Yo, you wanna smoke some weed?
Chances are, this is the first thing you'll hear from HotRock SupaJoint once he walks through the door.
This particular Saturday night, he's crashing through the gates of Chop N Wok, a Chinese takeout bar in North Scottsdale. The instant the tall, gangly rapper swings into the room, packed with yuppies, bros, and ladies in tight dresses, heads swivel in his direction like a high-speed sunflower time lapse.
Even sans skunk smoke, HotRock's hard to ignore. He's 6-foot-5 (not counting boots and wig), shrink-wrapped in girly leggings with tatted sleeves draped in bracelets, his shirt flung open, and he's got stoner emblems and pot-leaf bling dangling over his scrawny stomach.
In fact, it's impossible not to stare.
And stare they do. Who the hell is this guy? He has Weird Al Yankovic's hair and Hunter S. Thompson's cigarette-chomping teeth on his string-bean body. Is this dude for real?
Immediately, a guy in a beer T-shirt taps him on the shoulder. "I just had to shake your hand," he says to SupaJoint. The stoner smiles broadly and extends his palm in return.
Not a second later, a few young women ask HotRock to pose for a selfie, which he gladly does for each in turn. Next, somebody offers to buy him a beer.
"I don't drink, homie," HotRock smiles. "Just weed."
The bar patron nods, countering with: "I don't smoke, but I do break out the white stuff every once in a while."
"I don't do that either," HotRock says.
The night is young, but drinks have been kicking through bloodstreams for some time now. The venue is hosting a hip-hop-focused open mic, and performers have been spitting rhymes for the past hour. Lyrics about dick size, "bitches," inflated ego, and gangsta shit abound, but so far not much sparks the imagination.
Flying pigs and surfboards dangle from the ceiling between Chinese lanterns advertising Tsingtao. A few graffiti artists are live-painting near the wall. A UFC match blinks on one of the many TVs — a highlight reel of bloody, slow-motion blows cuts back to talking heads in suits who dissect the violence. But no one pays attention to any of it once the lanky, hairy dude in bulbous sunglasses takes the stage.
He has quite the introduction: "My name is HotRock / And I'm the punk rock hip-hop thick cock / I'm makin' bras pop and booties drop / Yeah, makin' panties sop, quick go get a mop."
SupaJoint rocks two iPads and a microphone, but sometimes, like tonight, he substitutes his iPhone for his drum machine. He builds his beats using apps like Audiobus and ThumbJab, but he never stays near his setup for long — most of the time he raps while weaving through the crowd, getting as close as people will let him. And people seem to love it, even if they can only return nervous smiles to his hot breath.
"You know who I want to get high with?" HotRock asks his dazzled audience.
"Me!" shouts a young lady in the front.
"Yo," he says, laughing, "If you meet me in the parking lot later, let's do it."
He starts his song "Zach Galifianakis," a tongue-in-cheek tune written in the hopes that the Birdman star will discover him and want to collaborate or, better yet, get stoned with him. In fact, HotRock wants to get stoned with everybody.
And true to his word, he does light up with some folks in the parking lot afterward. But HotRock gets people pumped even without THC. Everywhere he goes, camera phones snap, eyes bulge, girls dance, and grind along with him as he raps about weed, pot, ganja, reefer, blunts, and more weed.
HotRock's tunes are all about good stoner vibes, sidestepping discussion about things like guns, cops, getting arrested, or any of that "downer shit," as he puts it.
"SupaJoint is to help people forget about their fucking mortgage and day job for two minutes," he says after the show. "Talk to people about the bad shit in your free time, but I gotta make that weed money so I gotta keep it dumb and fun and full of cum."
At one point during his set, HotRock tilts back his oversize wig, revealing a sparkling, chrome-domed scalp. He pulls at his seemingly tattooed sleeves, stretching the nylon, distorting the Sailor Jerry-style marks.
"People love it when I do that," he grins later. "Hip-hop is all about keeping it real. I'm all about keeping it fake."
Why be one person when you can be two? Why can't you be seven? You, as a writer, you can be 15 motherfucking people I don't even know.
Michael Comunale had stated it as a challenge. In a high-pitched voice, he'd introduced himself as HotRock SupaJoint, then later as Mike Red, but this, too, was not his real name.
It was early February 2014. The last whimpers of winter already were getting shaken off, and SupaJoint was participating in bong rips. He was becoming well known in the local music scene, landing shows left and right, his bizarre name showing up on flyer after flyer.
