Verbal Assault

Don't Get It Twisted: Interview With Jamie Kennedy

Interview with James Spooner
Afro Punks: Africa Bambaata, Pop Master Fabel, Aaron Shuman
Don't Get It Twisted: Interview With Jamie Kennedy
More to Come



Described by slam champ Charles Ellik as “emcees with no beats, (and) a hardcore band with no instruments,” Jamie’s spoken-word group, The Suicide Kings, performs at venues as varied as punk warehouses, hip hop clubs, poetry slams, high schools, and shelters for at-risk youth. The group’s ability to attract punk audiences stems partly from the fact that one of its members, Rupert Estanislao, is also the frontman for the bilingual, Filipino-American hardcore band, Eskapo. As Jamie contends, Rupert brings a hardcore sensibility into their performance, because he “has all the demonic, guttural, earthshaking, bio-blast flying out of his throat on any given night.” Yet, on some nights Suicide Kings have opened for famous hip hop-agitprop groups like The Coup, and still manhandled their audience: fans of both scenes “really get what we’re doing, because it’s the same aggression, and the same meter.”


Growing up, Jamie says he loathed rap for all the “typical” reasons: He thought it was mostly about “gold teeth, and rapping about the honeys” –which, to be fair, is still a large part of it. One day, Jamie’s brother promised him a blunt if he agreed to stay up and watch Yo! MTV Raps, “because my brother thought the music I was listening to at the time –Ministry, Janes Addiction, the Sex Pistols- was art faggy, gloom-and-doom, loud, screamy, bullshit, and he hated it.” While Jamie sat, completely blitzed, with his eyes glued to the tube, a Cypress Hill video came on. The rappers were laughing about shooting a guy who’d broken into their house, belting a chorus that went: “Here is something you can’t understand/How I could just kill a man.” Jamie was hooked.

Rachel: Introduce yourself.


Jamie: My name is Jamie Kennedy. I’m the host of Tourettes Without Regrets, a freestyle battle/poetry slam/variety show in Oakland. I’m also a member of a spoken word poetry troupe called the Suicide Kings, which also has Rupert Estanislao, the singer for the bilingual punk band, Eskapo.


Rachel: Can you talk about your upcoming tour with Sage Francis?


Jamie: I’d gone on a solo tour in Minneapolis which did very well. It was actually the same week that Sage Francis had his shows –I actually went to one of his shows when I was there. I discussed the idea of Suicide Kings opening for Sage Francis, some promoters bit at it, and ended up booking a whole bunch of shows with us together. I guess it’s called the Abusement Park Tour: Suicide Kings, Sage Francis, and three other bands who meld hip hop and spoken word.


I met Sage in 1999 when I was on the Oakland Slam Team –the first year Oakland had a slam team- and we went to the National Poetry Slam in Chicago. Sage has always been a rapper, but he’s also done slam poetry, so we were going against his team. He did a poem that was about his re-incarnation as a B Boy –it’s known as “The Mullet Poem”- and he beatboxes in it, but also details how he grew up in a white town where everybody was into butt-rock and had mullet haircuts, but he was all about Run DMC. He talks about his evolution as a fan of rap music.


I had just performed, and was walking to the bar to get a Long Island Iced Tea. Sage comes up, starts beatboxing, and launches this whole poem about his allegiance to hip hop. For whatever reason, I was on a highly politicized, extremely opinionated, African American-majority slam team. There was something about his poem that just pissed them off, because they felt like there was this white man trying to rob them of their culture. They actually started booing and hissing at him. It was really ugly. Morley Safer from 60 Minutes was actually in the audience, filming stuff for an upcoming 60 Minutes documentary. It was just this wacked, chaotic moment where people were booing, and he was still ripping through his poem.


He finished his poem, got a nice score, and all that, but later when I ran into him that night, he almost swung at me because he thought I was one of the people booing him –that I was part of the contingency. I actually had nothing to do with it. In fact, I was adamantly trying to stay out of it, because I didn’t want to cross some weird barrier. I was the little redhead Judas on the team, and they sort of used me as the sucker punch, where they’d just throw me out there to fight dirty and do my thing, but there wasn’t a whole lot of intensive friendship or comradery between some of the poets on that team. I was the only white member, and I was pretty apparent.


