Who moved my cheese? 

Labratz escape Da Backwudz

In 2006, during the height of Atlanta's snap-and-trap moment, rap duo Da Backwudz (Big Mark and Sho'Nuff) were the refreshing alternative.

Their debut album, Wood Work, was considered a throwback to the Dungeon Family sound that put Atlanta hip-hop on the respect radar. Their music videos played on BET and MTV, and they had the backing of Atlanta music luminary Dallas Austin, who brought his defunct Rowdy Records label back to life just to sign the twosome.

Almost two years later, with Atlanta's depleting rap scene desperately searching for another identity, Da 'Wudz find themselves in similar settings. But their status has taken a drastic change. Due to legalities, they now record under the name Labratz with two new members (Heavy Slim and G Wiz). They put out music exclusively through the Internet, release videos via YouTube and the only contact they have with their former recording home is through their lawyer.

"Nah, you can't consider it a fall from grace," shrugs Sho'Nuff, who now goes by Marty McFly, while partner Big Mark responds to Leon Rawstein. "A lot of artists are going independent now. Major labels can get you on television, but business-wise, this is the smartest way to go."

After working crowds at Drunken Unicorn, MJQ and Lenny's Bar, Labratz quietly released their first album, Atlantis Rising, through in-house producer Sol Messiah's Royal Family label last November. Whatever OutKast comparisons Da 'Wudz drew as a duo will probably be replaced by a growing resemblance to Goodie Mob, based on the 17-track CD.

"People say they sound like [Goodie Mob], but if you really listen to them, they actually don't," contests Messiah, who has worked with TLC, Chamillionare, Dead Prez and ironically enough, Austin. "It's just that they have nothing else to compare it to. So when you hear someone from the South who can rhyme, you automatically say 'Kast or Goodie."

With plans to release four solo projects via the Internet and embark on an Atlanta high school tour, these 'Ratz hope to take music out of the gutter.

Check out Labratz at www.myspace.com/thelabratzmusic.

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