That night, he was wearing amber-tinted aviators, a sand-shaded leather jacket over matching red pants, and a button-up shirt. Each finger sported a ring, sometimes two or three, his fingernails etched black in Sharpie. And, of course, he was wearing his gargantuan wig draped down past his shoulders.
He took a writer aside and claimed that his offstage name is Mike Red. He also mentioned that he owned and operated a record label, 56th Street Records, and once was the trombone player in the band Sunorus.
On another occasion a year later, he reveals that Mike Red isn't his real name. During his days as a fire-eater, he explains, the name Comunale was too hard for crowds to remember. So he adopted Red.
Out of costume, Comunale could be seen dressed somewhat like a beatnik — dark-colored sweaters, jeans, occasionally even a beret. The goatee was always there whatever the wardrobe. In late May, he sits down for an interview with New Times.
At first, he's hesitant. He's been performing as HotRock SupaJoint for going on five years and has been guarded about his identity for good reason — after all, cannabis still is illegal on many levels, and Comunale only recently became a medical-marijuana patient. Plus, he has to think about his wife and child.
It's strange to think about him as a father and husband when he sings, "I wanna rock out / With my motherfuckin' cock out / Say my name and pull them titties out."
There's also his day job, which he's had for eight years, driving around Phoenix in his Prius and taking photos of events at hotels. It pays the bills, he says, but he's never baked while doing it — if his employers, whom he's only ever talked to online, knew that he smoked weed, he'd be fired.
Naturally, revealing all this about his alter ego makes Comunale nervous.
"But it's time," he says. And then he sparks up the bowl, inhales deep, lets it sit, and then pushes it all out.
Instead of being vacuum-sealed into sparkling girl pants, as he often is, Comunale's wearing plain black sneakers, jeans, and a plain dark T. In place of kooky sunglasses, he's wearing black-rimmed prescription lenses. He's smoking weed in his wife's studio, grinding nugs on an official Wiz Khalifa rolling tray. "This Lucky Charms is fucking awesome," Comunale says, listing off various strains he's recently acquired: Night Fire, Killer Whale, Oprah, Stomper, and Grape God, among others. "Grape God's always good," he says.
After a few tokes from a small blue pipe, Comunale dives in. Born and raised in the Valley, he's spent his 44 years being as creative as possible. He's always been involved in an entertainment project, whether it be solo acts like the shoegaze Sounds of Birds, the funky stylings of Tijuana Poker Sharks, or jazz fusion in Arms of the Sun — even metal covers of Christmas songs in the short-lived SLEIGHERaz. For several weeks in 2008, he even directed and produced his own TV show, Television Noir, with the Reverend Stephen Strange.
Getting into character comes naturally for him. After graduating from Trevor G. Browne High School in 1989, he spent two years taking on the Brad Majors character in Rocky Horror Picture Show productions at Westridge Mall (now known as Desert Sky). He describes his group of friends at the time as "fucking pot smokers and tweakers [doing] whatever the fuck we could . . . a lot of acid."
It was while hanging out with these folks that Comunale got involved in a gang. Sort of. See, not all his tattoos are bogus — Comunale pulls up his jean cuff and reveals ancient ink of a rabbit, which many might recognize as the logo for 56th Street Records, his boutique label.
"56th Street Easter Bunnies: hop, hop, hop; peace, love, and chocolate cake," he says, grinning and posing like a gangsta. He explains that chocolate cake was a euphemism for marijuana, of course, and 56th Street was the neighborhood with the "most bitching" houses in the early '90s. The name also was a tongue-in-cheek response to an actual skinhead gang called the 56th Street Grizzly Bears — "Fuck those punks," Comunale says.
Though he was not a founding member of the Easter Bunnies "gang," he did transform the idea into his label of the same name, which so far has put out nearly 40 records in its 15 years, including two SupaJoint albums, with a third on the way. Local bands associated with the label include Andy Warpigs, RPM Orchestra, Bacchus and the Demon Sluts, and Soft Deadlines.
"None of it fucking makes any sense. And who cares? Because in the grand scheme of things, it'll make sense to somebody," Comunale says, shrugging. "That says a lot about what I do. Let's go on a limb. Let's get that idea out there. Let's move on to another idea."
If anyone were to shatter the stereotype that stoners are stupid, lazy, or unmotivated, it would be HotRock. Pulling an 18-hour day on a project is not uncommon for him. He will spend more than 24 hours in the studio, knocking out records at a lightning pace, and the same goes for shooting and producing music videos for the bands on 56th Street.
