"Now, sometimes people aren't really trying to imitate. They just look up to certain people, and if some eleven-year-old out there picks up on Das, then he's going to sound like Das. But that kid's got to learn that you can like this guy and like that guy and like the next guy, and you can take what you can from them and make it your own. But you shouldn't take that man's creation. Just try to put something of yourself in there and keep it real. Because that's what hip-hop is."

Hip-hop is also a stern, unforgiving taskmaster. Knowing this, the twosome behind Das EFX decided to swing for the fences with Hold It Down. They maintained their loyalty to Parrish Smith and PMD on a handful of tracks, but they also brought in some trendy dial twisters: Gang Starr's DJ Premier, who produced the most recent CD from KRS-One, and Easy Mo Bee, who got the latest from the Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack on tape. In addition, KRS-One dropped by for an appearance on "Represent the Real."

These shifts result in a robust recording--no genuine breakthrough, but a saucy showcase for Skoob's weird wordplay. A typical example of his quirky gifts can be found on the single "Microphone Master," in which he casually juxtaposes references to those kindred spirits, mass killer Colin Ferguson and Neil Simon character Felix Unger. "Working with different people definitely brought out things people in hip-hop never heard from Das before," Skoob claims. "We write by using the beat, the mood of the song, so writing for three or four different producers definitely changed the sound. Which was basically our purpose."

Nevertheless, Hold It Down isn't setting the charts on fire. In fact, it isn't on the charts at all right now. But rather than quietly accepting that their race is run, Skoob and Dray are in the midst of a nationwide tour intended to keep the support of those hip-hop fans who aren't dependent upon radio stations to tell them who is hot and who isn't. With broadcasters in Denver and other major cities shying away from rap almost entirely, Skoob concedes that this tack may soon become a necessity for combos on Das's level.

"Way back in the day, you had groups like NWA and EPMD going gold, platinum, double platinum, with no airplay at all," he notes. "So the radio thing really doesn't matter. As long as the music is strong, good things are going to happen anyway. If we go mainstream, it's a plus for us, no doubt. But we're making our songs for fans, not so that radio will play them a hundred times a day. This is hip-hop, and hip-hop is underground music. And if people in the underground can feel and hear what we're doing, then we'll be fine."

Still, Skoob is not blind to reality. In the vast scheme of things, he's a very young man, but as far as hip-hop is concerned, he's a grizzled veteran. "I feel that way, too," he says. "There are so many groups coming out these days, you can hardly keep up. One day you're on top and the next day you're on the bottom. Just to be in the game for three years is pretty good."

Onyx, with Das EFX, Insane Clown Posse and Group Home. 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 9, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $17.85, 447-0095.

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