By neckbeads and music snobs alike, nu metal is often regarded as the skidmark in the boxer shorts of music evolution. Despite the audio sodomy that occurred through the rise of emo straight after or the current fad of dubstep fucktardness, nu metal has been viewed as a taboo no go zone for anyone trying to create a credible form of music. Many link the mental retardation that is often associated to nu metal to groups like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, the latter doing anything in its power to distance itself from the tag since the release of their major label debut Hybrid Theory, the former wearing the tag like a badge of honor – both having a hearty chuckle all the way on the bank in the process. With that in mind, you would think the band that directly influenced and help shape the sounds of both these multi platinum groups would have enjoyed the financial spoils of nu metal – but you would be wrong – very, very wrong.
In 1997, a self titled release from Orange County collective (hed)PE went seemingly unnoticed by that vast majority of the backwards red baseball cap bandwagoners. Due to its lackluster sales (around the 100,000 mark) the group was pressured to change it sound on subsequent releases to almost degrading standard in a means to please the company standard. But we are not here mourn the loss of (hed)PE’s mojo – instead to celebrate a timeless, influential and vastly underrated musical trifle that should get its just desserts.
It’s a shame that due to changers within the way we buy/illegally steal our music, album cover art is quickly becoming an endangered species. Music and art go hand in hand, and as is in the case of (hed)PE self titled effort – cover art can be extremely expressive way to convey the message or style of the album in a number of creative ways. The art work was conceived and hand drawn/colored by Doug Boyce – the bands turntablest and a living legend in California’s underground street scene. Whilst Doug Boyce aka DJ Product©1969 was arguably the first to incorporate turntable sounds within to typical rock band set-up – creating the blueprint for the nu metal setup, through a little trolling on the interwebs – it’s clear to see the impact he has had in other elements of street culture. Long before his days in (hed)PE, Boyce was a well respected skateboarder/inline skater often credited as the man who established the inline grind movement and the person responsible for inspiring the earliest wave of professional inline skaters. Additionally, Boyce’s unique art style also caught the attention of the legendary Cali group Sublime – who contracted him for the artwork for their What I Got single.
Like the majority of Boyce’s artwork, there is so much going on in the artwork for the self titled release that to try and pinpoint a definite description of it would not be doing the artwork justice, there are multiple interpretations. Personally, I’ve always pictured Boyce in a cluttered studio apartment – (hed)PE playing in the background as he racks up multiple lines of speed on the back of The Descendants “Milo Goes to College” LP whist staring at a muted television playing re-runs of the twilight zone. After a heroic dose of said product, he picks up a sharpie and relies solely on closed-eye visuals that are being developed through the sounds of music and the ganked up noise of teeth gnawing together. I’m probably way off, but hey, I like to paint mental pictures. On artwork alone, (hed)PE deserves a vinyl release – but sadly there is little chance of that ever occurring. Additionally, there is also a rare Japanese release of (hed)PE, featuring a different Boyce artwork – no doubt inspired again by the band’s chaotic music style, and copious amounts of Amphetamine.
What separated (hed)PE from the lion’s share of bands at the time was that at a foundation level, (hed)PE’s music was inspired by hardcore punk – not metal. This tends for faster b.p.m’s and more sporadic guitar playing throughout the LP, amphetamine again, was also a factor. “The big difference between the first record and [subsequent records] was a speed driven tempo,” explains the guitarist Westyle. “It’s hard to say it, but I got some good out of it [doing speed],” admits Westyle. “I would play guitar for eight hours straight and I learned other shit. That was good for me“. Aided with a drug addled vibe, the band was in career best form and was complemented by a producer coming off a high himself – Todd Ray.
After honing his skills by producing Snot’s Get Some, T-Ray (as well as Jarred & Westyle) worked the boards to perfection – giving (hed)PE has a very organic but technically complex feel to it. With a band that can cover a variety of musical genres in a single song, it could of easily sounded uneven or unpolished, a problem that many of the modern (hed)PE releases suffer from, but fortunately the time was taken to make sure everything was mixed and mastered perfectly It is indeed rare to find a debut album of such complexity and richness in terms of sound quality. The timing and placement of songs on the record is also flawless, keeping constant tension on the listener and always delivering. The tweaked approach to (hed)PE’s music is evident in the first track on the album, ‘P.O.S’ First appearing on their Chaos in Clear Detail cassette tape, P.O.S starts off with a simple bass and break beat loop slowely building with a macabre scratched sample until climaxing into a Black Flag inspired angst-filled vibe. It is an odd dichotomy of dark and foreboding and yet pounding and fast at the same time that is littered throughout the rest of the album.
