It's five o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and Tefman, the Madison spoken-word artist who raps in L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S., is sitting across from me at the Local Tavern on King Street, talking about the group's new CD.
"You put somebody in a box and say, 'He's a backpack rapper or he's gangster rap,' but L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. is all of that," says Tefman. "We're a melting pot."
Across the street, crowds are spreading blankets on the lawn outside the Capitol in anticipation of Concerts on the Square. But here inside the Local Tavern, Tefman is revealing another dimension of Madison's music culture.
"There is gangster rap in our music, but it's a very small part of it," he says. "And for us to ignore that when we all lived that life would be nave."
L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. are set to celebrate the release of their second album, Theory, at the High Noon Saloon on Aug. 13. The group's name is indeed an acronym that stands for Living Off Society's Tension, Surviving on Utilizing Life's Struggles.
"The album reflects everything we're going through right now," Tefman says. "It's our theory of music. We've got spiritual songs, dark songs, songs that talk about family. We've got a lot of R&B."
The rap duo Tefman and Bane are the core of L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. They're longtime friends who attended West High School and went on to college together at UW-Eau Claire.
"L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. actually started in a dorm room at Eau Claire in 1998," says Tefman. "Me and Bane got recruited to play football there. We found a lot of spare time with each other. Bane was already a rapper, and then I was like, 'All right, I'll try it out,' and I liked it."
They started playing house parties. "The next thing you know we were bringing in 300-400 people a night," says Tefman. "So we thought, hey, I guess we're kind of good at this."
At first, says Tefman, the L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. sound was "pretty dark, reflecting all the things we've all seen."
Before his family moved to Madison when he was 11, Tefman grew up "in some pretty rough neighborhoods in Memphis." Bane's family moved to Madison by way of North Carolina and St. Louis when he was 10.
L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. is now a trio and includes Tefman's younger stepbrother, Artillery, who lived in Arkansas before moving to Madison. "We all grew up in the South," says Tefman. "We have a lot in common."
The best songs on Theory are built on strong, unfiltered emotion. The disc's toughest moments never posture. "Heaven," a track produced by local hip-hop artist Man Mantis, looks for escape from anguish.
"It's about the feeling when you're down and out and you want it to be over because you're ready," says Tefman. "The track is very real and very different, and it's touched a lot of people."
The album turns upbeat and nostalgic on "Back in the Day." That song, says Tefman, "praises all of our predecessors in hip-hop and describes how much we've loved the music." The CD's 13 tracks feature work from nine different producers, including local beat makers DJ Pain 1, DJ Victory and Rickaby.
Emotional diversity, says Tefman, will continue to guide the L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S.' music. "What I believe is that the L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S. is such a hybrid."
"Our music has changed a lot," he adds. "As far as who we've worked with and what we've seen, where we've gone, the music I've grown to like, the music my other group members have grown to like. In 1998 I was 17. I'm 29 now. I got two children now. A lot of things have happened in life that changed our music, I think for the better."