"[His approach is] two to three hours of filming, with editing done usually by the time the sun comes up the following morning. It's ridiculous," says Jared "Orangubang" Bangert, a Phoenix-based rapper whose debut album, The Hip Less Hopped, was released on 56th Street. "He has twice the motor of most people half his age," Bangert adds.
Comunale's wife, Kiersten, says she has to bring her husband food; otherwise he forgets to eat. She describes his work ethic as a type of short-lived, intense mania, but no one can deny it gets shit done.
"He hyper-focuses, so if he's working on a project, it's like a tunnel, [blocking out] literally everything around him, unless someone's like, 'Oh, my God, I'm bleeding!'" Kiersten says. "Maybe [he'll have] a cigarette break here or there or smoke a little something . . . I mean, who does that? Who works for 18 hours [straight] on one thing? . . . He's lucky he's got me, who's cool with that. Because there's times where you're, like, come on? And then it's done. And then it's the next thing."
"Was the quality there? Hey, fuck it!" Comunale says. "You know, if I'm low-brow art, so be it. If it's not all produced to the fucking nines, I'm fine with that."
The Lost Leaf in downtown Phoenix is packed with skulls bobbing to a sick beat, and HotRock is up to his elbows in the crowd. Then, the music cuts out and everyone is silent. Local hip-hop star Dadadoh and HotRock SupaJoint are locked face-to-face.
"Man, I love the music," Dadadoh says loudly, staring down HotRock. "But couldn't he curse a little less?"
From HotRock comes a booming "No." And then, "That's it! First take! We got it, yo!"
HotRock is filming a scene for his movie, Fakest: A Hip Hopera Mockumentary, and he's just wrapped up the final shots for the scene where HotRock tries to freestyle, then performs "Dope as Fuck (DAF)."
SupaJoint explains,"It's three minutes between each song on the [31-track] album, three to five minutes. Just a little setup; we'll crack a few dumb jokes about weed and — boom! — here's the song and the video for that song."
Not exactly a small number of scenes to capture, but by this point, HotRock says he's filmed and edited about 75 percent of Fakest. It will be about 60 minutes long — not quite feature-length, but still impressive, especially given that SupaJoint technically has been filming for only less than a month. Yes, in between playing gigs, running around at his day job, managing his label, raising his kid, and supporting his wife, he's been filming nonstop. He's been sleeping even worse than usual.
After SupaJoint steps outside to smoke some — well, you know — he returns for a proper set. Folks are grooving along with him in the packed venue, everyone bringing their thumbs and index fingers to their lips in a joint-smoking motion.
"This song is about weed," SupaJoint announces before diving into his next track. "Well, they're all about weed."
At one point, SupaJoint forgets his own lyrics, which often happens at his gigs. He's mastered shrugging it off, however, in a way that makes his crowds forgive him. If anything, the man has a knack for improvisation. A good amount of such training comes from his DIY show, Television Noir, which also happens to be where the idea for HotRock SupaJoint originated.
Like most of Comunale's erratic ideas, this one came during a joint-smoking session with the Reverend Strange. In costume, the two look a bit alike — "He's the short one, I'm the tall one, but we're both bald ones," Comunale says. The pair filmed and edited everything together, even the commercials. The 2008 series spanned only 13 episodes on Arizona's independent station, KAZT-TV, but the demanding 60-hour workweeks (on top of everyone's day job) came very close to destroying the duo's friendship.
"[It was] produced, filmed, and edited by two people with a full circle of maybe six," Comunale recalls. "And my focus goes — whoosh — like that onto getting that done. And three months later, we were on TV with 10 sponsors who paid us money to put commercials on our show to cover the $1,000-a-week cost."
"That always blew my mind: We could be editing this tape down to the minute, then drive like crazy over to the studio . . . and in a day or two, it was on the air," Strange says. "Television Noir . . . definitely changed our friendship. There were some moments . . . We just had too much of each other because . . . we spent just about every single moment together either editing or shooting or writing."
Strange and Comunale met in the late '90s when Comunale wanted to learn how to spit and eat fire. Strange, who describes himself as a "stunt magician," tells me he wasn't eager to teach this lanky stranger anything, afraid he might accidentally incinerate himself.
"But it became apparent as soon as we started working together that he was my go-to guy," Strange recalls. "I think one of the reasons we worked together was 'cause he was just one of those guys who's like, 'All right, let's try it!'"