So that was how I met Sage. I met him on the street, and he was about to swing on me. I totally explained the misunderstanding, and he gave me a free CD. I remember listening to the CD, and listening to his old band called AOI. Then I ran into him again when he was opening for a show out here at Slim’s, and he invited me onstage to perform. Then I ran into him at a few other shows –he’s friends with a lot of the same slam poets as I am.


He became enormous in the underground from winning a couple really big freestyle battles. One of them was Scribble Jam which is in Minneapolis. It’s one of the benefits that’s put on by Mr. Dibbs and Slug from Atmosphere. It’s a big, enormous hip hop convention –in fact, one of the largest in the United States. He’s been getting larger and larger, and just recently, he got a record contract with Epitaph –I believe it’s a three album deal, but I’m not sure.


He has some of his slam poetry on his albums, but he’s primarily a rapper now. But he performed two years ago –I wanna say in 2001, or 2002- on the slam team from Providence, Rhode Island. So he’s been doing shows all over the place, and he just did a song with Bad Religion. A lot of Bad Religion fans were very miffed by the idea of a rapper on a Bad Religion song.


Rachel: How long have you been a slam poet?


Jamie: Since 1999. I had no idea what was happening. I was just launching myself blindfolded into this maelstrom of egocentric madmen and wacked-out wordsmiths. I mean, Nationals has a really long history, and there’s documentaries, and money and career on the line, and I had no idea what was happening. I had sorted gotten on a slam team on accident, and my team actually didn’t lose any of its bouts, and went to the final stage, and ended up performing for 2000 people, got in the New York Times, and all this publicity. Then we came back –the whole slam team sort of blew up in the Bay Area, and slams started popping up everywhere- and promoters were racing, trying to promote the inspired lunacy.


Rachel: What brought you to slam poetry?


Jamie: Actually, it was because I’d been kicked out of every other open mic in my hometowns of Benicia and Vallejo, California. I couldn’t find any open mics that were up my alley, and at that point I was writing a lot of fragmented suicide notes, and a lot of bile and bombast, shrieking, and guttural roaring, reading poems about slashing myself with knives, or fisting Christian girls. I was kicked out because I looked like a terrorist who hadn’t pulled out his gun yet, and was gonna start taking hostages at any second.


I had to drive to find a show that wouldn’t kick me out, so I drove to San Francisco. Actually, the first slam I ever did, I actually almost got kicked out. But when I saw my first show, I was blow away. It was such a hybrid of rap, poetry, standup comedy, and damning, confessional psychotherapy inflicted on an audience. I was immediately hooked. And the fact that it was competitive, I originally resented, but in fact, it forces people to sharpen their blade and have an idea of what kind of an impact their words are having. If you go to an open mic, you can be frankly ignored, but if you go to a slam, you’re gonna get beaten down if you aren’t coming with it.


Rachel: So where was your first slam? Can you talk about it?


Jamie: I would say my first real slam was on my twenty-first birthday, when I read a poem about the savage irony of living this long. It was, again, suicidal –I was writing quite a bit of those at the time. I was also carrying knives around. I was a walking timebomb.


(But officially), my first slam was at Café Du Nord in San Francisco. I got the lowest score of any poet. My poem was about a Christian girl I’d been dating, and about the brutal sadomasochistic sex that entailed all of her moral and spiritual defenses against the utter depravity inherent in acting upon each other’s bodies.


I definitely had come from a different type of background, where I wanted to burn my words into their retinas, and just smash it through their heads, shrieking, spasming, and flailing around. It was like The G Beyond at a tea party. It was just not flying.


I started Tourette’s because I wanted to showcase artists who were too extreme for regular shows. I wanted to make a celebration of all these fringe voices. Tourettes has had different incarnations –it’s always had a poetry slam. Gradually over time, in the last two and a half years, or so, a freestyle battle has become the other half of the show. I became more and more obsessed with battle emcees, and battle emcees are growing and rising in their ranks everyday. It’s just such an amazing artform. It really harkens back to a primitive battle of the wits, and Oscar Wilde comebacks, and (tk Syrno Debursiac?), battling it out before the swords are drawn. It’s fuckin’ entertaining: I mean, it’s just such a bizarre mis-mash of improv, stand-up comedy, and performance art, all in these blurred thirty second increments. You’re battling mono and mono with someone whose objective, onstage, is only to destroy you. Definitely a tightrope over a shark tank.


