Hip-Hop's New No Wave

Downtown's odd relationship with rap bravado continues this fall—now with Muppet costumes

Downtown life in this city is a shell game: three-card cultural monte for those with the stamina to keep up and cultivate a lifestyle so profane and irrational no one else wants any part of it. And the city plays along, reserving a forever shrinking piece on the lower-right half of Manhattan for the riffraff to incubate in, and maybe never leave. So it was no surprise when self-proclaimed "downtown don" Aaron Bondaroff (a/k/a A-Ron) was caught a while back telling The New York Times Magazine he was so downtown he never went above Delancey—two blocks south is his store, aNYthing, Hester Street's sneakers-clothes-records- record-label clubhouse. His point? Fuck Delancey: He's just more downtown than you.

So are the people he works with and occasionally releases on his label: Philadelphia four-piece hip-hop crew Plastic Little, Muppet-rap pioneers Bandy (the Kid America Club), Philly sex-rapper Spank Rock, and more. Together, they're opening the fall with a new chapter in the long and uneasy partnership between downtown and its estranged cousin, hip-hop.

"I haven't been in black pussy since '88, son/And I was twelve then," raps Plastic Little's Jayson Musson (a/k/a PackofRats), within the first minute of the first song on the group's new Tone Arm full-length, She's Mature. There are two black guys and two white guys in Plastic Little, and the rest of that song, "Creative Differences," goes like this: "Grab your shank/Pull it out/Kill a cracker."

Bandy (the Kid America Club) hold the elevator for you.
Bandy (the Kid America Club) hold the elevator for you.

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    Like the Beastie Boys, downtown white rappers who also rapped about pussy on their first single, 1983's "Cookie Puss"—a track aimed at the downtown art world's dilettante obsession with the city's then burgeoning hip-hop scene—Plastic Little are simultaneously defining themselves by and against the idea of downtown. Not to mention by and against the idea of hip-hop itself. On "Hola Plastique," the foursome chant, "Those Plastic Little dudes/They're not hip-hop/They make broke-pop/Sounds like Korean dance-pop" and, within a minute, proceed to beg Jesus to make them dope MCs before flipping the Smiths' "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" into a story about how getting a job sucks. On "Rap O'Clock," they joke about how they "use rap words like 'word is bond' like 'to the rhythm yo.' " It's rap music about rap, downtown music about downtown, hipster music about being hip. Haters call it gallery rap—as in, you know, art.

    Art like the puffy, surreal costumes worn by Plastic Little's New York brethren Bandy (the Kid America Club). Bandy are less rappers than what you might call characters: Third Base, a crackhead and self-described "monster from Queens" who "ain't no rapper/I'm more of a guido-type verbal disaster"; Demurgatroid, who spends his time trying to fuck other famous Muppets while buying fireworks and weed with money from his trust fund; and the supervillian Lord Plek, who hates the other hipster puppets he hangs out with. "Lesbians/Actors/Phony nerds," he calls 'em on the aptly named "Downtown Anthem."

    They're downtown- and generally pop-culture-obsessed: In just one 30-second stretch off their single "Hey Yo!" Bandy run through Larry Clark, Kurt Cobain, 40s, the Supreme store, Nike Dunks, skateboards, raves, and the Wu-Tang Clan—their heroes and the ostensible model for their crew.

    Revenge of the Clubhouse's production, a runaway kiddie carousel blasting every Saturday morning cartoon theme you've never heard, mixes everything from the Shangri-Las and Roy Orbison to Rick Rubin guitar-rap. To make the record, which comes out this week on aNYthing, they enlisted producer Dante Ross, who's been around since the Beastie Boys and has worked with De La Soul and, more recently, ODB. With their sugar-shock rap attack, Bandy make explicit what people who live in big cities already know: Rap today is simultaneously the most accurate depiction of urban life, its most viable pop culture product, and the easiest music to make downtown. So easy that big, stuffed characters with huge heads and speech impediments can do it.

    Like another New York L.E.S. avant-garde—the No Wave scene of the late '70s—both crews of burgeoning character rappers know they're onto something because of how quickly critics want to consign them to the gallery. "I object to us being called 'artists who have chosen the medium of music,' " Talking Heads keyboard player Jerry Harrison once said. "I find that distasteful and very unfunky. And we don't perform in galleries."


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