On a balmy Thursday evening in Cave Creek, the members of Dislocated Styles, Phoenix's only seven-piece white hip-hop band, are sharing rounds of pale amber ale and appetizers at the Satisfied Frog. Joe Boogie (his legal name) plucks a deep-fried chili pepper from a platter of veggies and wings, smothers it in ranch dressing, then pops it into his mouth. Tortoise-shell horn rims manage to stay perched on his spiked blond mop as he leans toward the appetizer tray to score an onion ring.
Conversation bubbles from every corner of the table and Boogie's tenor cuts through the din. "We are a love band," he says in between bites. "There's no hidden message in our songs, no politics, just the universal groove of a good time. Our message is 'Drop all your problems at the door, come in and boogie.'"
It's a hard invitation to pass up. Spanking the Funky, the group's debut album, melds hip-hop's sweet liquid swagger with party-animal sensibilities. Think Michael Franti and Pauly Shore sharing a kegger. No, make that Wu Tang Clan meets Up With People. Using hip-hop as a springboard for its creative musings, the group assembles a party mix of Beastie raps, virtuosic guitar noodling and P-funk grooves. "Poison Booty Berry" is a catchy disco tune anchored by bass lines that flare with snap intensity, while "Breaker Breaker" piles on funk layers punctuated with turntable scratch.
"We don't really fit into the hip-hop scene," says MC Brandon Lawson. "Chuck [Epperly] provides the Van Halen influences, Greg [Forney] is like Elton John meets Joe Cocker and Joe is into bass-oriented funk. I guess you could say we're on the cusp."
Dislocated Styles got its beginning two and a half years ago in a moderately priced inn in north Phoenix, where Boogie worked the graveyard shift as the front-desk clerk. Between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m., when the lobby was as still as a corpse, Boogie would sneak his buddies, Epperly, Lawson and rapper Brian Hacker into the manager's office for nightly jams. The four musicians had been friends since junior high school.
"Joe would be wearing this suit and tie and he'd be coming up with beats on a cheesy four-track while his cooky blond hair would be sticking straight up in the air," remembers Lawson. "We'd all be smoking pot in the back."
Things rarely got complicated, except for one night. Hacker siphoned too much tequila from the hotel bar into his liver, rendering him unconscious. A guest seeking confection from a lobby vending machine saw the rapper's figure sprawled on the carpet, opened his mouth to scream, then fled to his room like one of the escapees in Dawn of the Dead. Boogie was sure he'd take heat from management, but the nightly sessions continued without interruption.
The next week, Epperly was hanging out at a Wendy's restaurant in Phoenix, speaking loudly about his band, when he was overheard by Forney, a keyboardist and Deadhead from New Jersey who'd just moved to the desert. The two hit it off over fries and hamburgers and the next day Forney was added to the lineup. Todd Sonnenberg and Jason Dubree joined later, filling out the sound with drums and turntable scratch.
Cutting their teeth on the punk scene (they played hip-hop, but their earliest gigs were punk shows), Dislocated Styles got off to a rough start. Their first gig was 5 p.m. on a Monday at the Mason Jar. To their surprise, the mostly under-twentysomething band was shown to the exit directly after their show when Forney tried to sneak in a beer.
Lawson remembers times when the group would come out onstage wearing ski masks or dressed to the hilt (Boogie, a self-dubbed Prince wannabe, would sometimes don cheetah pants, pink pumps and a wig). "These kids with crazy haircuts just stood there with glazed looks on their faces," he recalls. "They didn't get it."
In fact, nobody got it. One day they went on KDKB and listeners called in, saying things like, "What the hell are you playing on the radio?"
"People were expecting John Cougar Mellencamp and instead they got us," says Boogie. "I didn't care. I have my grandma to play music for. I take care of her every day. She likes us. She thinks we're called 'Discredited and Stupid.'"
With support from family and friends, the septet persevered and within the year a friend had ponied up $4,000 to record an album. They soon paid back the cash by selling discs and merchandise, then recorded another CD, All Rights Reserved, and toured extensively, sharing stages with the Phunk Junkeez, Goldfinger and Fishbone.
Dislocated Styles may sound like hard-core hip-hop, but their lyrics suggest otherwise. "We don't write about typical stuff," says Boogie. "We write songs about girls, about being an MC--even about fruit!" The song "Grapefruit," he points out, is about waking up in the morning, playing bass and drinking grapefruit juice.
Often, the lyrics tangle and intersect like water currents in a maelstrom, making it difficult to understand their content at all. It's no wonder listeners come up with skewed interpretations. Lawson remembers a soundman at one club approaching him after a show, full of compliments and his own version of how the lyrics went. "The song 'Strut Your Stuff' normally goes, 'From the back to the middle/From the middle to the front,'" says Boogie. "Well this guy thought it was: 'She's kind of fat in the middle/She's got a pimple on her butt.' I was like, 'whatever!'"
Mostly, though, the lyrics have party overtones. "We're a love band," Boogie reiterates. "We love everybody. Before every show, we do a group huddle and thank the spirits that be. I pray before each show."
"Yeah," says Forney. "He prays to the porcelain god."
Some of the songs are more serious than most of the bands members realize, says Lawson, who counts among his influences Boot Camp Click and The Roots. "A lot of it is about me dealing with my own personal demons. See, I'm always worried about shit. I'm a hypochondriac. Growing up, I was always saying to my mom, 'What's this lump, what's that gland?'"
"He'll do the same thing with lyrics," says Dubree. "'Dude, does it sound whacked? Is it okay?'"
Truth is, Lawson rarely sleeps. He often finds himself at night lying in bed, visualizing eight-measure phrases, then trying to find rhyming words to fit in those phrases. He chalks it up to a habit he learned in high school.
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"Back then, I would stay up night on end writing and writing. A lot of the dark stuff in the lyrics are about my problems growing up and being on meth. While I was in high school, I had to go to rehab."
The song "Riders of the Silence" reads like the delirious ravings of a sleep-starved poet: "You can't domesticate the soul/It pushes buttons and controls/The seance of the assassins it's your silence that I'm grasping uncontrolled/The dangerous of terrorists/A mind-seeking missile/The poetry of madness loaded in my pistol."
These days, Lawson would rather write about cooking. "I want to be a chef," he concedes. "Cooking shows inspire me. I use a lot of the vocabulary, like souffle, gourmet, savor, flavor, eat, treat, beat. Rapping is like cooking. You've got different ingredients and you put them all together and make a stew."