Stupidity can't really be called a cultural offense anymore, especially in pop music, where seemingly every successful act now can be evaluated in degrees of dumb. Eminem? The king of dumb -- white trash as satirical commentary. Hilary Duff? Too dumb to write her own songs. Those annoying smiley guys from American Idol?. Reality TV dumb. Ludacris and Korn, two of my personal faves, may be artistic, but with topics that range from feeling too much screaming pain to basking in the shining light of a diamond necklace, they're still pretty dumb.
So it should come as no surprise that I've discovered some of our own paragons of stupidity here in Phoenix. The only real surprise, really, may be just how stupid they are.
"I couldn't rap a goddamn Christmas present," says Brandon Rector, co-founder and chief mouthpiece for Illegal Substance, with no hint of shame.
Illegal Substance, a seven-member white-boy electro-rap troupe, rap about lesbians, boredom, ecstasy, sophomoric sexual exploits and lots more ecstasy -- if they talked about rolling on E any more on their self-titled debut album, they'd need wheels.
"[The Beastie Boys] are my favorite band, but I don't need to be getting my political lessons from Mike D, okay?" says Rector, a nasal-voiced, smirking wise-ass who performs as Adverb MC.
"What are we really good at? Getting fucked up!"
Oh, joy. Makes my life as a critic so easy.
Yet Illegal Substance deserve some respect. One of the least musically gifted bands in town is also among the most successful. The group is signed to one of dance music's most visible labels, Moonshine Music, and corporate America has begun to discover their Neanderthal anthems. What the hell?
Illegal Substance is a big dumb party record. I can't prop it up any higher than that. Titles include "Let's Get F@#*ed Up," "We Roll" and the unbeatable "Disco Beaver." Some of the old school beats and riffs are so dirt simple, it's laughable, and the rappers recycle nearly every sex and drug hip-hop cliché, as if no other language or hobby exists. "Go to school all day/And work all night/Fuck this shit/I hate my life," Rector recites on "Let's Get F@#*ed Up." Sounds a bit like the Beasties' "Fight For Your Right" doesn't it? Well, no, because at least "Fight For Your Right" was sorta innovative. Another gem, from "Disco Beaver": "So damn kinky/You're the expert/Being dressed up/In that Catholic girl skirt."
This ain't poetry. Shoot, this is barely fifth-grade creative-writing class.
The live show is even more ridiculous. The rappers -- in addition to the other co-founding rapper, Ryan "P-Nut" Walker, there's hype man MC Wren -- spend their set striking poses meant for bad-asses but made comical by these dorks; Rector makes his allegiance to substances clear, too, sipping beers, occasionally whipping out a bong and marking the space between songs with silly banter.
"This next song is responsible for my short term memory loss and my personal favorite pastime," Rector told the crowd at an October 14 show at the Cajun House. He even encouraged me to slam as many beers as I could, because "the drunker you get, the better it'll sound." (Coincidentally, I didn't, so he was shit out of luck).
By the end of that 35-minute set, four buxom blondes had been invited to jump on stage to grind and grope each other. Meanwhile, the three rappers slam danced around them.
That was the aesthetic portion of the evening.
It would have been even grosser had Rector remembered to bring the afro wig and blow-up dolls, staples of Illegal shows.
Earlier, Brittany Evans, the Valley's resident Playboy Playmate (February 2003), introduced Rector, dressed in a loud leopard vest, brown tinted disco shades and studded belt, to the crowd as "sexy." So perhaps he was right to be a little cocky.
Of course, that's not all that core members Rector, Walker and DJ Jimi "Numonic" Clayton have to be cocky about nowadays. You'd figure that with Eminem's sublime vulgarity dominating the pop agenda that truly juvenile stuff couldn't travel too far. These guys, though, have managed to at least make a dent.
I can talk smack all day, but I can't refute this: The group, which built its profile playing the ecstasy-swirled warehouse raves of the mid-to-late '90s, released Illegal Substance on Moonshine this past summer. Moonshine is one of the three major U.S. labels for house and drum-and-bass DJs, making this deal a coup for the band. Since the album's release, the songs (many of which are actually very well produced on the release) have attracted local crowds as large as 400 -- and a following with television and film producers looking for testosterone-drenched soundtrack material.
So far, according to Christine D'Angelo, Moonshine's vice-president of business affairs, ESPN has licensed the European keyboard-driven "Step to the Floor" for one of its Sunday morning football shows. MTV featured "Can I Flow" prominently in an episode of The Real World's current Paris season. The Girls Gone Wild folks have used "Higher" in one of its home videos. And Rector says "Step to the Floor" will be used for an upcoming Eddie Griffin movie called Blast.
The group expects its first lump sum from those licensing hits to fall between $15,000 and $20,000, and to arrive before January. It'll be the first real money the four-year-old group will have made. The band accrues a royalty of between $1,000 and $3,000 each time a production featuring one of their songs airs, according to D'Angelo.
Now, Rector and Clayton told me, it'd be great if they could gain some momentum in other areas, namely in getting a little love from their peers. Alfie Lucero, guitarist and singer for punk band Redfield -- one of the best in town -- says his band has turned down Illegal Substance's offer to perform together several times, in part because of time constraints but generally because, as Lucero puts it, they don't want to play shows that might alienate their fans. Rector has threatened to respond to the perceived dis by crushing a car with the world "Redfield" scrawled on it with a monster truck outside an October 31 show with the Phunk Junkeez at Nita's Hideaway.
It wouldn't be the first time Illegal Substance has indulged in a cheap stunt. Last month, Illegal Substance got itself banned from the Viper Room in Los Angeles. Rector, fearing a typically stiff, lifeless L.A. audience, willfully went obnoxious, attempting to lead a donkey with two gorgeous women on it through the front door.
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Pickles, as the band calls its mascot, didn't make it past the bouncer, so Rector compensated by diving into the house drum kit. "That didn't go over very well," he says.
All in a day's work for these clowns, who'll continue to hold their limitations like a signpost and sneer in your face -- and mine.
"That's why we put a jackass on the cover of our record, you know?" Rector says. "If you take this serious, then you're a jackass." -- By Christopher O'Connor
Contact the author at his online address: Christopher.email@example.com, or at 602-407-1715.