When local hip-hop group Common Wealth Family took the stage at the recent Sardonyx Music Conference, they transformed the otherwise earnest music education and networking event into a party. The group's four members -- R.I. Double, Mose B., G.R. and Roscoe Wiki -- got the crowd going with high-energy choreographed moves and goofball rave-ups like "Too Sexy," which takes Right Said Fred's novelty hit as a jumping-off point.
The highlight of the brief show was "Stackin,'" a send-up of rap's fixation on cold hard cash: "We're stackin' paper, 'stead of getting laid!" It's no stretch that, for this young party-hearty group, the exact opposite is probably true.
"'Stackin' Paper' is more a celebration of wanting to have paper," admits R.I. later, over coffee. "Hip-hop music is so built around street cred," he adds, "when technically, music is about fantasy, if you go back to '60s and '70s. It's fiction."
And Common Wealth Family's stage show -- which can include balloons, confetti and blow-up dolls -- is less about gritty realities than perpetuating dance-floor fever. "Everyone's got it hard, everyone's got their story -- but I don't wanna hear that shit, I still got problems!" R.I. says. "When I go out, I wanna have fun."
Though the group only started in earnest in 2007, its story goes back a bit further to Penn Hills, where R.I., Mose B. and G.R. attended high school. "I was a breakdancer in high school," says R.I., now 27. "Penn Hills was a big 'everybody's a rapper' school. We didn't rap at all ... but we were always real party-like -- going to clubs, going outta town. As we got older and went to college, we got cultured, and started rapping a little bit, wanting to write a little bit."
They got a taste while hosting parties and cookouts around town, featuring local groups. "We knew we didn't just want to come out and make music," says R.I. "But then, we're throwing shows, and we watch people [perform] and go, 'We can fucking do that.'"
In search of an in-house producer, the group tapped 19-year-old Roscoe, a soft-spoken kid who sports a vintage Nintendo controller around his neck. Though the Wilkinsburg native graduated just weeks ago from Central Catholic high school, he's responsible for much of the group's music production, along with G.R.
In the past year, Common Wealth Family has logged 82 shows, and built up a team of helping hands that have groomed the group's image online and onstage. "I'm a big believer in that presentation," says R.I. All of that work -- along with a preview EP -- has led to the debut album, Disco Lemonade, which they'll release this Sat., July 11 at the Altar Bar.
While it incorporates tracks from the EP, "Disco Lemonade's more like a story," says Roscoe, "It's a lot more of a collaborative effort." (Local comic Terry Jones contributes to the skits.) They're also debuting a video for one of the tracks, "Star Song," which they hope will get their style and attitude across even more than their live show.
"We're all entertainment," R.I. reiterates. "There's no hardcore message -- just 'Be yourself. Party. Be Yourself.'"
Common Wealth Family CD Release at Saturday Night Fever. 10 p.m. Sat., July 11 (doors at 9 p.m.). Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. $12. 412-263-2877 or www.thealtarbar.com