Thursday, May 24, 2001
Some groups employ a casual approach toward making music, but Bombsquad is a band that takes its art seriously. Very seriously.
The seven MCs (Skitzo, Clacc, Ten-10, Big Chill 60956, Dove Dawg, Cassanova and GQ the Country Bunkin') of the latest addition to Lawrence's burgeoning rap scene are seasoned enough to know how to climb the hip-hop ladder yet young enough to keep things fresh and interesting, refusing to take the middle ground or do anything halfway.
Even at its North Lawrence rehearsals, the band puts on arena-ready performances Â replete with shout-outs, calls for crowd participation and aerobic energy Â that fill the room with enough stage presence for a dozen acts.
"I want to see people high and energetic to what we're doing on stage," Skitzo explains. "I don't want to see anybody standing in the corner. I want to rock a show to where they can't help but to come to the front of the stage and get they groove on."
At practices, the septet's stage show is broken down and analyzed like a football team going over its playbook, an analogy that seems appropriate given that Bombsquad's manager/co-producer is none other than former KU/NFL offensive tackle/guard Keith Loneker.
"I think the way we approach it is kind of similar," says Loneker, who also starred alongside George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the film "Out of Sight." "It's more than the music. I want these guys to come out of it being better people, too. It's the same thing with a football coach. The game is everything, but you want to draw things out of the experience and out of your work that's gonna kick back into your life too. That's something that Coach (Glen) Mason was always on us about that I've always held pretty dear."
Time to get ill
Formed last winter from the ashes of various solo and group projects, Bombsquad quickly got busy writing songs and putting its show together. An early track appeared on "Guilty Until Proven Innocent," a compilation featuring hot rap artists like Killa Tay, Yukmouth, B-Legit, C-Bo. Showcase gigs at Tremors and The Granada followed, and within a few months the band had completed its debut, "Timz Up!" released May 3 on local indie label Lock-N-Load Records.
"We put all heart into it," says Skitzo, a former member of Lawrence rap outfit First Family. "My main goal was to go in there and give my heart to making the verses tight. Or making sure if I write a hook, it's something everybody's gonna bob they head to. If my crew bob they head to it, I know the streets gonna bob they head to it."
"Timz Up!" is a boombastic, bass-heavy crunkfest featuring some of the most accomplished production in the area (courtesy Loneker and crew, collectively known as 5150 Mental Productions). Sharply contrasting the nimble instrument-heavy grooves of local acts like Seven Fold Symphony, Phat Albert and Jesse Jackson 5, the 5150 team mixes sharp blasts of earthquake bass, trunk-shaking beats and chirping vocoder into a sound that measures high on rap's head-bobbing Richter scale.
Lyrically, Bombsquad holds nothing back, slaying listeners with topics that eschew political correctness and humility for notoriously big braggadocio, paper chasing and pushing weight.
"Mostly the message is for adults," GQ emphasizes. "We're in a college environment and we expect anybody that listens to our music to be mature. Rap is way out there. You can speak about a lot of different things and it's OK. We don't want to bore you with one particular aspect of nothin'. A lot of rappers is just, 'Murda murda, kill kill.' We're not all negative. We talk about having a good time Â you and your lady or the girl at the club, you and your friends having a beer watching the game. That's what we want more than anything. We don't want people to say all our songs is about smoking weed, or this that and the other girl, or drive-bys or murders or killing. We're not those type of people. We're, more or less, let's-have-a-good-time type of people."
Defusing the critics
Though some local acts are quick to criticize hip-hop's baser elements, Bombsquad is too busy to pay attention, insisting that its music stems straight from the dark heart of the streets.
"If you haven't been through what I've been through, then you might not think it's right," the South Central Los Angeles-born GQ says of his detractors. "Maybe my parents and my grandparents cussed at me all the time, so I cuss a lot. That might be the reason I use a lot of foul words. Maybe I speak on the streets because that's where I had to be for a little while. I had to live like that; I didn't want to but I had to. I love where I'm at now and I'm glad I'm here instead of in the streets. I'm glad I get to go to the studio, but I had to go through some stuff to get here. We all go through things. Everybody got something in their heart that hurts, and if they had the gift I had, they would probably put it in a song, too."
"I welcome the hatred because that's gonna make us stronger," Big Chill adds. "Hating is making us better, keeping us focused. It just goes to show that we're doing our job."
"There's a thin line between love and hate," Ten-10 offers.
"And the thin line is that bar code," chimes Dove Dawg to much laughter.
It's really a matter of respect, according to GQ, who notes that "a basketball player can't tell a football player he ain't good because a basketball player don't play football. He can only look from the sidelines. If you speak gospel rap, I have to respect you as a gospel rapper. I don't do gospel rap so how do I know that what you're doing isn't the best in your field. The carpenter and the bricklayer Â we both built the house, so how can you say which one is the strongest? You build with bricks, I build with sticks. How you can say yours is gonna stand the test of time?"
Country grammar lesson
Bombsquad's fierce live performances have already earned the group a reputation among local rap fans, who've packed the band's recent shows and spread a word-of-mouth buzz that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Still, Bombsquad asserts that the area music scene isn't always as friendly to local acts as it is to the national ones that regularly stop into town.
"I think it's good, but it's time for Lawrence to start supporting what's here," GQ says. "Lawrence bands are given a lot of support everywhere else but home."
GQ's observation rings true, at least for the alternative end of area music. While some of Lawrence's biggest rock bands (The Get Up Kids and The Anniversary) sell out multiple nights at large venues in cities like Chicago and L.A., they've only done well locally after-the-fact.
Fortunately, Bombsquad doesn't mind being perceived as an underdog. "We're really the underground in Lawrence," GQ says. "We all grew up here. The underground has to be there. If the underground dies, the artist dies. The underground brings originality. Commercial ain't bad, but it's molded toward making money. There's a lot of followers out there, but you might take a karate class 'cause you watched Bruce Lee. A lot of people are like that."
In the middle
The members of Bombsquad also are quick to point out that heartland rap is receiving increased attention from the mainstream, which seems to be slowly catching on to the hidden musical treasures buried in America's back yard.
"Nelly done opened it up in a major way," GQ enthuses, referring to the St. Louis superstar who put Midwest hip-hop on the platinum map. "Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas Â they about to explode because of Nelly. I can't speak for all the other guys, but I'm more or less the country bumpkin type. I love the woods, I love the streets, I love the club. I'm all of that. But I work out in the country on the gravel roads, and I like being out there so I put that in my music."
"Everything's here so it's just a big mixture," Clacc says of the Midwest's inclusive sound. "You're gonna get it all."
The future looks bright for Bombsquad at the moment. With "Timz Up!" doing well in local music stores and a solid presence in area clubs, the band seems poised for bigger and better things. In June, the group will travel to Detroit as part of a music festival featuring legends like MC "Ain't No Future In Yo' Frontin'" Breed. The outfit also is being seriously considered for inclusion on the soundtrack to the upcoming Method Man/Redman flick "How High."
As for the band's name Â similar to The Bomb Squad which did production work for Public Enemy, Ice Cube and others Â no one's worried about the possible controversy it could create.
"Personally, I look forward to them creating that kind of stir," Loneker says. "If we get to a point where they want to make something of us using it because we're blowing it up, then I can only hope for that kind of exposure. If it's a legal thing Â after they throw it up in the papers and the news Â we will change it, but by then the damage will already be done."
"Until then it's Bombsquad," Cassanova declares.
"There's a force behind it," Ten-10 adds.
"Nothing's gonna stop us," GQ insists. "Nothing."