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Kevin Shea, the freewheeling drummer for Brooklyn's ridiculously intrepid avant-everything duo Talibam!, is waxing about adding "rapping wordsmith" to his already extensive résumé. He has crowned himself MC K-Wizzle; his Talibam! partner in genius, keyboard guru Matt Mottel, has taken on the name MC Moaty Mogulz.
"We don't have much experience being rappers," Shea says. "We don't listen to rap or anything. We're 'no-school' because we actually have no school. We don't have any old-school skills or knowledge. We literally have no school."
Like true hip-hop moguls (if on a budget), K-Wizzle and Mogulz concocted a master plan to flood the Internet: They've released hilariously low-budget "rap reports," the Launch Pad series (where they integrate their sounds into recent releases by the likes of Dirty Projectors), and music videos.
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And this month brings the release of the duo's rap debut, Puff Up the Volume (Critical Heights). Says Moaty Mogulz: "If you went to rap school, you wasted your money." Turns out a bizarre accident K-Wizzle suffered in Paris manifested itself into what would become Puff Up the Volume. "Kevin had broken his toe in a gong accident. A gong accident is good. He played bass drums with his left foot," recalls Mogulz on how the duo goofily ventured into the rap universe.
But a fortunate gong accident wasn't the only spearheading event Talibam! needed to suddenly transform into rappers, nor was it a spur-of-the-moment revelation to cash in on the rap genre like hipster novelty jokesters such as Das Racist. Instead, their foray into rap has been brewing for some time. Beginning with 2009's rollicking skit-driven-cum-wack funk-jazz-noise sprawl Boogie in the Breeze Blocks (ESP-Disk) to their epic Zappa-ian art-rock, Sun Ra-esque improv theatrical spectacular AtlantASS (Belly Kids), Puff Up the Volume, is, in fact, the band's natural progression. "Puff Up the Volume is part of this larger context of other things we've done," Mogulz explains. "If you've been following us from Boogie to Cosmoplitude [Electric Cowbell], Puff Up the Volume, to me, is the next logical step. AtlantASS is closer to Boogie but Cosmoplitude to this [Puff] is pretty clear. . . . Cosmoplitude was more of a pastiche kind of compositional approach, where every 45 seconds the tune is rapidly changing. We were just like 'We'll make four minutes and build structures around that.'"
Mogulz and K-Wizzle morphed those structures and emerged with, arguably, the essential, bombastic party-your-ass-off record of 2012. Puff Up the Volume bustles with gloriously vulgar and infectious dance-rapology anthems ("Tappin That Ass"; "Zombie From Albuquerque"), nutty, environmentally conscious statements ("Step Into the Marina"), and sweat-dripping, ass-shaking techno as on the title track. "We tried to have hooks, you know, like Jay-Z always has hooks," says K-Wizzle of their rap-composing process. "We went out of our way to make choruses and repeat the choruses."
With Talibam!'s ever-daring trajectory and improvisational ethos rooted over its decade-long existence, one would suspect riotous rap wordplay like "Squeeze your nipples hard, lactate spicy pork buns" or "I wanna blow, blow, blow on all the nipples on the block/'Wah, wah, wah!' say the kids that can talk" might have been spewed off the cuff. Not the case. "We had to learn how to write rap songs," says K-Wizzle. "It's not easy—or maybe it is for some people—to come up with lyrics. It took a while. It's a whole process."
That process and Talibam!'s rap identity are not just phases. The duo is already planning a second rap record and seeking to connect with the rap community. "We're looking to interact," Mogulz says. "The closest we are to the rap community is I've been tweeting with Kitty Pryde, and she's favorited some of my tweets." Their next Launch Pad series will be a mash-up of Frank Ocean. Meanwhile, Talibam! are reveling in their personae as fledgling rappers and the doors Puff Up the Volume will potentially open for them. "If they hear the album on face value, if they know who we are or not, the songs speak for themselves—they're good riffs and good beats, and they are fun party anthems," Mogulz says. "To me, it's a record like Nevermind. Every song is a hit and a single."
Talibam! perform September 21 at Secret Project Robot and September 29 at Le Poisson Rouge.