So you’re expected to be spontaneous and immediate, and not have anything that’s premeditated, or pre-written. But at the same time, you’re supposed to utterly savage and bloody your opponent with as many punchlines as you possibly can.


We’ve had all different types of performers in Tourettes: beatboxers, firebreathers, cheerleaders, prank videos, and tons of carnage.


Tattoos: Zodiac Killer: Good old Vallejo prodigal son. He was, of course, the mass serial killer who terrorized the Bay Area in the early 70’s, and was never caught. He’s a representation of me, and what happens when artists go wrong, because he obviously never found his outlet.


This is the tattoo for the Church of Scientology, because Ron Hubbard is my great grandfather, and I view it, in part, that it’s my legacy to uphold the megalonomaniac world domination approach to current events.


This other one is the Gonzo for Hunter S. Thompson. It’s the inspiration to remind me that writing is usually more honest the more brutal it can get.


This one here is a symbol for my five year old daughter: A scorpion, because it’s the only animal that will stab itself if you trap it. This is an invented, demonic perversion of the Scorpio symbol. This says “Leper,” and this says “Letcher.” And here, on my right arm, is the Suicide Kings tattoo (an upside-down crown with blood dripping off the ends). Rupert has one on his left arm, and Jeff has one on his back. That’s our logo.


Rachel: How did you decide on the name “Suicide Kings?”


Jamie: Me and Rupert had performed together for probably about a year. When I met him, he was still gangbangin, rock smoking, and burglarizing. Not to say that I was really that much on the good side of the law myself, in those days. But I sort of used my weight, and sway, to get his name out there, and to get him onstage in front of a lot of folks who needed to see him. Because at that point, he was just in the wilderness of Benicia and Vallejo. I started traveling with him to local shows in the Bay Area, and getting his name out there.


Suicide Kings came from an acknowledgement of the fully-loaded Russian Roulette –like having one empty chamber left. Certainly, we’d all been mighty suicidal when we were younger, so I think it’s definitely an acknowledgement of that. Jeff came up with it. We had different ideas, but that was the one we all agreed upon. It was a definite nod towards utter, complete, suicidal living, teetering on a self-destructive vortex.


Rachel: What’s your relationship to punk music?


Jamie: I have mixed views of it. When I was in high school, anyone who identified himself as punk seemed to me like a fashion whore picking safety pins as his conformist camouflage. I mean, it’s really easy to go out, get some Converse shoes, black levis, and torn shirts, put some gel in your hair, and spike it.


I remember I was growing up right around when the first Lollapalooza came out. At that point, at my school, there was one girl who had a piercing, because she was really into needles and stuck one through her face. But there weren’t any piercing shops, or the integration of sub-cultures into mainstream, MTV teenager suburb land.


Me? I mean, I’d always been around all the punk shows that Benicia was throwing back in the day. They had bands like Fifteen and Green Day. It was just all grungy –definitely scummy wearhouses, or we’d have them at the youth center, and I remember going there on acid and rolling around on the floor, moshing, and beating people into things.


I always had a certain wariness of punk culture, because I felt like such a social pariah that punk was just another click. There was something about me that really resented that: I never wanted to be easily identified, just by my articles of clothing. I feel like a lot of mohawks, Doc Martins, and a lot of it is really just like a costume. It doesn’t detract from the validity of people’s commitment to the artform, and the ideals of it, but I was never interested in the costume.


What interested me, always, was the renegade, pirate aspect of punk. That was what always resounded with me: that really aggressive, forceful, gang mentality. Frankly, I just loved violent music. That was easily the crossover into rap. I think for a lot of punks it’s the same: they love that naked hostility, the aggression, the staccato, grunting rhythm of it. I used to go to 924 Gilman a lot, and for years I’ve had friends who were punks, whether they identify themselves as such, or not. But I was always more of an outcast. I never would have called myself anything, really: Goth, punk, nerd, or any of the other high school subgroups. I sort of viewed myself as a gargoyle who had come to life and did not understand the world. I was sort of walking around with my talons hanging out, staring at people with the evil eye.


