- Adrian started to amass mixers and drum machines and synthesizers in our latter high school days. I spent all of my money on D&D handbooks and comics, but he spent his on his tools. He would DJ parties, weddings and school dances. I think it was our senior year when he and Jeff Lay went in on a minidisc recorder and made their first songs.
- No! Memory is faulty -- because first there was a cassette tape called "RockIt Pride," with a blue and yellow cover. They did a handful of songs, but the one I remember was about Paul Mann, our school's band director.
- (Alarm clock goes off, whatcugonnado?
Gonna get up, get dressed and get ready for school!
Rollin' down the street, bass kickin' Alpines
People starin' at me 'cause I'm one of a kind!)
- And then the next year, Adrian and Jeff made another set of songs. One was called "Superman 98," and I liked it, because it was by my friends, and kind of about Superman. About Jeff as Superman. And how he started flying through the sky when puberty hit, and how you probably wish you could say that you, too, have fucked Lois Lane. Jeff was a rapper. There were a lot of rappers in and around our high school, all white kids who grew up just as close to corn fields as I did, but where their creative outlet was rapping about being badass in one form or another, mine was pretending to have a lightsaber, or be Spider-Man. Which is to say, maybe, that their fantasy was about them being better versions of themselves -- mine was about being someone else entirely. I still have the same problem.
- Jeff joined the Marines right out of high school, which left Adrian with a lot of rappers who either weren't very good, or weren't as fun to hang around, or both. Luckily, I was fun to hang around (I still am!), and thought I wasn't a rapper for real, I was more than willing to pretend to be one. In a Weird Al kind of way. That's how the Nati Crew came to be.
- Our first track was Safety Dance 98 -- now lost to seas of time, and/or minidiscs -- and it sampled heartily from the original Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. We invented characters -- I was Corn Puff Poppa, Adrian was 1-Ton -- and their backstory was that they were derivative, yet successful, rappers from Cincinnati. I can't speak for Adrian, but for me it was fun to make up rhymes, say them into a microphone, and pretend to be bombastically proud of yourself. We were 19, and it was play.
- In this same time period I was enrolled in a lousy first year of college as an English Lit major at the University of Cincinnati, working in the frozen food department at Meijer, trying to have sex with girls, and still playing with GI Joe figures, pretending they were actually Marvel Superhero figures. I probably put the most effort and thought into the fictions I created via the GI Joes -- I would concoct elaborate plots, act them out as live-action comic books, and keep notes on the adventures, categorized as issues. It was something I'd been playing by myself since I was 8 or 9, and it was starting to lose its luster -- and had long been something I kept secret and was ashamed of -- but it was one of my favorite creative outlets. I tried to keep it up as long as I could, but it just grew less and less rewarding. I started writing actual comic book scripts instead, which was a different kind of fun, but was at least stretching the kind of muscles I wanted to stretch. But in the meantime, playing at rapping was fun and was something I felt like could be shown off -- not hidden under blankets in my room.
- Part of showing it off, of course, was pretending it was all a joke. Which it was -- but only because I didn't think I was good enough to take it seriously. And I certainly wasn't -- I couldn't delivery phat rhymes* quickly or confidently, but I had a lot of fun trying to do it. We wrote the raps together, would perform and record them late at night at Adrian's place, and then would play them back and forth for each other and the girls we wanted to make out with. I cannot possibly fathom why they listened to them and still liked us. They were grown ups, the songs were dumb, but they liked us anyway.
- My favorite verse from Safety Dance 98 was 1-Ton's ...
1-Ton coming atcha l-l-l-like a train
DJA** gives me the beats and they be pounding in your brain
Now I'm-a break it down so come and feel my pain
Ain't no fairy like that Prince dancing in that Purple Rain
5-Double-Oh what I weigh the girlies scream
Corn Puff Poppa and 1-Ton do the double team
Raking in the bills a millionaire is what I am
I eat you punk jiggas for lunch, so just scram
Jiggas gonna fuck with me you gonna see
That I'm a bigga jigga than you'll ever be
Now all my peeps do the bump when they listen to me
Cause I'm the baddest motherfucker this side of 'Nati
- Do you see some of the many reasons it is embarrassing to speak of such things? We do not call Prince a fairy, or anyone. We do not call ourselves jiggas, or anyone. But we thought Puff Daddy was silly, and we thought our fellow Ohio rappers were silly, but we also had to admit, doing what they do was a lot of fun. It's not to say that rap is silly in and of itself -- but in the late 90s, and up to today, there were some silly personalities and tropes as a part of rap.
- (Adrian would stuff his mouth with Cap'n Crunch to sound particularly hefty as 1-Ton, which means while we were mixing, there was already a box of Cap'n Crunch upstairs to snack on. The cereal of rappers!)
- Every few months we'd do another Nati Crew song, and they got to be funnier and more clever as we went along. We invented more and more characters, usually played by ourselves, but sometimes by whatever friend was around to join in. Another track lost to the ages was about the Nati Crew going to Chicago to kidnap Humpty Hump and convincing him to join us, a thematic rip-off of the JAMs' "Whitney Joins the JAMs," and done primarily because Adrian could do a Humpty impression. Digital Underground isn't even from Chicago, but for some reason, we decided that's where we would have to go to get him. The only bit of lyrics that survive from that song are pieces of the chorus still floating around my head...
1, 2, 3, now here we go
Listen at the way the Nati Crew flow
If your crew wanna front now that's a no-no
Cause every momma knows we bad mo-fo's
Do-Re-Mi now here we go
"Where you get your clothes?"
We shop at Deveroe's
If your crew wanna front now that's a no-no
Cause every momma knows we bad mo-fos.
- We had discovered tracking and harmonizing so that, even though our songs were still silly and done in a night, they sounded more and more like ... well, they were still jokes. But they were jokes that were unique to the two of us, and not something anyone with a drum machine might put together.
- I'll leave off again -- the next chapter in the Nati Crew saga involves a few songs that still exist, and as mp3s, even. If I can sort out how to post them in a blog post, you'll have the opportunity to hear for yourself "Growing Up In 'Nati" and "American Xmas."***
* I call them "phat rhymes," even here, as a defense mechanism.
** Adrian's DJ name at the time