Don’t Call Me N.I.G.G.A.: Punk Group Radkey Break Barriers


Dee, Isaiah, and Solomon wouldn’t be able to step foot into Saint Vitus–or many of the other venues they play in–if it weren’t for their talent. At just 20, 18, and 16 respectively, the trio of St. Joseph, MO brothers have utilized their extraordinary, self-taught talents to catapult them across the country and in front of audiences much older than they are. What many of those audiences may not realize is the seed for the still rising star of Radkey had been planted during a screening of a Pixar film. “We were at the premiere of Toy Story 3, and Dee got this text from this chick that wanted him to fill in for a cover band and play the bass. So he did,” recalls bassist Isaiah who then requested to take over the instrument, for the first time, from his older brother. Soon after, Solomon picked up the drums and a punk band of then all-teenage brothers were born. “We practiced every day,” says Isaiah. “[Now] here we are.”

Radkey play Saint Vitus on Sunday, 8/18.

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The ‘here’ in question is some time after they simultaneously picked up their instruments for the first time and formed a band. They played New York’s AfroPunk Festival last year and made waves at this year’s SXSW, which helped rip them out of the Kansas clubs they had frequented as performers. In June of this year, the trio released their rambunctious debut EP Cat & Mouse that lays Dee’s Glenn Danzig-ish vocal chops over pop punk infectiousness and pure rock ‘n’ roll rawness.

The lead single, which bears the same name as the EP, scorches and shows an old school level of edge years beyond their ages. The standout, however, is “N.I.G.G.A. (Not OK),” a powerful track that addresses racism and use of the contentious term as a nickname. Isaiah says that song was created in response to the commonplace use of the shortened version of the word as a nickname for another local black musician in his mostly white school. While the friend was okay with the use, Isaiah didn’t take the issue lightly. “We know that the song won’t stop it,” he explains. “It’s to let people know that there are people who don’t think it’s cool.”

Racism against the boys is something they don’t often experience, but is still present in the often segregated, hierarchical world of rock music. Though age has always been their biggest obstacle with venues, Isaiah recalls a time when a venue wouldn’t let them play because they were mistaken for being a rap group. “They obviously didn’t listen to our demo,” he says jokingly. “We don’t get that much racism, honestly. Someone shouted ‘white power’ at us once, but, you know, whatever.”

See also: Live: Janelle Monáe, TV On The Radio, And Toro Y Moi Break Boundaries At Afro-Punk

Minor negativity aside, Radkey has experienced nothing but love and support from friends at home and their family. Matt Radke, their father and willing driver, had helped cultivate their early interest in bands like Nirvana and the Ramones by sharing his music collection with his sons. Now, he travels with his kids across the country to help them fulfill their dreams. “A lot of kids don’t have their parents supporting this kind of crazy thing,” says Isaiah. Both of their parents have built a solid foundation that has protected them against the distractions that can mess with teens and rockstars of any age–drugs, the opposite sex, alcohol. But those things aren’t even on their radar as their only interest is the music. As Isaiah puts it, “music is what fuels us, straight up.”

Having been homeschooled for some time, the Radkey brothers aren’t interrupting their studies to pursue their collective dream. Between the current tour that has brought them back to NYC and recording more music, the family is looking forward to some European dates in October. With all this time spent together, the threat of brotherly tension seems plausible, but Isaiah insists there’s a lack of fighting while on the road. “It’s pretty easy. We’re all real close,” he says. “It’s weird when we’re not together, so being in the band…it’s all pretty normal.”

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