THE MOUTHS THAT ROARED

LOCAL RAP RULERS PHUNK JUNKEEZ DON'T KNOW WHEN TO SHUT UP. IT'S MAKING THEM FAMOUS.

@rule:
@body:The album comprehensively displays the group's unabashedly white take on hip-hop. Reznik and Valiente's rapping is competently artless, at best, and occasionally degenerates into pseudo-Bill Murray, lounge-lizard rhyming. Valiente insists, though, that the Junkeez' white-inflected vocalese is every bit as valid as more traditional black styles.

"As far as anyone telling us, 'Your rap style is wack,' I'll say, 'It's weak to you, but our rap style is good to us, and if you think that you can step up, let's run the drum machine and go toe-to-toe.' You talk about my mama, I'll talk about yours," puffs Valiente. "We've been with this stuff for long enough to know what good raps and what bad raps are. We don't have to go up there with lickety-boom-sticky-boom-stickety, that kind of crap. You won't hear us, 'Yo, homeboy, check it.' "We had a write-up that said we had an overtly Caucasian rap style, which is cool with us. I wouldn't say that we take offense to being called overtly Caucasian."
If the Junkeez have a strength as rappers, it's their lyrics, which occasionally manage to transcend the vocalists' primitive skills on the mic. "Going Down to Buckeye" is a quirky celebration of the Arizona town that Rocky Point revelers pass through on their way to Mexico. "Thick Like Mornin' Dick" adequately conveys a snotty rage at being victimized by the recording-business run-around.

Musically, the album is just as hit-and-miss as the rapping. The Junkeez take average chances by mixing in thrash, metal and classic funk with straightahead hip-hop, but the low-budget production drops decidedly nonfat beats. The main attraction is the sampling, an art at which the Junkeez show modest promise. "Going Down to Buckeye," for instance, hums behind a postmodernized loop of the Who, Public Enemy, Tom Jones and "Disco Inferno." So why do thousands of Phoenicians pass right by the stacks of Dr. Dre discs in local record shops in search of the Junkeez' album? You could start with skin color, or, more specifically, the attitude of whiteness the Junkeez bring to hip-hop. In the hands of the Junkeez, hip-hop becomes a vital, new sound for white kids who've grown out of punk. Like the Beasties, the Junkeez translate hip-hop into an easy-to-digest formula for Generation Xers who wouldn't buy an Arrested Development album if their Doc Martens depended on it.

The scene at a typical Phunk Junkeez concert invariably resembles a vintage, Eighties, L.A. punk show more than it does a hip-hop jam. Fans throwing their hands in the air and bobbing their heads are replaced by skaters hurling themselves off the stage and frat boys behaving like bumper cars. In other words, racial demographics at Junkeez shows often resemble those in the Phoenix Country Club locker room.

While they've grown quite comfortable with their own whiteness, the Junkeez bristle at being lumped in the same category with other rappers of European descent. "People always ask how we feel about Vanilla Ice or Snow," whines Valiente, launching into a mock interview. "That's the dumbest question in the world. What do you think of Vanilla Ice or Snow?'"

Like many white rappers, Phunk Junkeez do acknowledge the stigma of being in the minority of a black-dominated industry, and they clearly grow self-conscious about it at times, as evidenced by their publishing moniker, Honkee Beat Music. But Valiente can still proclaim earnestly, "I like to say, 'We're not really white rappers.' I like to say, 'We're rappers.'"

The Junkeez' cocky, confrontational attitude is clearly both a cause and an effect of their popularity. Their rage-against-the-machine credo extends to the way the group regards its local competition, as well, in particular the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms.

Reznik likes to recall how, when he was younger, he and his friends would go to punk shows at which the Puppets were playing and wait for the group to leave the stage before entering the club. "I hated the shit," he says, snickering.

Valiente brags that when the Junkeez opened for the Puppets at one show at the now-defunct Silver Dollar Club, about 1,000 Junkeez fans left the venue before the headliner's set--a healthily exaggerated figure, according to at least one person at the show.

"We knew that we were being used to pull in the crowd," brags Valiente.
Meat Puppets' bassist Cris Kirkwood's response: "The Phunk Junkeez are incredibly and deservedly popular. They've got a huge amount of talent and star appeal. My band is a miserable bag of sod. They actually talk shit about other bands? That's funny. That's kind of a cool tactic."

But the Junkeez' contempt for the Meat Puppets doesn't come close to rivaling their disdain for the Gin Blossoms. The Junkeez' hypothesis for the Blossoms' success is that the band's label has teamed up with radio to cram the group down listeners' throats.

"They've got no heart and no balls," opines Valiente, admittedly no fan of the Blossoms' alternative-pop-rock sound. "I'd rather be able to say, 'Man, I've got some music that says, "Hey, fuck you, suck a dick."' Maybe they enjoy what they're doing. If that's the case, cool, but I'd rather stick to playing our kind of music and be happy with ourselves than have to go and get molded into this clich‚ of what alternative music is."
The Junkeez' hard-on for the Blossoms materialized when Reznik and Valiente allegedly heard someone from that group take a dig at the Junkeez during a radio interview for the Junkeez' frenetic "I Am a Junkee" video, which features a midget bodybuilder and Valiente break dancing. Valiente decided to retaliate when the Junkeez played last April's Q-Fest at Compton Terrace. Valiente says that following the Junkeez' last song, he departed by saying, "Thanks a lot. We're the Gin Blossoms."

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