Nearly every friend I had was involved in the punk subculture in Benicia, which was small, but definitely still there. It’s definitely expired, though. Granted, I haven’t been to Benicia in two years. There are always bands, but certainly the collective dynamic of the main folks who are putting shows together, and booking the shit, isn’t there as much. Not to mention that Benicia has little to no good venues at all.


Rachel: What’s your relationship to hip hop?


Jamie: Well, that (could be) a really great example of a crossover. I would always stay up on Sunday nights to watch 120 Minutes on MTV, because it was the only show that played anything that I liked: they had videos by Ministry, Janes Addiction, and whoever. I would stay awake to watch that show, and Yo! MTV Raps came on right afterward, or something like that. My brother would stay up to watch Yo! MTV Raps. My brother was adamantly against any music I listened to –he thought it was art faggery, gloom-and-doom, loud, screamy bullshit, and he hated it. He was always really into anything he could dance to, especially hip hop.


I hated rap ideologically. I hated the whole idea of it, I thought it was retarded, I had a very typical view of rap: I thought of gold teeth, rapping about the honeys –which, granted, is certainly a large part of it. But I remember when my brother forced me to watch Yo! MTV Raps by bribing me with a blunt. He said only if I watched the whole program would he smoke this blunt with me.


So I was sitting there, and we were getting blitzed. I remember this Cypress Hill video came on about “How I could just kill a man.” The homicidal glee that they were showcasing was utterly enthralling to me. And watching Yo! MTV Raps I felt that there was a lot more menace, hostility, and aggression than in a lot of the other music I was listening to, and that was really what I wanted to hear.


I felt that a lot of punk traps itself in a pop structure of chords, choruses, and la la la la las, that’s definitely based in music of the same century –the 50’s, or whatever. What I loved about rap was that the focus was so much more on the oral tradition, and definite praising of depravity, violence, sociopathic behavior, and definite criminal activities. I remember thinking at the time –this shows how little I was connected to rap- that when I was watching this video, and Cypress Hill is laughing about how they’re shooting this guy who breaks into this house, and all that, it really made me think of A Clockwork Orange. I remember I said to my brother “Wow, they’re really just like Alex and the Droogs!” He of course, had never seen A Clockwork Orange had no idea what the fuck I was talking about, but then I was just mad excited. So then I started getting into the more violent aspect of rap.


And then, of course, there was the gateway drug to many suburbanite kids, which is The Beastie Boys. They were an easy transition: they started as a punk band, made a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek rap group, and tried to take themselves seriously by adding punk songs to their albums. They were a closer fusion of the different sounds I was listening to. Even tonight, like any given night, I might play Pantera and Wu Tang Clan right in a row, and notice no difference at all. It’s just the same pitch of primal madness in both accounts.


So then I just got really into gangsta rap. I’ve always been obsessed with true crime, murder, homicide, and all that. I felt what was so amazing about rap was that it would boast about the most reprehensible behavior possible, and take sheer delight, and glee, in a lot of it. I also got really into the lyrics.


What always drove me nuts is that I’ve seen thousands of punk bands and really had no clue why the singer is even opening his mouth. You can’t hear anything, what he’s saying doesn’t even matter, and screaming is just fine –I have no problem with just the sheer banchee will- or if a man just had a tracheotomy in his throat and just gurgled –that’s fine in an audio sense. But part of me really craved that wit and wordplay that I felt was missing from a lot of the punk that I listened to. So rap really got me addicted to the idea of lyricism, and how important it can be. It was all about the narrative, the stories and the prose, your sense of humor, and how wicked your tongue could get.


Also, I remember when I was in middle school –probably the main, big moment for a lot of white kids, which I’m sure was the idea- was N.W.A. I mean, to hear anybody rapping happily about murdering cops was like finding the biggest storehouse of porn on the planet. It was such a dirty, happy excitement. I remember listening to that in the sixth grade. It wasn’t even the obscenity –it just felt more raw. Punk has been around longer certainly, but it definitely was that raw, visceral immediacy that was really exciting to me –to be able to have that energy just flying at you.


Rachel: What’s keeping these movments apart?


Jamie: Race is obviously enormous, whether or not anybody wants to acknowledge it. The fact is that punk obviously started in white culture, and that’s not a racial statement –that’s simply an observation of fact. It doesn’t mean there can’t be bad black punk rockers, but it was started in that culture, and the proliferation of skinheads in connection to punk culture is obviously an impediment. I really think they’re closer than they think, but I think race is a lot of times what separates them.


