We’re excited to welcome MondreM.A.N. and Squadda Bambino of Main Attrakionz to our first ever Dojo By the Bay series, a monthly interview feature focused on talented artists from the San Francisco Bay Area. 

In 2011, North Oakland’s Main Attrakionz first emerged on the national scene with their Blackberry Ku$h and 808s & Dark Grapes II mixtapes, helping pioneer a style of hip-hop that combines ethereal, lo-fi production with stream-of-conscious flows–a style that rose around the same time as experimentation by Lil B, who Squadda’s produced a number of tracks for, but had an accessibility, positivity and technique all its own. 

Dubbed “cloud rap,” their approach on those projects resonated with up ’n coming talent from around the country resulting in collaborations and co-signs from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Danny Brown and Clams Casino. Their ability to combine street lyricism and a distinct Bay Area flavor with atmospheric, hazy instrumentals culminated on their 2012 debut album, Bossalinis & Fooliyones, a polished collection of songs with an array of fitting, top-notch production to match. Over the last three years, Squadda and Mondre have continued to churn out projects under their Green Ova collective while working on their long-anticipated sophomore album, 808s & Dark Grapes III, which is fully produced by Friendzone and set to drop on June 30th on Neil Young’s Vapor Records

That breakout year was far from the start for Squadda Bambino (pictured below left) and MondreM.A.N. (right), the emcees behind Main Attrakionz, though. Growing up, the two absorbed anything that was available to them through music videos and radio during a time when rap was flourishing in the mainstream. Their rap careers began at about 12 years old on karaoke machines and any instrumentals they could get their hands on. Squadda and Mondre joined forces in the seventh grade when they entered talent shows together and, their early and shared vision of success, made them quick best friends along with their Green Ova family which solidified not long after. 

808s & Dark Grapes III

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I used to rap about see-through PS2s and shit. Fantasy raps

’Main Attrakionz – G.O. Style featuring Dope G, Robby Rob and Lo C4’

TMN: What’s one musical memory that stood out to you as kids?

MondreM.A.N.: I’m going to say me buying my first CD. I was like 9 years old. My first CDs I ever bought were B.G.‘s Checkmate and Big Tymers’ I Got That Work. Moms let me buy it, had a cd player. Just, damn, listening to all those lyrics man, that blew my mind away. From there, became a Cash Money fan. I just became a fan of their movement. I realized there was 6 of them, in-house producer, kind of like a family and shit. They were doing their thing back then.

Squadda B: Yeah, Cash Money, was definitely influential. Also, Onyx “Slam” back in the day. I’ve seen a video of me rapping Onyx back in the day.

TMN: You guys first started rapping together at Carter Middle School. Can you take us back to your mindset during those days?

Squadda: Just a thirst to make it happen–a thirst and a fantasy. Really wanting that shit but it not really seeming like reality yet.

TMN: In general, you seem to really rap about what you live but, as kids, what did you rap about?

Squadda: I used to rap about see-through PS2s and shit. Fantasy raps. You know, our visions.

Mondre: We had the imagination, man. [We rapped about] shit niggas ain’t have.

TMN: You started rapping on Karaoke machines and whatever instrumentals you could find. What were some of the ones that stood out to you back then?

Squadda: All the traditional shit—that’s what was presented to us. You get your 50 cent instrumentals, you could find that. You could get the down south ones real then but you couldn’t really get a lot of beats back then, and nobody was giving us them. So, we were on a lot of instrumentals, products of the music and what was going on. We rapped on David Banner & Lil Flip, “Like A Pimp.” We rapped on Lil Flip “Game Over” and “Blood Hound,” 50 Cent back in middle school. 

TMN: Did you listen to anything outside of hip-hop growing up?

Squadda: It’s funny because whatever was on the TV or radio was what was making it happen back then. You’re watching TV, see what comes on, top 20 hits—all that shit had influence on us. It’s just evolving to the point where we’re like just making whatever we like to hear now to replace that shit. Songs still come to me to this day from the 90’s or early 2000s—just life has a big influence on everybody. We just re-do it and re-create.


TMN: Can you talk a bit about the formation of Green Ova? 

Squadda: We always had families. In middle school we were part of a squad but in high school there was just too many people. There’s only 6 of us now and if you listen to 808s & Dark Grapes III songs we got all of them on there–Robbie Rob, Dope G, Lo Da Kid and Shady Blaze. It just evolved and came to where it is now but we always kind of rapped with a lot of people and moved with big numbers.

TMN: Squadda, as a producer yourself, you always use some really interesting samples. Where do you usually look for those?

Squadda: It’s evolved. Always trying to recreate what influenced us. I would always hear about producers with vinyls and shit but I always grew up with hella CDs so I kind of wanted to make it a thing and create my own culture out of what really touched on me. It’s always different but that’s why I like working with Friendzone because they kind of have a culture of their own too of how they find samples. 

