The Startin’ LineUp (TSL) is a Chicago-based collective consisting of rappers, writers, producers, singers, engineers, & a DJ. In the summer of 2004, the group met while attending Iowa State University located in Ames, IA. What started as a friendship, grew into something bigger. Inspired by their shared love of music and basketball, what started as a friendship, grew into something bigger, which they eventually and almost inevitably, called The Startin’ LineUp.
They released their debut album “The Tip-Off”, in 2006, then followed it up with their sophomore album release, “Full Court Vision”. After a 10 year hiatus TSL bounce back with the EP “Summer League Madness”. Although the original group members still keep in touch, there are currently only four active members of TSL: Marcus ‘MNG’ Gray, Steven ‘Cy Fice’ Bryant, Quentin ‘DNQ’ Abraham, and Donald ‘DJ Partystarta’ Parker.
On “Summer League Madness”, The Startin’ Lineup prove that even after a 10-year layover between recordings, their creativity has only sharpened. Their optimistic resilience is infectious, with great hooks, summery grooves, and ear popping narratives. The group beautifully balances the nostalgic and the new. There’s an embarrassment of aural riches here.
Every note on “Summer League Madness”, feels driven by the ingenuity of artists for whom creative spirit and feel-good attitude is the highest currency. There’s plenty of rapping, singing, and funky sounding organic grooves. In fact, The Startin’ Lineup transcend genre labeling. Yet the strength of the EP remains how it holds together as a complete, cohesive listen.
Right from the get-go, on “Level Up” ft. Megan Stacey, TSL give us that classic urban sound. Resonant basslines, sophisticated but thumping drums, tight verses, mellifluous choruses and a soulful funky vibe. This pattern repeats throughout the EP, but the more it recurs, the more vibrant the resulting collage becomes — bright and shiny in patches, and decidedly more than the sum of its parts.
There are moments of real brilliance peppered throughout the record. “Day Drinkin” ft. Ryanne Abraham contains many of those moments. Consider that the track was originally written to a different beat, before TSL discovered the one they really liked. The lyrics actually describe what the members really do when they’re out and about chilling with friends. With a sumptuous hook written by Ryanne Abraham, the track is mellow and capitating with plenty of groove.
The best is left for last, with “Catchin’ Rays” ft. Ryanne Abrahams & Riyona Abraham. The track blends shimmering keys with neck-snapping kicks and claps, making it one of EP’s most ruggedly grooving cuts in the collection. Showcasing a lusciously layered funky-soul swing, the song is locked into a confident rhythm and ear-catching vocals.
Unencumbered by the demands of the mainstream music industry, The Startin’ Lineup are chasing their muse, with delightfully unfettered results. “Summer League Madness”, a record that demonstrates that the members of The Startin’ Lineup have impressively broad tastes in various forms of music, and most of all, are palpably having a total blast being back on a recording together.