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Lucid Music's fifth album recounts the duo's origins 

"They know us at the Shadow Lounge, all that. We just don't feel like we necessarily have to stay in one lane."

Making music for artists: Lucid Music (Marcus Vaughn, left, and Warren Parker)

Photo by John Colombo

Making music for artists: Lucid Music (Marcus Vaughn, left, and Warren Parker)

The art started one day out of the blue
He met the brother and knew something about him was true

Lucid Music began years before the duo — Warren Parker and Marcus Vaughn — knew they were Lucid Music. In the early 2000s, the Pittsburgh transplants (Parker, born here, had grown up in Long Beach, Calif., and Vaughn was from Chicago) met through work, at a dollar store. They realized they both liked to make hip-hop music, and began writing together. But in 2003, Vaughn shipped off with the Army, doing a year-long tour of duty in Iraq. 

"You were able to take a couple things with you — people brought their guitars and things," Vaughn remembers. "I brought the beat machine I had; I couldn't record songs, but I could write. That's pretty much all I did: write. "

Upon returning to Pittsburgh, he took back up with Parker. They began working on an album, but had never played live.

"Around that time, we used to hang out at the Pittsburgh Deli Company, at their hip-hop night on Saturday," recalls Parker. "And a guy came up and said, ‘Are you guys rappers?' I guess we looked like we rapped or something."

He turned out to be a promoter who put on a variety-style show: hip-hop acts, bands, singer-songwriters, performers of all sorts. He gave Lucid Music its first show, in 2005, on a bill with a variety of acts, not all rappers. 

Booked twice a week, the merch table told us
We put 'em on notice whether they did or didn't know us
So it's on, rockin' spots where hip hop's not heard

Perhaps it was because of that beginning — a show at the Deli Company, with a diverse bunch of artists — that Lucid Music was open to playing venues that weren't known as hip-hop hotbeds.

"We've been performing at the Smiling Moose since 2005," says Parker. "Now, you see a hip-hop show at the Smiling Moose, it's not out of the ordinary. But when we were doing it, there was no hip-hop night or anything. If we weren't the first [hip-hop act to play the Moose], we were the first to do it on a regular basis."

2010's The Adventures of the Invisible Band was Lucid Music's fourth album — and included turntablist Dr. Jones, who spun with the pair for five years, until earlier this year. After being released by Japanese label Root70lounge, it was distributed by Bomb Hip-Hop, a Los Angeles label associated with Blackalicious and Cut Chemist, among others.

It just so happened that we caught the ears of one man
And it was Dave Paul, of Bomb Hip-Hop
Which later led to a redux of Invisible being dropped
Got more props, increased the stock, more spots got rocked
But still through all of this, locally unknown
And from the local scene no love was shown

You might say that Lucid Music doesn't identify with the rise of Pittsburgh hip hop that we've all heard about in the past few years.

"I don't even know if we're in that!" Vaughn says with a laugh.

"They know us at the Shadow Lounge, all that," says Parker. "We just don't feel like we necessarily have to stay in one lane. Shadow Lounge is dope because it's probably the one venue [in Pittsburgh] that caters to hip hop first. But I feel like no venue should cater to any one type. It should be any kind of music."

Compared with the young Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, the duo's sound is old-school. A Lucid Music track might take one sample and repeat it on loop or the entire song, creating a comforting background over which the two make sometimes-complex rhymes. The two both look up to lyricists from the golden age of hip hop.

"We may differ on who we think as the best," says Vaughn. "I think he's leaning more toward Rakim; me, I like Big Daddy Kane."

The two nearly always produce their own beats; most of the time, they mine old soul records. ("I'm pretty sure all of our tracks have been made off records we bought at Jerry's," Parker says.)

 "We kind of feel like we let the lyrics do the work," says Vaughn. "With the beat, we don't want to have too much going on, to take away from what we're saying."

The duo's latest, Rockit Science, features nine tracks, dealing largely with life as musicians — including the autobiographical track "Origin," excerpted here. But they write about writing, not writing about fancy cars and bling.

"We make music for artists in general," says Parker. "Artists who are going through the struggle of trying to juggle their art and the financial part: How much time do you dedicate to it?"

"For me, I don't got a lot of glamour to really talk about anyway," adds Vaughn. "But I want people to know that we're just regular people that go through the things that y'all go through, too. We hate our jobs, we've gotta get up every day like everyone else."

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