In 2004, Strange and Comunale began Theater Noir, a variety show hosted at the now-defunct Space Theater, which showcased sideshow antics like straitjacket breakouts, pounding testicles, and eating light bulbs and razor blades. When the duo discovered how to purchase programming time, they decided to do a TV version of their stage show of a TV show — thus, Television Noir was born.
The Mountain Man sketch (a grizzly man who hunted urban giraffes, played by Mark Stinson, who also plays sax in Sunorus) is where HotRock got his woolly wig. Comunale borrowed the headpiece for a character in a tattoo commercial.
"Yo! My name is Mike Cables, I'm down here at Rebel Art Tattoo. I'm gonna get a tattoo — yeah!" Comunale can still remember his lines, apparently. "There's a lot of yelling — ye-aaah! — in Television Noir because we didn't have a good microphone, and if you wanted it picked up, you had to project."
After Arizona legalized medical marijuana in November 2010 and the state government did everything in its power to overturn it, Comunale decided to do a cannabis-themed band. The idea came to him while smoking, of course, and he tapped Tato Caraveo, who at that time went by Volkom, a muralist and musician who books shows at the Lost Leaf.
"We practiced twice, had two shows. I was out on my porch, focused in, and came up with the whole first album's beats in a week," Comunale says. "[Caraveo] would play live bass on it. We went in and recorded that shit and mixed it in 12 hours. Done."
"We both wanted to do something different and have fun with it," Caraveo says. "Though I didn't have as much time as I would've liked to devote to it, I had to step down and not hold HotRock back with my schedule."
But with eight music videos and two full-length albums, SupaJoint himself shows no signs of slowing down. His third album, The SupaJoint Manifesto, is slated for release just a few days before he plans to release the film, which is July 12.
The new record is the first time SupaJoint has had someone else craft beats, bringing in Justin Beemer, a.k.a. BEEMasterJ, for three songs. It gives HotRock a far more polished edge. John Banks Jr., whom HotRock worked with on previous albums and played alongside in many bands, returns with his sultry guitar licks, making Manifesto HotRock's most refined work yet.
But Comunale's finest work has to be how he mentors the artists on 56th Street. Before Andy Warpigs, a folk punk singer-songwriter, became attached to 56th Street Records as the semi-official A&R representative, he was going through a rough time, and Comunale became a guidance figure to the young artist, not to mention helped him produce Warpigs' debut album, Folk Punk Yourself.
"[Comunale] is very engaging. He's a lot like a motivational speaker or maybe a cool teacher, where he can kind of reach into a person and bring out potential," Warpigs says. "He wants them to be engaged. He'll go and actually make that extra effort to connect. That's why he bought that fucking wireless microphone — so he can go all the way to the back of the venue and talk to someone who's sitting in a chair trying to be, like, leave me alone. He's like, 'Hey, how's it going man?'"
"He took Andy Warpigs under his wing . . . and Andy's mom said to Michael, 'You saved him,'" Kiersten recalls. "Now look at Andy. He's doing great. Mike was so humble about that. And it's what he wants to do."
Comunale may be so absorbing because he's an earnest believer in reiki, a Japanese healing technique related to chakras and auras that aims "qi" or "universal life energy" at people to treat disease. SupaJoint even claims this methodology is what got him clean from a brief period of heroin addiction in 2001. He began smoking H after he spiraled into depression following the September 11 attacks.
"That fucked up my world . . . People are running airplanes into buildings, and I'm fucking freaking out . . . and somebody busts out the fucking heroin. And it's a chick. And so you say, yeah, let's do it," Comunale says. "Yeah, I quit. I went and had a fucking full body cleansing. I dealt with my shit. I slept a whole lot and said I'm not doing this anymore."
The stoner star hasn't done hard drugs in over a decade and hardly even boozes anymore, saying his estimate of 12 drinks in the past 12 months might be high. Now, whenever he's out and about, SupaJoint says he mentally beams his reiki spark at folks. Whether it's qi or not, something definitely seems to happen.
"I charge people up with good energy . . . When I'm out as HotRock, when I'm out in public just radiating as much as I can," SupaJoint says. "I believe in our ability to send positive energy to people."
HotRock practically is on his knees at Grand Avenue Pizza Company as he belts out the lyrics to "Sensitive Drake Type Shit (High)" a song that, while still about marijuana, focuses more on actual singing than rapping. This time, he's not bouncing around the audience, getting in everyone's face; he's focused solely on one person — wife Kiersten.
