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Reznik and Valiente also met up with a phenomenon that many white rappers face on the road to success. Ever since the Beastie Boys whitened hip-hop forever, industry execs have had wildly divergent ideas about what white rappers should sound like. Various Caucasians who've made hip-hop albums for major labels have been accused of everything from sounding too white to coming off too black.
Caught up in the hunt for a recording deal, Reznik and Valiente found themselves gamely trying to follow a soundstorm of advice, including some from Ice-T's producers. "They were trying to make us more black-oriented, not necessarily like Vanilla Ice, but more along the lines of a 3rd Bass, yo-homeboy type of rap. At the time, everybody in L.A. was telling us, 'This would be a good thing for you guys to do.'"
The labyrinth the hip-hop industry sent Reznik and Valiente running through would've been enough to permanently embitter and/or kill most groups. But Reznik and Valiente's passion for their music never waned. They simply couldn't imagine doing anything else. Indeed, the two have classic, slacker work ethics. Valiente, who says he ended high school with three credits to his name, worked in a car lot after dropping out. Reznik says he supported himself with part-time delivery jobs and a stint playing, of all things, minor-league indoor soccer in the Midwest.
Through the years they've been together, Reznik and Valiente say, they've had no trouble getting along, despite radically opposing personalities. Valiente's crew cut and habit of cocking his head to one side and piercing you with one bugged-out eyeball brings to mind the intensity of a Johnny Rotten or a Henry Rollins. His hyper energy is in stark contrast to the laid-back demeanor of Reznik, who often can't get a word in edgewise during the length of a two-hour interview. Nevertheless, Valiente is the self-described nice guy of the two. He claims to have helped mellow out his partner's straight-edge punk tendencies by turning Reznik on to pot, the b-boy drug of choice.
Today, the thing they admire most about each other is their perseverance, which enabled them to conquer their recording-biz-inspired self-doubt. When it was clear BumRap was done for in 1990, Reznik and Valiente decided to give their partnership another shot, with a new formula they hoped would help them turn the corner: They decided to be their pale, not-quite-funky selves, the essence of what would become Phunk Junkeez.
The duo began quietly with a show at the now-defunct Chuy's in 1990, using a tape deck as a band. Drawing on the following they'd built in their previous incarnations, the Junkeez were soon drawing hundreds of people.
Then, in 1991, the group's manager, Larry Serrin (Sir Mix-a-Lot's former front-office man), was able to parlay his industry connections into a recording deal with Ichiban. The group was getting nibbles from major labels, but echoes of what L.A. had done to the duo were enough to make Reznik and Valiente resist the labels' advances.
"The majors' vibe was, 'Yeah, we like it. We'll give you a production deal, you go out, cut us a demo, bring it back and we'll see what we can do,'" says Valiente. "But we weren't getting any, 'Yes! Fuck, we're behind you, man.' We just came to the decision that we were gonna go with an independent."
At the time of the signing with Ichiban, though, the Junkeez were still one key move away from turning into the live monster they've become. Valiente sensed the group had hit a plateau with its precarious sound setup.
"We'd mix our own sound onstage. We'd hit 'pause' on the tape deck, all that kind of shit," he says. "We started . . . not necessarily losing the energy, but I was thinking, 'Fuck, man, if we could put a band behind us. . . .'"
The band they found, Freak Squad, had warmed up for Reznik and Valiente, but the Junkeez didn't pay much attention at first. Then Valiente went to see the Squad at a later show. "I sat in the front row, and thought they had a smokin' rhythm section. After the show, I said, 'Hey, would you guys like to play with us and lose your lead singer?'"
Freak Squad lost the singer in late 1991, and the Junkeez' broader live sound added enough energy to boost the attendance level at their shows to its current, near-riot levels.
The band also rounded out the Junkeez' self-titled debut. Produced by drummer and friend Michael Mavrolas and ex-Dazz Band member Marlon McLain, Phunk Junkeez was released last February. It's shown up on radio here and there across the country, including local alternative outlet KUKQ-AM. The group even got airplay in Australia, where one deejay played harmonica to the Junkeez' song "Thick Like Mornin' Dick" during an interview.
Sales of the disc are booming in the Valley. Ichiban says an estimated 7,000 copies have been sold locally. Phunk Junkeez has been lodged on local chain Zia Record Exchange's Top 25 list for several months.
"It's cool to pull up to Zia and hear somebody in their Camaro just pumpin' the shit," enthuses Valiente.