Get in the Vans

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Not surprisingly, a sneaker store was the meeting place for two young members of the popular East Bay hip-hop quartet the Pack, whose slow and smoldering bass-heavy runaway rap hit "Vans," about the "punk rock shoe," has the infectious hook "Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers."

"Me and Stunna went to the same school. So we knew each other," Lil Uno said. "But one day we just both happened to be in the same shoe store … and it was sort of by accident how it all happened." That fateful day in 2005 set the stage for the formation of the four-member Wolf Pack, as they were originally called. On Dec. 19, Jive/Zomba, via the Too $hort imprint Up All Nite, released their national debut, Skateboards 2 Scrapers, an EP with seven songs that features two versions of their "My Adidas"–style sneaker hit for the hyphy age, including the "Vans Remix," featuring the godfather of Bay Area rap himself, Too $hort, plus an appearance by the "Tony Hawk of the ghetto," as the Pack call him, Mistah FAB. The disc should tide fans over until the release of the group’s full-length in April.

Speaking recently by cell phone from Berkeley, on a break from his School for the Performing Arts–tutored lessons, the now-17-year-old Lil Uno continued his sneaker-seeking tale. Stunna "had actually just bought a pair of shoes that I wanted, and I had just bought a pair of shoes that he wanted…. They ran out of his size, and they ran out of my size. So we actually ended up trading a pair of shoes for a pair of shoes." He laughed. "And then later on we end up making a song about shoes. Funny how things happen."

Indeed! But what happened immediately was Lil Uno invited Stunna to a party in San Francisco. It was at that party that he met producer-rapper Young L and rapper Lil B, who had already started recording music together. "The next day they asked me to go to the studio…. It was all four of us. And since then it’s been the Pack," Lil Uno said of the very young group (the oldest member is 19). So confident is Jive in their success that it has designed a limited edition Vans skateboard. Vans, the lucky shoe company getting all the free promotion, is planning a Pack shoe.

Meanwhile, the Pack have been busy. Since forming in 2005, the tireless group has recorded more than 150 songs; put out several regional rap full-lengths, including their Wolf Pack Musik series; been taken under Too $hort’s wing; and used MySpace to full advantage in getting heard.

"They’re inspiring because despite their young age, they are really creative and also really eager about learning about music and the music business," said Taj Mahal Pilghman, general manager, project coordinator, and engineer-producer. "And $hort has really taken the time to let them go in and do their thing and then school them afterwards."

"Vans" was just one of many songs the Pack posted on MySpace. "[‘Vans’] took off. It ran, and there wasn’t really any stopping it," Lil Uno said. His fellow band member Young L, who produced the track, added that "MySpace gets about 25 to 30 percent credit for us getting signed…. But without it, we would have had a much harder time being heard."

Regardless, Young L, now 19, is as surprised as his fellow Packers about the unbridled success of "Vans," which is currently heard in numerous amateur videotaped dance numbers posted on YouTube. "We didn’t think it would be such a hit. With that song we were just having fun, really," the skilled young producer explained. He laced up the track for the minimal hypnotic beat in no time, using Reason and ReCycle software. And the voice that recurs throughout the song saying "Young L" but sounding like "You’re new" (the phase that has become the Pack’s trademark) is a vocal he cranked out on the FruityLoops program.

For the upcoming album, however, he wants to "incorporate more real instrumentation," and at press time, he was meeting with Lil Jon, who will reportedly coproduce it.

Young L, who grew up soaking up the sounds of "Too $hort, 2Pac, the Cash Money crew, as well as Jay Z and Rock-a-fella," doesn’t think the Pack should be stuck to any one sound, as is threatening to happen. "We have hyphy songs," he said from Berkeley. "But I don’t think we are a hyphy group, because hyphy is based on high-energy, hyperactive lyrics and beats, and our sound is more varied than that." One example is the Miami bass–styled track "Candy" on Skateboards 2 Scrapers, which at times echoes 2 Live Crew’s "Get It Girl" and other Luke tunes. "We’ve always been into Miami bass, especially Lil B, who has always been into Uncle Luke," Young L added. "We just love good music!" *