TMN: With the Internet being such an integral role in your careers thus far, what are your thoughts on its role in the music industry in this era?

Squadda: Shit, if you got your head on straight, it can only be a good thing. I love it. I remember hearing about other artists really talking about us. It’s a good thing to have so many people have other ways to find your music other than going to a store. Yeah, the money changes and things change, but I think it’s great.

TMN: Mondre, what’s your favorite thing about working with Squadda? And visa versa?

Mondre: I mean, shit, everything man. Watching him grow, you know what I’m saying? With the beats, the music and everything. Shit, I say everything man. We came in this together and we still here. Better than ever. Wiser and everything.

Squadda: Just bringing the flavor, man. When he come with the effort, it’s real nice. The flows that he comes with every time, you can definitely count on it—it’s consistent. From when I first rapped with him, you know Mondre’s gonna come with it. Makes you think about your shit even more. It’s fun working with him because you know he’s going come with something. It’s kind of rare for me to feel like that too. I don’t really get that feeling rapping with other people—no disrespect. But it’s always been like that since we were kids with Mondre.

Friendzone really worked for that position to be the first album that we’ve done with one producer. They worked for that by coming with all the beats and being, you know, who they are.

’Main Attrakionz – Dip’

Although there certainly wasn’t a lack of cohesion on their previous projects, there’s something special about working with a single production team for an entire album and it shows on 808s & Dark Grapes III. Friendzone, Oakland natives James Laurence and Dylan Reznick (pictured with Main Attrakionz above), manage to take the lo-fi aspects that define cloud rap and elevate them to grandiose levels all the while maintaining the signature Main Attrakionz haziness. On songs like “Spoken Jewelz,” a triumphant horn section surfaces that might’ve seemed out of place had it not been so perfectly tailored for the duo. Through out the project, moments like this can be found in which the Main Attrakionz seem to be emerging from the haze, yet staying in the clouds at the same time. It’s not an easy balance to achieve and it certainly wasn’t developed over night—the four-person team have created literally hundreds of songs in Friendzone’s Pleasanton home studio over the last three years to perfect that synergy.

Friendzone’s production gives Squadda and Mondre the freedom to flex a wide range of flows and topics bringing to light the multitude of styles they’ve mastered outside of their most popular works. Songs like “Dip,” an ode to a Bay Area classic, are prime for the club while “Summa Time” is equally fitting for a sunny cook out or late night listen. They’re able to come with a quick-hitting delivery with the help of their fellow Green Ova emcees on tracks like “Shoot the Dice,” while delving into deep introspection on “Ain’t No Other Way” and, even more so, on the album’s finale, “Two Man Horror Film.” It’s that contrast, between Bossalini and Fooliyone, combined with a newfound clarity that makes 808s & Dark Grapes III our favorite piece of work from the duo yet. In an era of materialistic and trend-following hip-hop, Main Attrakionz have made something uplifting in a way that seems organic and effortless because it’s true to what they’ve always been–a tight-knit family that makes music for the love of the art.

TMN: Blackberry Ku$h was recorded in LA and I know that had a large impact on that project. Where was 808s III recorded and how’d that impact the sound of the record?

Squadda: I guess how you could say just how LA was for Blackberry Ku$h, Pleasanton was that for 808s III. We recorded the whole thing there. A lot of days and nights of just camping out there and making it happen. As far as the recording, I’ll tell you this, it was definitely fun recording 808s and Dark Grapes III at Dylan’s (of Friendzone) place in Pleasanton. Every time we came there, it was pretty comfortable, you know. That’s why we were working on it for so long because it was just comfortable. Go over there, chill, probably light up, drink a little bit, just listen to their latest beats and then come up with the rhymes with that shit. That’s why I think we really went in with 808s and Dark Grapes III because we were just so comfortable being there. 

TMN: How did you end up picking Friendzone as the producers for the project?

Squadda: They worked for it. Thing is, we’ve done projects with producers, it’s felt like. Friendzone just worked for it, they reached out to us, we came and did two songs with them. Their two songs had a very good response with people. People love Friendzone and we just kind of built a friendship around that. They really worked for that position to be the first album that we’ve done with one producer by coming with all the beats and being, you know, who they are.

TMN: Did you feel like they were really tailoring the beats for Main Attrakionz? 

Squadda: It’s definitely tailored for us. That’s how we met them. I was just talking to James and him telling me how much he loved my shit. And it was just like, okay, we could fuck with it. And then going to their house and hearing how their music sounded. It was just hella similar to ours and it was like, yeah, of course, that’s why you reached out to us. Because you like what we do and we’re on the same page. They just started evolving and taking it further than where they were. And it was like, damn, these beats are really cool. Why the fuck not? They would let us stay over there for super long and just record all day, all night and spend the night. It was like a studio for a while, several years. Definitely tailored for us—they definitely thought about us making these beats.

TMN: In an interview at SXSW, Friendzone said, “A lot of people achieve that kind of haziness just by being lo-fi and using too much reverb & delay but we wanted to make it hi-fi but keep that haze in it.” Can you talk a bit about that from your perspective?