I remember the first time I heard Eminem. What stuck out to me was not that he was white, but that a lot of his confrontational sense of humor, and his vicious, violent fantasies. He would always take the violent image one step farther: Dr. Dre would shoot you, Eminem would chainsaw your head off. What I responded to was that same raw, visceral immediacy, of like, he just sounded like he was going to take it that extra step. A lot of Eminem’s success certainly connected to Dr. Dre, but the fact was, he didn’t even sound like a lot of other black rappers, at that time. He definitely sounded individual. There were other rappers at that time who were definitely in that same genre: that sort of underground battle, venomous, cutthroat type of rapping that was all about punchlines and savage threats.


That was enormous moment for everybody, in terms of rap culture. Eminem was the Elvis, and he knows that. I mean, twenty years from now it’s gonna be hard to get the white rappers to shut the fuck up, because now they feel it’s rationalized, and it’s all right. Now I feel that Eminem is going in a different direction: he’s watering himself down, and trying to sound like a watered-down version of Tupac. When he started he definitely had the battle emcee sense of humor, and below-the-belt punchlines that are really typical of a battle emcee. That made him stand out.


Sadly, the thing is that they already are blending, but not in a way that anybody wants –Limp Biscuit, Linkin Park, and Korn being fantastic examples. These ungodly hybrids of The Backstreet Boys, sludge rock, and remarkably inept rapping. What really angers me the most about Korn and Limp Biscuit, and all of those guys, is that none of them can actually rap. They have rhymes in their shit, but none of them are even really proficient at that part of it, and then they get into the screaming thing.


It’s something like 80% of all hip hop is bought by white kids in the suburbs, and that is a dirty little secret that the folks who work at these record labels are full aware of: they see the demographics, and the numbers. The fact is, that’s the main audience, at this point. I mean, if you’re broke and in the ghetto you ain’t gonna buy every new CD that comes out, but if you’re some little white kid who lives in the middle of nowhere, you’re gonna buy anything that MTV tells you to buy. I do find it to be a little suspicious that the only thing record companies are putting out is this remarkably lobotomized raps about club life, bitches, guns, and cars, because there’s an enormous amount of rap groups who are doing something completely different. The fact that the valve of record companies is only open to let those acts out, is pretty significant.  We’re only letting them have the stage as long as they’re denigrating themselves, and exciting white, suburbanite kids with these voyeuristic tales of murder and violence.


I feel that punk and hip hop have the same genesis, which is a bunch of rowdy outcasts who decided not to go the typical route, and decided that whatever they had to tell, they had to tell it in the most aggressive way they could. The whole underground culture of that –everything from punk zines and hip hop mixtapes to freestyle battles- at their core both have this unruly energy, and highly politicized roots. It’s sad that there isn’t a group right now getting the airplay that Public Enemy used to get. I remember the first time I heard Public Enemy, and to me their beats sounded like Ministry –they were hard as fuck, chaotic, had sirens screaming, and that old Ice Cube production is extremely aggressive. I’d be pretty hard-pressed to find any gutter punk who wouldn’t respond immediately to the music. It has the same connection.


Of course there’s groups like Body Count. I think rappers and punks have always known their connection more than anybody else. I mean, I’ve never seen a rapper do a country song collaboration, or an acoustic rap collaboration. It just doesn’t happen. You’re more likely to see Chuck D rapping over guitars -if he’s gonna choose to do a different kind of side project- than he is rapping over a bluegrass band. That’s because they both have the same kind of fury behind them.


I think some of that is getting mobilized together again, even if you see the unification against George Bush. I mean, every punk in the world would give his left ball to be the first to strangle him, and many rappers feel the same. You have all these different punk organizations doing voter registration, and now Puff Daddy is doing it too.


I think a lot of it is also social pariahs illustrating their lives. Whether you’re a gutter punk, a crack dealer, an alcoholic, or a sociopath, I feel the goal of both those forms of music was to illustrate an underground that most people didn’t want to accept. I feel that that in it’s nature is in the roots of both of those: naked aggression, and damn the censorship.


Rachel: What is spoken word to combine all that?


