Freestyle hip-hop scales the heights at Oakland Metro.
BY RACHEL SWAN
You'd suspect that Tourettes Without Regrets founder Jamie Kennedy wastes whole afternoons inventing new analogies for freestyle battles, even if he rattles them off as though they just occurred to him: "It's like a swordfight of the tongues, or an Olympics for shit-talkers," he says. "The emcees are gladiators throwing verbal grenades at each other, while the audience acts as the emperor who decides their fate." Yet Kennedy admits that what is actually most appealing about freestyle battles is the fact that any schmuck can come in off the street with no name or record deal, and take a title that night. If an emcee has the skills, he'll take the skrills -- whether he came solo, or with a fat entourage.
At least, that's how it happened for Oakland's Kirby Dominant. Dominant remembers coming down to KALX in 1994 for a freestyle showcase with Mystik Journeymen and Fundamentals (who later became Kemetic Suns), whom he'd never officially met before: "So I was doing my little thizzle and everybody knew each other, and I didn't know anyone, and motherfuckers was like, 'Damn, he's doing his thing!' I was the standout." It was Dominant's first semester studying urban economic development at UC Berkeley, and he was still entertaining notions of becoming a college professor or stockbroker. How he ended up as a professional MC and hustler still eludes him. "It was like fucking around with the Cal water polo team when all you'd ever done is got a few trophies back at Ensenada High," he says. "Nobody knows you from shit, but all of a sudden they're suggesting you join the team."
It's easy to romanticize those early days in the rap game. Dominant, who now hibernates and makes beats in a blue-and-red apartment that looks like an Almodóvar film set come to life, was quickly falling in love with all things Berkeley -- Joni Mitchell, tofu tandoori, and the Legends' "Broke Ass Summer Jams" at La Peña. As he recalls, Mystik Journeymen were "on some beatnik shit" back then, peddling their CDs on Telegraph Avenue, throwing $1.87 warehouse parties to raise money to pay the electric bill, and living the traditional Berkeley hippie lifestyle, minus the tofu part. Every once in a while they'd come up to Dominant's dorm room in Unit 2 -- one of the high-rises on Durant Avenue -- to kick down rhymes while their friend Kevin Mingus jammed on the electric bass. The next afternoon, they'd be freestyling on the corner again.
Now there's a new wave of hungry, Depression-era backpackers hawking CDs outside BART stations and giving the old royalty a run for its money. One of the hot young cats is the feared and revered Orukusaki of the group Forensic Science, who, according to Kennedy, "could slay twelve emcees a night without breaking a sweat -- even after smoking three blunts." Already a kingpin at Tourettes, Orukusaki refuses to merely rest on his laurels. He has won numerous battles, including Mighty Four and Battle Avenue. "And he's taking all the comers," Kennedy adds, "to the point where every first Thursday I'm left asking, 'Can anyone fucking take this man?'"
Tourettes Without Regrets held at Oakland Metro (201 Broadway at 2nd). A $150 freestyle battle (sign-ups at 8:00) hosted by Jamie Kennedy and DJ F*CK OFF. For a mere $10 cover, any quick-witted potty-mouth can enter the rumble and bitch-slap those old school cats for cash and instant fame. Who knows; you might just be the next standout.
eastbayexpress.com | originally published: February 9, 2005
The Gospel According to Jamie
Tourettes Without Regrets is a bare-ass free-for-all
under the guise of a poetry slam.
Katy St. Clair
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2002
Jamie Kennedy, slam poet, writer, and self-described "asshole," is the great-grandson of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology. Not that the Scientologists want you to know that. After all, Kennedy does tend to shove Otter Pops up his ass onstage, grabbing his nuts, screaming, and generally making an insane spectacle of himself at his monthly shows at the Stork Club. Then there's his complete and total denunciation of the so-called religion. "My great-grandfather was probably one hundred percent, totally full of shit," he says. "What's really impressive about him, in contrast to other religious leaders, is that I don't think there's a single word that he ever said that was true."
Scientology may be full of crap, but Kennedy does share a certain connection with his great-grandpa. Not only does he have Hubbard's red hair, he also has his oddball charisma. His monthly show, Tourettes Without Regrets, is a poetry, limerick, bare-ass free-for-all under the guise of a slam. On the first Tuesday of every month, folks huddle outside the Stork, waiting to be admitted by their leader. They all file in and sit down, shouting out Kennedy's name erratically, bringing him to the forefront as the night's emcee.