In the song, SupaJoint romances her about watching Redbox movies together, appreciates her thrift-store finds, and promises to take her on a spa date. It's as goofy as his other songs, but this one's far more personal.
And while Kiersten's probably heard the song a thousand times, she's still gushing. After all, the song is about her and was written around the couple's wedding anniversary. They've now been married for a decade, and it was actually the Reverend Stephen (yes, he's an actual minister) who performed their ceremony.
Kiersten is a sculptor and a full-time mom, and she's been more than supportive of her husband's various projects. She often lent a hand on Television Noir, and Baby K, as she's often referred to in HotRock's lyrics, is her husband's stylist, responsible for his eccentric fashion.
"When it first started, he was just wearing his cowboy shirt and Levi's," Kiersten says. She suggested hot-pink girl pants instead. "It just got crazy. I just started getting him sequins and metallic. I was trying to think of Bowie and Queen, even like Guns N' Roses. I just mashed them all together."
So what's it like being HotRock's only squeeze? Does it get old after a while? Is it uncomfortable watching your spouse get jiggy with the ladies?
"It bugs her a little bit, with the energy that HotRock puts out and gets back," Comunale admits, saying many people misinterpret his feel-good intentions as sexual.
"And HotRock is a sexual dude. But I'm not going to react on it. She knows that. So I'm not picking up [women. That's why when I'm done with the show, I'm out of there. Because hanging out longer, everybody's there looking to get laid — or looking to get more fucked up — and that's not who I am."
"He's just being ridiculous. He wants you to believe his character," Kiersten says. "But as soon as he's done with the show and sells his CDs, he's done. He comes home. It's just a persona so I don't care."
However, there was a show when some dude grabbed HotRock's crotch, and Kiersten says her knee-jerk response was a little indignant.
"I couldn't believe my reaction; I didn't get in the guy's face, but I was like, what the fuck? That's mine, you know?" Kiersten says. "But overall, that was the only time I ever got weirded out, just because I'm not used to seeing that."
"Are there any kids in the audience? Anyone under 18?" HotRock is asking the sizable crowd at Grand Avenue Pizza. "I'm gonna be talking about weed, and I don't want anyone talking about weed with my kid around, goddammit."
It's true. Comunale is careful not to smoke around his kid, period. He lights up only when Little Rock, as he affectionately calls him, is in bed. According to Kiersten, their son, now 8, either has no idea what his dad does, or he's good at hiding it.
"He knows that dad's a musician. Michael's been a musician his whole life. This [version], he just happens to dress really funny," Kiersten says. "He thinks SupaJoint is a super joint, you know, like a very flexible joint. He probably knows better than that, but he plays along with it. He doesn't know what a joint is, really. He shouldn't. He's just too young."
Interestingly, whenever Comunale talks about HotRock, he refers to the stoner-rapper in the third person, never using pronouns like "me" or "I". It's as if Comunale believes SupaJoint's a separate person.
At a get-together last summer, during which he showed off an early draft of his screenplay, HotRock brought up what was then his greatest fear — losing relevancy.
Legal pot in states like Colorado and Washington only recently had happened, and the pro-pot movement showed no signs of slowing down. HotRock feared that, as soon as weed becomes commonplace and culturally acceptable everywhere, his place as a rebellious novelty could disappear. When it's cool for Grandma to get stoned, will the kids care?
"I don't even fucking know how relevant I am right now. I'm just doing my thing," Comunale admits now. "I don't know what kids are doing anymore. So I imagine there's going to be some new drugs."
Comunale mentions "dabs," or highly concentrated forms of THC, as an example. Dabs have become massively popular in recent years, but he says he's dabbed only 10 times and isn't a fan.
"It's way too goddamn heavy. I've got shit to do," Comunale says. "I hear, 'Why don't you sing about dabs?' Because it's not my fucking thing. I'm gonna push what I want to push."
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After much contemplation over the past year, SupaJoint's fears of irrelevancy seem behind him.
"The day that it becomes legalized over the whole U.S., HotRock SupaJoint [will still have] so many fucking opportunities ahead of him," Comunale says.
Five or 10 years down the line, he'll probably be fine with the novelty of his alter ego wearing off.
"I want what he wants, [what's] good for him. I don't think he sees this going on forever," Kiersten says. "I mean, he's not getting younger, and it's hard work. It's physically and mentally draining. But he's never going to stop doing stuff."