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If you could pick one symbol of the way hip-hop has infiltrated American society to its core, it might be Dave Bowers' car. Parked on a Scottsdale street lined with neat suburban houses, it's a wholly respectable Honda Accord, except for the two bumper stickers that howl B-boy rebellion. One is the oval Phillies Blunt logo, a universally subversive way for rappers and their fans to show they're down with the pro-pot movement. The second displays the hard-core singles ad: "I Want a Gangsta Bitch."
Inside his folks' house, Bowers sits with his friends Mike Bradford and Jahmal Graves, all Scottsdale young men in their early 20s who look as if they're earnestly playing the part of hard-core rappers. All wear shaved or stubbled heads underneath their appropriate headgear--baseball caps for Bowers and Graves and a ski hat for Bradford. Bowers and Bradford also have the requisite billy-goat beards hanging off their chins. Talk to them for a minute and they're so polite and soft-spoken, without an unkind word for almost anyone, you'd swear their only hookup with hip-hop comes each afternoon when they park their behinds in front of Yo! MTV Raps.
There is, however, one thing that sets them apart from the upper-class milieu pumping Dr. Dre in the Jeeps their daddies bought them: Their group, Brothers Grimm, is so funky, authentic, hard-core and faithful to hip-hop, you want to check their driver's licenses for Compton addresses. Even if they're all twentysomething Scottsdalians, they do as good an imitation of the South Central sound as you're likely to hear. The implication, of course, is that you don't have to live the inner-city experience anymore to excel at the rough music born on its unforgiving streets.
Shrugging off the effect their privileged turf has on the Brothers' music, Bowers likes to ply the well-worn bromide, "It's not where you're from. It's where you're at."
The record industry, in particular, seems to buy that line. Since the group formed last summer, execs have been swarming. Ruffhouse Records' top man, Joe Nicolo, executive producer of such hip-hop heaviness as Cypress Hill and Kris Kross, called the group in October to rave about the Brothers' demo tape. It didn't take long for the Grimms to sign on Nicolo as their executive producer. Nicolo nearly landed a deal with Geffen for the group, but pulled the carrot away when Guns N' Roses' label would only offer a deal for a 12-inch single with an album option. Currently, the Brothers figure their best bet is probably G Street, an Island Records subsidiary.
The group's been getting some sweet live work, too. It's warmed up for Cypress Hill and House of Pain. And this week, it's the only local act invited to play at Lollapalooza 93.
Why is the recording and concert business spoiling these Scottsdale kids? The overriding attraction of the group is Bowers' gift for producing. On a five-song demo, he displays a skill that easily puts him on par with today's hottest hip-hop producers, jam meisters like Dr. Dre and Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs. Songs from the group's demo like "Get the Phunk Up," "Wreckin It" and "Jimmy Dooley" come out blasting with relentlessly funky rhythm loops, ridiculously catchy hooks and samples that drop like a sweetened-up Bomb Squad mosaic.
A former rock drummer, Bowers crafts the beats for each song on a sampling percussion instrument and layers up to 30 samples off old LPs carefully labeled and stacked in a bedroom studio he calls "The Lab." Where many rappers build their sound strictly from the canon of funk elite like James Brown and George Clinton, you're more likely to find a Ted Nugent or John Coltrane record in the main stack Bowers heads to for most of the Grimm sound.
Bowers is proud he's got one of the busiest sounds around, but admits he has a tendency to go overboard. "If you can take 20 different snippets and make it fit, that's what I'm about," he explains. "I don't like to take one song and sample five different things. I like to try to find little things from everywhere. On the other hand, you can have a good street track and wreck it by having so many sounds."
Of the three Grimms, the 24-year-old Bowers' (who goes by Flex-All onstage) gutbucket roar is the most identifiable, probably because it so closely approximates the bass tone of House of Pain's Everlast. Like his more famous sound-alike, whom Bowers admits being influenced by, the Grimm Brother spits out rhymes that don't so much flow as snap off.
Bradford (stage name Piehead), 22, is the closest thing the Brothers Grimm have to a vocal headliner. On "Wreckin It," his raspy-tinged raps rise above the beats at times and surf them as if the rhymes were waves. Bradford's lyrics stand out, too, particularly his goofy sports metaphors (I'll do you like Rose did baseball") and decidedly un-hip-hop name checks of Slayer and the Grateful Dead.