Squadda: I never produced a project that I took to a big studio to mix down and all that but, Friendzone, it’s true for them. They definitely did that and it’s cool to hear their beats in a higher place. Because whenever we did other shit, like 808s and Dark Grapes II and Bossalinis Fooliyones, it was on a lot of other people’s beats. The one’s that are our beats, we haven’t really done that at the mainstream level. Maybe after 808s and Dark Grapes III, we’ll start moving towards that.

TMN: How difficult has the process been of taking 100s of songs and breaking those down into the album?

Squadda: It came down to straight quality of what you guys need to see from Friendzone and Main Attrakionz. There were some songs that were good but it was just like it didn’t really put us in the light that, you know, you guys should be seeing us at after all these years of working on this shit. We just kind of slimmed it down to the ones that I feel like you guys will really appreciate the most out of all the shit that we did and we both move on from there. Definitely a big collision of two big factors right there. I’m proud to be able to bring that to y’all.

TMN: Do you guys have a favorite track from the album at the moment?

Mondre: Shit, I’m thinking, gotta be “Shoot the Dice” or something.

Squadda: “Dip,” go. “Ain’t no other Way,” is slap. All this shit slaps, I’m definitely happy you guys get to finally get this. But I just want everybody to know what it is—it’s a Main Attrakionz and Frendzone project. We’ve been holding back for a while but it’s here now so hopefully everybody get that. We’re definitely touring around playing songs off the album.

TMN: Is Friendzone going to be joining you on any of those dates? Do they bring their controllers and everything?

Squadda B: They came out with us to start it off at SXSW. We got a show with them this month on the 26th at the Rocksteady in Oakland. It’s a Main Attrakionz vs. Friendzone show. Then we got another one with Friendzone at Amoeba Music in Berkeley on the 30th, the day the album drops. We’ll probably have a lot more shows with them.

TMN: One thing that’s always stuck out to me about your music is an overwhelming positivity. Is that something consciously in your mind when writing lyrics?

Squadda: We just want to bring you more of it and just in the best way that we can. Super organized and a lot more fun—we want to have a lot more fun with you guys and have you guys see everything. Just a bigger platform—we’ve been blessed to be able to bring it with a bigger platform with 808s III so it’s like after this, we definitely want to keep doing what I guess you guys love so much. We don’t really sit down and think about it. We started off without a style. I think the style came once I really started cracking down what I wanted to produce. We always rapped on beats from everybody, we never really had one style ever. It was just one particular sound that people liked to hear us on the most and, that’s cool, but I’m just trying to show you guys everything that’s in our repertoire.

TMN: How do you guys define success for yourselves?

Squadda B: We got it right now. You talking to us right now, we’re going to keep on giving you something to talk about, something to ask about. You know just make everybody happy, have a good time and excited for something new to come out. Keep people involved. That’s what it’s all about.

Huge thanks to Main Attrakionz for taking the time to chat with us. Photo credit in order: 1) Cover image c/o the talented Justin Yee 2/3) from Main Attrakionz’s Tumblr page 4) Mishka NYC blog


tumblr_npjis7D2eh1uxp9g7o2_1280Some times, as a music writer, it’s challenging to talk about an artist because you hold them in such high regard. Such was the case with Main Attrakionz (I’m pictured above with them on the right). Cloud rap, to me, has so many meanings and although it’s not something they probably think about much, I’ve gone through multiple exercises in deciding what it means to me. From a pure aesthetic standpoint, the name cloud couldn’t better describe what it feels like to listen to Main Attrakionz music. That being said, there’s a symbolic aspect of it that’s always resonated with me–a sort of physical feeling of elevating yourself above all the bullshit. In that way, the music of Main Attrakionz proves uplifting, yet so down to earth at the same time. That feeling of suspension in the clouds seems to transcend genre or specific lyrical content, rather appealing to the ephemeral escape we experience every time we listen to music we love. As a Bay Area native, aware of the struggles people face in all parts of our community, Main Attrakionz music has always stood to me as a symbol of positivity amidst that adversity. As should all music, it comes from the heart and that’s what gives it soul and emotional power.

And it’s not because Squadda and Mondre are trying super hard. In fact, in talking to them, it’s quite the opposite. They are just a couple low-key, humble guys who love what they do. It’s because music is second nature to them and they’re not overthinking it that it packs so much emotional power. At the end of the day, they encapsulate what we all want most when listening to music–the feel.

Check out Main Attrakionz upcoming tour dates below:

June 30th @ 5PM – Berkeley, Ca @ Amoeba Music Store (Main Attrakionz + Friendzone)

July 17th – Philadelphia, PA – Voltage Lounge

July 18th – Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar

July 20th – Long Island – Amityville Music Hall

July 23rd – New York, NY – Webster Hall

July 26th – Washington, DC – Velvet Lounge

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