By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
On a television screen in a quiet, north Phoenix home, a frightening scene is playing itself out. It's a musical snuff film. The victim? Hip-hop.
In the video, Phunk Junkeez, two local rappers with the same skin color as Vanilla Ice, is whipping a crowd of more than 1,000 white people at Paradoxx into a complete frenzy. Skate punks and slackers leap off the stage and bob on top of the crowd. Groupies gyrate in the front row. One wise guy picks up drumsticks and starts bashing away on a standup kit near the front of the stage. At one point during the show, the rappers, whose stage names are K-Tel Disco and Soulman, lead the crowd in a massive chant: "Lick my balls! Suck my dick!" Everyone roars.
K-Tel Disco and Soulman deliver their lines with a headlong rush of white-punk energy and the self-conscious goofiness of Caucasians plying a thoroughly African American art form. A Public Enemy recording spins on the deejay's turntable at one point, but the beats throughout are often more akin to hard-core punk than hard-core hip-hop. The mosh pit revolves as much to the buzzing guitar as to the funky drum riffs.
Kirk Reznik, 26, and Joe Valiente, 22, the aforementioned K-Tel Disco and Soulman, respectively, sit on Reznik's bed in his parents' home, watch the videotape of that night and roll in hysterics. The surroundings include a wall full of black-light posters of naked women with large Afros, a collection of lava lamps, a pot pipe resting in front of the TV. The wall also has a series of holes punched in it, the result of a row between Reznik and a girlfriend. "That shit was haywire," Reznik says, giggling and watching the riot scene on tape. "I don't remember none of this show. I was drunk as shit."
On this afternoon in June, neither Reznik nor Valiente has any apologies for the way they've roughed up hip-hop and rearranged its face. Together since 1985, the heyday of such rappers as Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J, Reznik and Valiente have paid a fortune in dues to get where they are. At the moment, they're arguably the most popular local band in Phoenix, more popular even than mainstays like the Gin Blossoms and the Meat Puppets. Where the Blossoms and the Puppets are internationally recognized and critically celebrated, the Junkeez maintain a local following just as rabid, if not more so. Over the past year, the Junkeez have routinely played before local crowds of 1,000 or more.
The newfound success has left Reznik and Valiente with a chip on their collective shoulder as big as a boom box. They smirk at the way major labels wouldn't give them the time of day until the labels noticed that Phunk Junkeez had sold 20,000 albums for Naked Language Records, an alternative imprint of Atlanta-based indie Ichiban Records. The two gleefully reminisce about the time they dumped pitchers of water on the heads of their own label's executives. When the subject of hallowed heroes of Phoenix music rolls around, they aim for the kneecaps. And they turn up their noses, for the most part, at hot, new rappers, preferring to give props to old-school masters like Schoolly D.
"If I was to compare us to anyone, I'd say Run-D.M.C. and Sex Pistols," states Valiente, with no apparent irony.
The future Soulman first met the future K-Tel Disco at Moon Valley Park in north Phoenix, a gathering place for pre-twentynothings who lived in the area. Reznik, who had previously played in a variety of punk bands, was rapping with a friend to a beat box atop the bed of his 4 x 4 truck. Valiente, a hip-hop fiend and deejay who'd moved to Phoenix after growing up Jerklike in a black section of North Carolina, walked up and asked to join in.
Thus the earliest incarnation of Phunk Junkeez, the aptly named White Boy Rap, was born as a trio. That group's major accomplishment? "We weeded someone out," says Valiente, laughing at the way his partnership with Reznik began. "That's about it."
Reaction to White Boy Rap eerily foreshadowed the response Phunk Junkeez would get at live shows. "It was weird, because even then, we were doing rap, but we had a pit going," says Valiente.
In 1987, WBR gave way to BumRap, a concerted effort to attract industry notice. "It was time to take it seriously, and either try to get a record deal or get out of it," Valiente remembers.
BumRap gained a modicum of respect, warming up for acts including De La Soul, Hammer and N.W.A. in Phoenix, Las Vegas and L.A. "If a show would come through, they'd call on the local white boys," says Valiente.
Not everyone was amused by the novelty. BumRap ran squarely into one hostile black audience in Las Vegas that wasn't about to give Reznik and Valiente props without making them jump through some hoops first. "We played in front of 4,000 people, warming up for Heavy D and the Boyz, Salt n' Pepa, N.W.A. and Eazy-E," recalls Valiente. "The first song, they said, 'Oh, these are white boys, fuck em.' I look over at Kirk, Kirk looks over at me, we were like, 'Shit!' We were just gonna walk offstage, but we stuck it out. The second song, they kind of shut up. Third song, they were kind of into it. Fourth song, when we left, we got a little props. And they quit booing."