyl and Jumbo traded rhymes to complete the ego trip.
As DJ Shines seamlessly blended the riddim reggae instrumentals it felt like we had vanished from Pacific Northwest, and migrated to Kingston, Jamaica; Lifesavas began chanting melodies over our reggae/dancehall favorites mounting up for “Fever” an absolute monster of a tune with a Tenor Sax sounding melody. It took me back to my roots in Brooklyn, NY.
They showed their myriad of talents by showcasing Jumbo reconstructing the beat for “Skeletons” on the MPC 2000 drum machine on the spot. Next Jumbo played a chipmunk-sounding sample singing “have you seen the ghost of John” and the entire building erupted as they dropped into the song “Skeletons”.
During the encore, we were shocked when Vursatyl left the stage. Jumbo introduced his two sons to the stage to perform a powerful song dedicated to Trayvon Martin and family entitled “Like Father Like Son.” You could hear a brief moment of silence before the roars of excitement exploded from the crowd looking at these 3 black men on stage that represented a ritual of passing the torch from a father to his sons. The combination and lyrics was breathtaking. A Father and son trio hasn’t moved me since Nas and his father Olu Dara’s song, “Bridging the Gap” in 2008. Portland positively came out to represent their acclaimed rap heroes confirming the night, the Doug Fir and the city belonged to Lifesavas.
The following day I caught up with the group at “Produce Row Café” for a sit down interview where the trio was showing off their DJ skills. They each played their own unique set. Vursatyl’s set was full of funky beats and I could be mistaken but I heard at least three solo bangers. Jumbo took us on a ride with rare psychedelic grooves, with new Lifesavas beats, and a great soul section. Shines killed it with hip-hop classics and original samples; after all, he is the DJ. We sat down after hours for a one-on-one interview to speak about their show and their long-awaited new release – See Video below.
The Lifesavas are on fire, inspired and back in the studio finishing their upcoming highly anticipated third album titled “iDentifi.” Follow Lifesavas at Facebook.com/Lifesavas or on Twitter @Lifesavas