By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Run-D.M.C. created the perfect dramatization of what can happen when rap and heavy metal collide in their landmark 1986 video for "Walk This Way." The now-classic image of Aerosmith's Steve Tyler and Joe Perry crashing through the wall of D.M.C.'s rehearsal studio to discover a parallel universe of tough attitude and over-the-top braggadocio established the connections that were so obvious, few people at the time could see them.
But that wall-shattering piece of drama was pure fiction, a touch of made-for-MTV poetic license. If you're looking for a true example of these musical forces merging, the formation of Phoenix rap-metal powerhouse Bionic Jive would be a solid bet.
Picture this: It's late in the evening at guitarist Larry Elyea's recording studio, and Elyea, bassist Richard Gartner and drummer Chris Elsner are still waiting for their tardy lead singer to show up for a session. After slamming down the phone in his umpteenth attempt to locate the missing front man, Elyea and crew launch into a loud, aggressive instrumental jam.
Meanwhile, in a corner of the studio, aspiring local rapper Ako Mack, still hanging out after putting in some earlier studio time on his own hip-hop album, cocks a curious ear and begins bobbing his head approvingly to the snarling, hard-core metal workout.
"We were just kind of fiddling around," recalls Elyea backstage at Boston's nightclub in Tempe, looking every bit the modern metalhead with a tight black bandanna crowning his shaved skull, "and Ako kind of leaned in to the mike and started making up some rhymes."
Gartner, an amiable redhead with a boyish grin recalling Judge Reinhold in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, imitates the tough, arms-crossed stance of the bearded, brooding Ako, who preferred not to be interviewed. "Ako kind of leaned in a little," mimics Gartner, "then a little more, and a little more . . ."
"He started freestyling over the music," Elyea continues, "and we were just blown away. To this day, I wish I had a tape rolling that night."
Fast-forward to another night six months later, when the imposing, rotund rapper Emerg McVay -- a longtime hip-hop partner of Mack's -- arrives at the studio to check out his buddy's new band.
"We had been doing it with Ako for a few months, and we recorded a demo," Elyea says. "And Ako had been doing a lot of intricate vocal overdubs, and we said, 'We wanna sound like that live.' So Ako said, 'Well, I got this hype man!' You know, somebody who could back him up. And it turned out to be Emerg."
"I remember his first day," Gartner says, laughing. "We were just jammin', Ako was doing his thing, and in comes this guy, all thugged-out. He had some, like, homey with him, walkin' in all bad."
"He's like, 'Aw, these white boys,'" Elyea drawls. "'Why's Ako bringing me down here?'"
"And then right in the middle of our jam," Gartner says, "Ako gives him the mike. And it's like his first time with loud rock music behind him."
McVay, sitting commandingly between the two rockers, wearing the requisite silver chain and stylishly braided hair of the hip-hop hova, finally chimes in. "It was my first time with live instruments, period," he rasps.
"And he was like, 'Whooaa!'" Gartner continues, emitting a loud, throaty howl. "After his first take, the look on his face was like . . ."
"Elevated," McVay interjects. "I went home that night and told my wife, 'Dude, you don't even know what just happened to me. I mean, the bass drum was thumpin' me in the back, the guitar was slappin' me around the shoulders." McVay's rocking his beefy frame back and forth in his chair now, imitating the moves of a battered prize fighter. "I was like, 'Oh, Gawd!'" he moans, "what is this?'"
To hear these guys describe the momentous birth of Bionic Jive -- whose debut album for Interscope Records, Armageddon Through Your Speakers -- drops in stores October 16, you'd think the disparate, interracial quintet invented the whole rap/rock fusion genre already populated by the likes of Rage Against the Machine, Korn and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But for Ako and Emerg, at least, the rush of rapping at full venom over ear-splitting heavy metal grunge was indeed an entirely new thrill.
"To give you an idea of how genuine it is," says Elyea, "when we met those guys, they were straight hip-hop. They had never heard Rage or Korn or Limp Bizkit. They'd heard of them, but they'd never bought their albums or listened to the stations that played them.
"So when they do their thing over our music, it's like the first time for them. It's genuine, it's real, because they weren't influenced by any of those bands. So everything they do is like doing it for the first time."
That thrill of invention comes through on Bionic's raucous, daring debut. Bouncing between metalicized hip-hop "woof-woof"s on the party-hardy "Hands to the Roof" and demonic fright-rock manifestos on shockers like "I Shot Lucifer" and "Break the Chains," the thugs-and-metalheads collusion manages to stir together fresh forbidden fruit from familiar ingredients.