"I'm a weird sort of loner who's able to mobilize large groups of people into doing outlandish shit," he says. Shit like the Tourettes character known as the "Milkman," who drank a bunch of milk at the beginning of a show and then vomited it up at the end, or a catfight between dominatrices and some chicks dressed up like Catholic schoolgirls, or a show at the beginning of December that ended with a wet T-shirt contest that almost morphed into a lesbian 69 session. At its core, though, Tourettes is a poetry slam -- a contest between poets, judged by five random members of each night's audience.
"Tourettes is sex, drugs, and spoken word," says Kennedy. "It's like a party for poets, sort of a debaucherous celebration of id. Ultimately, it's a poetry show at heart -- it's just a much more renegade form of poetry." His solo performances, as well as his Tourettes, have lent Kennedy quite a following of groupies. They come to hear about his shitty past all mashed up in an appealing cabaret of words -- words that are vile and offensive yet strangely beautiful and, yes, poetic: "Women love assholes/ That's why I'm always talking shit/ I do shows eight nights a week and I spit like a leper leaving his lip on the bar as a tip."
It shares a lot with hip-hop, although Kennedy's performances are undeniably spoken word, not human beat box. "Spoken word is a mutated hybrid of hip-hop, stand-up blitzkrieg comedy, performance art, and fucked-up theater," says Kennedy. "There is such a raw, immediate, visceral power to someone simply standing there naked and just ripping shit; bombing an audience with nothing: no beats, no sets, no costumes, no music."
Kennedy began performing in '97, and rapidly got himself kicked out of most venues. "I remember one Barnes & Noble reading that I did," he says. "I read this piece about self-mutilation and how it was the new fashion accessory. I pulled back my sleeves and I had sixteen slashes I'd made with a cleaver -- some fucking insane Jack the Ripper shit. They banned me because I scared everybody."
Funneling all his angst into poetry is what saved him, he says. That seems to be the kind of person who is drawn to these events -- folks who have a lot of, shall we say, "baggage." Rupert, who is a regular Tourettes performer, first appeared onstage with a gun pointed at his head. "He cocked it, dropped down to his knees, and put it under his chin," Kennedy says. "I thought he was going to blow his fucking brains out. He finished the piece and put it away. He won."
For all of the angst and self-loathing his pieces seem to point to, Kennedy is surprisingly upbeat and pleasant -- even funny. "I would say self-loathing is a healthy impetus for any artist in order to keep them creating. The second you get arrogant is when you get soft. I think a lot of the artistic process comes from a certain sort of inescapable agony that you are trying to get free from. You are born into a straitjacket and you are trying to write with your feet." That, and the need to be the center of attention, seems to tie him in with his great-grandfather's wack legacy. Tourettes has been called a cult by some, and Kennedy is definitely the messianic personality at the helm.
"One description of my great-grandfather was that he was a mix between Adolf Hitler and Baron Münchhausen; in short, he was a con man," says Kennedy. "I have that DNA pumping through my veins." Kennedy has performed at a few anti-Scientology functions, even speaking out on the radio in Clearwater, Florida -- the sleepy beach town that passes for Mecca in this belief system. "Scientology is the most brilliantly engineered pyramid scam I've ever seen. L. Ron Hubbard -- you can never say that he was an idiot, by any means. He was very intelligent, very sort of evil, malicious; a sort of overman, his will against the world."
Not surprisingly, given his views, Kennedy claims that church members have bugged him in the past. After he performed a piece called "Judas' Son" at a slam, two men showed up at his mother's house claiming to be fellow poets throwing a show, Kennedy says. "My mom knew from the moment they started talking that they were Scientologists, which they admitted to." What they wanted wasn't exactly clear, but he says the group distributed a press release about him where they called him an "anti-religious slam poet." "Actually," laughs Kennedy, "I was sort of disappointed. I had heard so often about their extreme character assassinations and smear tactics, I thought it was really pitiful that they couldn't find anything better. They really don't want to bring much attention to me, though; I'm a little more dangerous in that I have the blood of the guy and I really just don't give a fuck. I can speak the truth -- that's the most damaging thing you can do to the church of Scientology."
For now, Scientologists seem to be leaving him be, allowing Kennedy to further besmirch his legacy through his debased spectacle. "A lot of spoken-word shows have this veneer of respectability, and I aim to demolish that in every way, shape, or form," he says. "Frankly, I detest most poetry. It's been killing itself for years, reducing its validity from its oral tradition, which is where I believe it came from." Spoken word, at least to him, is the next evolution of the form. "People who say Tourettes isn't art ... I think they are forgetting the evolution of art, that the beat poets were three guys. One a junkie, one an alcoholic, and one of them a flaming gay man. None of them were accepted in the '40s, but in the 1950s they suddenly became part of the new vanguard. Now poetry needs a bite in the ass again, and I'm the one bearing fangs."
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2002