Focus group: Labeless Illtelligence

CasUno and ESH the Monolith streamline the cipher
By CHRIS CONTI  |  February 17, 2010

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TRUE-SCHOOL ESH and Cas.

It's NBA All-Star Saturday and Labeless Illtelligence representatives Chris Andrews and Tyler Edwards, better known as CasUno and ESH the Monolith, settle in for one last marathon studio session at Edwards's East Providence apartment (dubbed FrESH Ear Studios). They're wrapping up the final four tracks from CasUno's full-length, Sticks Out Like a Sore Thumb, due out "when it's finished," according to Andrews, whose (literally) blunt responses are often complemented with impassioned answers from an ol-skool wordsmith and family man getting into his 30s, and not exactly hung up on making bank from rap records.

"Labeless Illtelligence been here for close to 10 years, clearly we're not in this for the money," CasUno says while twisting a blunt of Sour Diesel. "I have a full-time job [and my wife and I are expecting] a second baby [in April]. I just want to fully manifest the ideas in my head and create an album that will stand the test of time."

Acclaimed releases by Vocab, CasUno, and Ams-Uno fortified the Labeless brand early on, but by 2007 (LI's MySpace page lists band members as "the eternally evolving network of fallen friendships") only ESH and Cas remained. The duo will hit the road next weekend, playing shows in Boston, Danbury, and Worcester before returning for a set at Jerky's supporting Mr. Lif. Over the years, Labeless have opened for the Wu-Tang Clan, El-P, C-Ray Walz, Thirstin Howl III (!), and Sean Price, among others. ESH recalled the early days onstage.

"When Labeless was a drunken collective of five emcees eating up stages, it was cool and definitely entertaining, but inevitably impossible to manage," he said. "Controlled chaos became just plain chaos."

Andrews said, "Dudes remain scarred from all the falling out.

"I attempted to reach out to some people recently and they weren't very receptive," he told me.

2008 saw the Labeless revival, with CasUno's Intox-I-Rox mixtape (free at MySpace.com/LabelessIlltelligence) followed by ESH's excellent A.D.Dventures of an E.ccentric S.uper H.ero. CasUno's rapid-fire wordplay and double-take metaphors coincide with his scruffy baritone (like Method Man meets Chill Rob G) and works well with ESH's nasal vocals and deft alliteration (e.g., referring to the Labeless outfit as a "symbiotic support system").

Obscure and vintage albums line the FrESH Ear Studio shelves (Edwards routinely scours the $3 bins at the Time Capsule in Cranston), from the soundtrack to Disney's The Black Hole to the Beach Boys' Endless Summer, from Freddie Hubbard to Frank Zappa.

The communal vibe found on CasUno's 2004 "solo" debut, The Art of Pissing People Off, will be scaled back for Sticks Out Like a Sore Thumb, but some old friends have already made nice contributions; Dox (of Poorly Drawn People) produced "Electric Ukelele" and burner "The Spit Pit," featuring Romen Rok and PDP's Storm Davis. A few conceptual ideas CasUno nailed include a track called "Everybody Hates Chris," a re-working of Diamond D's 1991 classic "Sally Got a One-Track Mind," and an ode to "Peter Pan rappers" on "Live From the Land of Make Believe." ESH pulls the track up on Pro Tools and the room nods in agreement. "I think this gotta be the jump-off track, right after the intro," Cas says, and expounds while spinning another blunt.

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