Jamie: Spoken word, even by itself is a genre. It’s open, and it means anything you want. The people who excel at it have stage presence, and usually have a lot of weight behind their words –whatever that is. In going to slams, I’ve probably met a more diverse crowd of performers than in any other scene I’ve been involved in. I mean, I’ve been on slam teams with black panthers, people who’ve taken shots at cops, I’ve seen a cop perform at a slam, I’ve seen seven year olds perform –you’re gonna see Andy Kaufman-type personalities immediately following a battle rapper’s rant. That same performer may completely switch his style in the next round –in fact, that’s what’s encouraged.


The fact is, you have guys like Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra doing the spoken word thing, and I’ve met a lot of folks who got in through that kind of idea. But the fact is that rap is all about the oral tradition, and all about communicating your message in your lyrics. I think that sort of hybrid definitely connects immediately.


Rupert Estanislao (from Eskapo and Suicide Kings) is a great example. He sings for a punk band, and has all the demonic, guttural, earthshaking, bio-blast flying out of his throat on any given night. And on another night, we’ve opened for bands like The Coup and shit like that, and the audiences really get what we’re doing, because it’s the same aggression, and the same meter.


The sad thing is that white culture is a parasite. Within twenty years there’s no fucking doubt –it’s already happening, in fact- that record companies are gonna throw money at the next white rapper, and Eminem will not be alone, for sure. But I think, in kids’ minds, the hybrid of rap and rock is already so blended that it’s almost a non-issue. When it comes down to the roots of who was in the audiences, and who was making things happen, it gets quite a bit muddier.


Rachel: How about spoken word? Do you think it’s also gonna get co-opted by commercialism?


Jamie: Sure. I mean, HBO is already doing Def Poetry Jam. There’s Coke commercials with spoken word.


The thing is, to a certain degree, you can’t buy the oral tradition. It’s elusive, it’s the oldest artform in the world, and there is no identifiable, specific template that you could just buy out, and have. Slams may get larger –I think one of the major points of slams is that they’re so accessible, and they have a real DIY aspect behind all the shows. Anybody in the audience can judge what’s being seen onstage, and also perform in what’s being seen onstage, and that rowdy interaction makes them grow.


What’s interesting about spoken word is that the audience member who goes in there is gonna see such a bizarre range of styles. Certainly in the performance you have rap-rhyme styles, aggressive comedy, and punk accapella. The fact is that they’re all in the same room together, they’re all watching each other, and everybody’s performing. You learn a lot more by being pushed against your polar opposites, or people of different political ideologies. It definitely makes for some really intense conflicts, and opens up more channels of dialogue.


I feel that, especially after 8 Mile, freestyle battles are gonna grow the same way that slams do. At a certain point, all that matters is put up or shut up. It’s like, it’s all live. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter what the fuck you look like. In fact, if you look horrible, it almost adds to your charm if you just get up there and rip the place apart. The fact is, you can do it, and many people can’t. That whole live aspect of battles and slams (makes) those artforms get larger, because they’re so entertaining. Freestyle battles are also an easy way for an emcee to get a name for himself immediately, without having to convince you to buy his CD. I mean, he goes on, and he delivers. A slam poet is the same way. They’re both battling for cash, free trips, phone numbers, drugs, all of that.


Rachel: Let’s talk about your tour.


Jamie: We’re definitely gonna see the hybrid for sure. We’re gonna be in a hip hop environment, but probably performing for a primarily white audience. We’re gonna be doing our weird-ass hybrid of punk rock theatrics, screaming, flailing limbs, spit flying, and our hardcore aesthetic. That’s our whole approach: we even have a poem called “Dedicated to the Memory of Hardcore,” which is all about growing up as a punk, going to those shows, and what it meant to us.


It will be really interesting to see where that line is drawn, and who in that audience has their feet in both worlds. Frankly, I think it’s more than people think. I think a kid who listens to punk is much more likely to listen to rap than someone who listens to country is likely to listen to rap. It’s an inevitable merging of both of them. I don’t think there are many groups who have done the merge well –for that to happen, we might have to wait a while. It certainly hasn’t come about, yet –at least, not on MTV. But MTV is just a godless monolith doing slow-motion lobotomies on suburban teenage kids.


