When Benjamin Walker was enduring months of chemotherapy and other treatments last year to eradicate the softball-sized tumor growing on his aorta, a few things helped keep the renowned local emcee going: The desire to perform at least one more show with his new hip-hop act Thee Gentlemen Ether and maybe even record some tracks.
Walker, who's also known by his stage name Mr. Puma MC, got everything he wished for and more.
He's nearly recovered from cancer; Gentlemen Ether has performed a half-dozen local shows in the last seven months; and they've recently finished their debut EP Huff. And tomorrow night at Tempe's Yucca Tap Room, the group will headline its first gig ever.
"Its definitely one of those things I've used as a benchmark for my recovery, being able to record and perform again," Walker says.
Listening to the four electro-driven hip-hop tracks recorded by Walker and partner Lynx Kinetic for Huff, it sounds like the 39-year-old emcee hasn't lost a step. His intricate flows and swagger are just as sharp as his days spitting game alongside Z-Trip and Radar as the emcee of Bombshelter DJs back in the '90s.
Walker, the self-described "silver-tongued wordsmith who spits as sharp as a Hattori Hanzo sword," says that it's taken awhile for his voice to get back to where it was before receiving chemo. (He still has one last treatment to endure, which will remove a medical port from his chest.)
"I've been rebuilt better than before. We had the technology," he says, dropping a humorous reference to the Six Million Dollar Man. In all seriousness, however, Walker had some trepidations when recording the EP.
"I didn't know how things were going to turn out when we recorded, but its better than I'd hoped," he says. "It took us a while to get things how we wanted on the EP vocally and musically."
Walker says that while Gentlemen Ether's sound is a pastiche of electronic elements created by Kinetic, the group is "still firmly in the hip-hop realm."
The emcee says that Huff is meant to "give fans an introduction to the group and get our foot into the door." They're planning to follow up with a full album by year's end, with a second EP dropping sometime in 2013.
In the meantime, Gentlemen Ether will stage a release show for Huff on Friday night at the Yucca Tap. The lineup of supporting acts includes friends and former collaborators, including Brad B. and The Insects, Tricky T, Kris the Fist, and embryonic L.A./Phoenix indie threesome Therapist.
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The event is entitled Room 13, playing off the fact that tomorrow is Friday the 13th, which superstitions dictate as one of the unluckiest days of the year. There's a certain irony to that, as Walker feels lucky to have survived cancer.
"I definitely feel lucky being alive and getting to wake up each day and make music," Walker says.
Room 13 takes place at 9 p.m. on Friday, July 13, at Yucca Tap Room in Tempe. Admission is free.