In five years, the locally grown punk-hop act has graduated from a series of infamous break-and-enter warehouse concerts to touring the nation on corporate money. "Trauma/Interscope treats us great," says the PJ rapper Soulman in a phone interview from New Orleans. "We get to spend all the money Bush makes them."
Major recording deal; single on a Nike commercial; single on a movie soundtrack; videos; airplay from Olympia to Orlando; kids in Anchorage wearing Phunk Junkeez shirts and whining "Funky, funky, I am a Junkeeee." That's fame, kid.
Phunk Junkeez have built themselves one hell of a soapbox. And night after night in city after city, they climb atop it to hurl one message at the masses: "Drink, don't think! Get laid, get paid; have a fit when you get in the pit!"
The Junkeez are frequently compared to the Beastie Boys, probably because of both bands' penchant for the peanut butter/chocolate combination of hard-core hip-hop's funky samples, frantic scratching, and take-no-prisoners rhyming layered over punk rock's instrumental assaults.
There is, however, a critical difference between Phunk Junkeez and the progenitors of lowbrow, white-boy rap: The Beastie Boys have outgrown odes to malt liquor, angel dust and notch-cutting promiscuity. The group that rapped "I want to say little something that's long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through" on last year's Ill Communication is a long shot from the three snotty New York punks who in 1986 penned "I did her like this, I did her like that, I did her with the Whiffle Ball bat."
The evolution of the Beastie Boys' consciousness (and conscience) over the course of their nine-year, four-album career charted a steady shift away from the Phunk Junkeez's brand of trailer-park hedonism to a deeply spiritual, politically charged world view.
The Junkeez exhibit no such signs of development. Their needle seems stuck on "Fight for Your Right to Party."
"There's no reason for us to get political," says Soulman. "We don't have enough time to, and we're not in the real world enough to understand what's really going on. It's like we live in this MTV rock-star world. It's weird, like a big bubble. All you see is crowds, stages, and buses.
"When you get free beer every day, you don't really want to take the time to be aware. From the second we hit the stage to the second we walk off, we give a hundred and ninety thousand percent. People go to our shows to have a good time and see us go off. Politics takes the fun out of it."
And so the stench of sacrilege lies heavy in the air when the Junkeez sample Chuck D's "Welcome to the Terrordome" lament "I got so much trouble on my mind." Judging by Phunk Junkeez's lyrics, the only thing the band members have on their mind is finding a corner to spark a bowl and deciding which honey to mac on next.
For all the live-wire energy of their live shows--and make no mistake, the Phunk Junkeez's best feature is their muy loco stage act--songs like "Me 'n Yer Girl," "B-Boy Hard" and "Thick Like Mornin' Dick" have the intellectual heft of a panty raid.
Consider the ironic juxtaposition of "Chuck" and "Liquid Aggression," back-to-back tracks on Injected, the Junkeez's Trauma/Interscope debut that was released earlier this year.
Dedicated to a friend of the band who lost his life in a drunk-driving accident, "Chuck" is furiously poignant--the manic grief of a clan that's lost one of its own. Vocalizing over eerie, buzz-saw punk guitar (courtesy of Jeff O'Rourke), Soulman and co-rapper K-Tel Disco ask, "What the fuck were ya thinkin'?/Jumpin' in the ride with the motherfucker drinkin'/Ya thinkin' that shit won't happen to me/And then bang, boom, crash into a big palm tree."
Whatever awareness "Chuck" might heighten among Phunk Junkeez fans, however, is quickly squashed by "Liquid Aggression," a warp-nine celebration of the same stupid shit that got Chuck splattered on a tree: "Gettin' sober and I start to think/I can't be straight, I need another drink."
Maybe it was the Junkeez's vapid lyricism that recently drove their tour bus driver over the edge. Maybe it was the band's ceaseless, bonged-out Sega playing in the back of the bus ("We're moving up to a Sega Saturn so we can get Virtual Fighter," says Soulman. "We were out on tour with 311 and they had a Sega Saturn in their bus, and we were like, 'Fuck that, if 311 gets a Sega Saturn, then we do, too'"). Or maybe it was simply the cumulative stress of a lengthy, bitter battle over the A/C. But for whatever reason, Soulman says, a few weeks ago, the driver snapped and tried to kill their road manager.