We have a whole bunch of shows: we have high schools, colleges, club gigs, bar shows, running a bunch of workshops. Actually, that’s another way that spoken word definitely merges with punk and hip hop, is when we go to high schools. What’s amazing about it is that punk rock kids often write lyrics and dark poems to themselves. If you go to certain schools, they immediately start writing rhymes, because they’re already writing rhymes. A poem to them is a rap, a rhyme, whatever I want to write about. The connection is more immediate, and it clicks with them right away. It’s the same with the kids who are into comedy: that form of expression clicks with them right away.


Rachel: Is it harder to make it as a black punk, or a white rapper?


Jamie: In a lot of skater culture the blend of rap and rock is almost unnoticeable.


I would say there’s more barriers to being a black punk than being a white rapper. I guess it’s because of the parasitic nature of white-owned record companies, and their desire to slash and burn into new terrain. I mean, even Eminem has a line that goes: “Let’s do the math/If I were black, I’d have sold half.” The fact is, those are the folks buying the rap. In some respects, that’s dirty, and no one wants to admit it.


But that’s also the reason that rap is so successful –it has suburbia by the balls. There’s that voyeuristic aspect, and it’s also easier to embrace a form of music that isn’t necessarily about your life. Rap glamorizes a life that most suburbanite kids are never gonna live. Most of them aren’t gonna be driving Mercedes Benzes with guns in the dash, selling kilos of coke, and all that.


But I think one of the commonalities between punk and hip hop that isn’t true about other forms of music is that they both embrace anti-heroes. Like, I don’t think Ol’ Dirty Bastard is all that different from Sid Vicious: they’re both walking wrecks. They’re applauded for the chaotic idiocy that they can perpetuate in any social environment, whether by slashing themselves with up or smoking crack and fucking a prostitute in the ass in the studio recording boot –which Ol’Dirty Bastard actually did. They actually took the sound of her head pounding against the window and added it to one of his beats.


I think that celebration of the anti-hero, and the outlaw sensibility is what’s intoxicating about both forms.


Rachel: What’s challenging about performing spoken word?


Jamie: One of the lines we wrote is that poetry in the wrong room is like trying to do ballet in a mosh pit. Most musicians never realize what a protective shield it is to have a wall of sound behind you. You don’t hear any of the dialogue happening in the audience, you don’t hear people screaming at each other, a fight could break out and you wouldn’t even hear it.


But when you’re doing spoken word, it’s you on the tightrope: it’s just your voice and the microphone. It’s not a one-sided conversation, either. The audience is alive, and interactive, and they can turn on you at any point if you piss them off. It’s highly dangerous to go out there and assume that people are gonna listen to you for whatever reason. The fact is, you have to be really going full steam, and just rocking the fuck out in this unflinching, blitzkrieg of verbal pyrotechnics. Because if they see weakness, it’s over. When we opened for The Dwarves, we did two different sets. The first was great, and during the second, they were drunk, they were rowdy, they didn’t know who the fuck we were and why we were preventing them from listening to The Dwarves. There was one crack of weakness –they just saw us flinch, and a near riot broke out. Beer bottles started flying.


That’s a lot of our approach for the stage thing. Unless there’s a threat of physical violence, our bars are lowered for any audience. The fact is, you just can’t fuck around. Any of that empty space –any time you go silent, anybody in the audience can yell as loud as you. The fact is, you can hear everybody, and they can hear. If you can hear me at the back of the bar, I can probably hear you. So having this entire concert hall with everybody amplified, and everybody almost on the same playing field, is dangerous as hell. Most people would never try it. Most rappers would never do an acapella set, because you just realize how stilted your lyrics sound if they’re not connected to a beat. I think that’s how we developed our style –to have that punchy rhythm, but at the same time not just sound like we’re in a vacuum talking to ourselves, and have a lot of interactive asides with the audience. It’s all about the way you say lines, and the different vocal inflections you have to get them on your side. You have to get them to listen.


If I’m in a band, you can be snorting a line of coke, fucking a girl in the bathroom, not watching at all, and still hear what song I’m playing. But spoken word requires an attention span, because it’s talking to you. It’s not song; it’s dialogue, it’s words flying out that you need to connect in your head to make an image of what the fuck I’m saying, and form an opinion about it. It’s like trying to teach a high school class.