"He gunned the bus and hit our road manager and cut his eye open. It was obvious he did it on purpose--he'd hated us the whole trip. We just kept messing with him, playing with his mind. We went to war over the air conditioner. We're Arizona boys, you know, so we like it to be really freezing in our bus, and he was always getting pissed off and turning the temperature back up. So we'd turn it down and he'd turn it up and we'd turn it back down. We were kind of having fun with it until he lost his mind and tried to run over our manager. He's out on tour with the Ice Capades now."
The Phunk Junkeez's return to the Valley for two concerts this weekend marks the midpoint of a national tour that started in Phoenix July 4 and took the band on a 70-show sojourn along the East Coast and all over the South.
Soulman says the Junkeez's homecoming will last a week. "We plan to hang out in a lot of titty bars, see the same ol' people we always see and do the same ol' things we always do," says Soulman. Which does not include checking out a lot of local music.
"The local scene kinda sucks," the rapper says. "I've never been a person to go, 'Oh, man, the Phoenix/Tempe scene rocks!' I think some of the newer bands coming up now are cool, but that Arizona format sound, the Gin Blossoms and all that, it's just boring shit. We never wanted to be run of the Mill Avenue. That's why we did it ourselves, promoting the band with warehouse keggers and whatnot."
Following their Arizona respite, the Junkeez will embark on a three-month jaunt throughout California and the Pacific Northwest. Then comes a three-week tour to Australia, followed by a trip to New York City to record a new album.
"It may sound like I'm stressed, but I'm not," says Soulman. "I sleep until four or five every day. I was never able to hold down a job--that's why I got into a band. This is the best job I'll ever have. It's like being a professional stoner slacker. The only hassle is driving all the time."
Asked for a particularly vivid road story, Soulman offers a choice of categories: "Drugs, nudity, crowds or hotels."
Uh . . . let's go with nudity for a thousand.
"Okay. We did this show in New Orleans about two months ago. It was this big radio festival and there was one section in the crowd of nothing but bikers. About three songs in, we were like, 'Hey, all you chicks riding on your guys' shoulders, we want to see some tits!' We were just fucking around, but next thing you know all these biker chicks with tattoos had their big ol' fat titties hanging out. It was hilarious!"
And some people call these guys sexist.
Specifically, "Devil Woman" has caught the Junkeez considerable flak from feminists. While there's no graphic, Eazy-E-esque "Cold smoked the 'ho" violence to the track, lyrics like "You fucking bitch, I hope you choke" could hardly be called "pro-woman."
"Our first album [the 1992 regional release Naked Language] was real happy as shit," explains Soulman. "But when we wrote the second album, we were real pissed off. We hated record companies, we hated girls, we hated everything."
"Devil Woman," he says, was written specifically about three separate girlfriends who did him wrong. "There's a little verse in there for each of them. They know who they are."
"Retard chick writers," Soulman says, are behind most accusations of misogyny directed at the Junkeez. "They're like, 'These guys are a bunch of sexists, blah, blah, blah.' Whatever. 'Devil Woman's no worse than that Alanis Morissette song.
"And, amazingly enough, on the road, girls love that song. They stand out there going, 'I'm a Devil Woman, that's right. I'll treat you like shit.' So I don't see what the problem is."
Soulman says he and the band are ready to skip down the French Quarter and "buy a bag of oregano," then abruptly stops a reporter from hanging up with a hasty favor to ask.
"Our drummer, Disko Danny Dynomite, he just wanted to make sure to tell all his ladies in Phoenix 'Hi.' You gotta do this for him, man. They get mad if he doesn't mention them. Tickets aren't good enough for these bitches. They're evil."
Phunk Junkeez are scheduled to perform on Friday, September 29, at Electric Ballroom in Tempe, with 1000 Mona Lisas, and Trunk Federation; and Saturday, September 30, with 1000 Mona Lisas, and Jesus Chrysler. Showtimes are 8 p.m.