Following on from P.O.S are the two released singles from the record – Ground and Serpent Boy – the latter had the pleasure of being featured in the visual sodomy that was Dee Snider’s film Strangeland. Ground; a reworked Church Of Realities track takes aim at religion and our firmly rotting consumer culture over a hot bed of gritty street punk, industrial sampled grooves and reggae inspired vocal patterns.’Serpent Boy’, while fairly straight forward in terms lyrical content; a whimsical tale about a person who stole a quantity of marijuana from lead singer Jared – the eerie and hypnotic soundscape created by the band will have nerve cells playing catch-up to their sonic wizardry. Flipping the script on the hyphy early tracks, ‘Tired Of Sleep’ is dark and psychotic, a laidback bass driven hip hop track with the right amount of space of the production, creating a backdrop of slightly-sinister melodies from both Westyle and Chizad – think Cypress Hill’s Temple of Boom if you can’t picture it.
The turning point of the self titled (and also the halfway point) is ‘Darky’ – a track that does not just cross genres, it creates one. Darky (and Ken 2012) is what they meant when they coined their music G-Punk. Sampling the eccentric Dead Kennedys guitar riff at the end of ‘Till You Get Drafted’ off their Fresh Fruits and Rotting Vegetables LP and blending it with BC’s unique jazzy breakbeat drums, creates an innovative sound for Jared to effortlessly flow over before switching up into a frenzied punk breakdown. The only downer on Darky is they could not get the sample clearances on some of the scratches that were a highlight in itself on Church Of Realities version.
‘Schpamb’ is the straight forward hardcore punk breather to let the listener recover after the audio intercourse that was ‘Darky’. Sounding like the bastard child of Bad Brains ‘I against I’ – its fast, precisely played with Jarred channeling vocalist H.R’s trademark croon to screech recipe.’Ken 2012′ on the other hand is another timeless theatrical G-Punk classic. It is a song ahead of its time – like any good hip hop producer, (hed)PE was able to take a sample in homage to an earlier group, in this case Brand Nubian’s ‘Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down’, and turn it into something totally different, but equally as monumental. As epic as the Chinese standoff in Big Trouble in Little China – ‘Ken 2012′ the definite (hed)PE track.
’33’ is a legit hip hop number, something the greater part of nu metal artists (bar Mike Shinoda) know nothing about. The smooth and focused tone of ’33’ is reminisant of a Jay Dee production and sounds like an off cut from the Pharcyde’s underrated Labcabincalifornia album. Jared’s mouth words are premier on this track, switching it up constantly, often harmonizing and singing parts in his diagnostic Brazilian reggae flow. While some may argue that his rhymes are unfocused, they have a stream of consciousness quality to them that matches the ADHD nature of the music throughout the LP.
Following up from ’33’ are another two reworking from the Church Of Realities days, the LP’s weakest track, ‘Hill’ and the x-filed ‘IFO’. While ‘Hill’ is not a bad track in itself, doesn’t offer anything new to the overall album – even if it does contain some of the best lyrics; the line “another causality of art whose only fault was being born” – strikes as prophetic in regards to the aftermath of (hed)PE’s career after the release of the LP. ‘IFO’ is a vast improvement on the original that clogged up the mass majority of Church Of Realities (which clocked in at over 18mins), Products b-grade sci fi samples gives the track the perfect apocalyptic backdrop for the type of alien conspiracy jive talk that would make Giorgio A. Tsoukalos hair stand on..wait, nevermind. While uncredited, Cypress Hill’s Sen Dogg lends his vocals for the hook.
The vast and sobering final track ‘Bitches’ adds another element to the (hed)PE sound. If the majority of the LP was envisioned and thought up whilst on speed, this slow, reggae inspired number is pretty much the musical representation of a crank come down, filled with depressively scattered thoughts and splintered with self doubt. It may take a similar mindset from the listener to fully identify with the lyrical content, but with that said Bitches is musically brilliant from beginning to end.
The beauty of this record lies in the fact that at this point of their careers, their record company (Jive) was on their side, and did little meddling in (hed)PE’s recording (they DID cut one song – ‘Sinto’ from the album due to its overt anti-Christian message). But without the right promotion or tour support offered (Jive – fundamentally a Pop/Hip Hop label, did not understand how to market or promote a band that a heart, play hardcore punk music) subsequent releases, and in turn, the band suffered.
“When we put out our first album, I had huge expectations of having a career—and a car and a house,” says Jarred in 2000. “Things just didn’t turn out like that”. There are all kinds of costs associated with being on a label and making records, and those costs are recoupable. In label lingo, “recoupable” simply means that the record company wants that money back. Not only do they want it back, but the artist is going to have to pay for it out of their share. “We’ve literally slaved ourselves out to our record company,” noted Jared after the tour supporting the release of (hed)PE. “We’ve come back after two years of touring without much of anything to show for it, except an increased fan base. Before, we all had jobs where we were making good money and had job security. Then we signed this record deal. We received a nice sum of signing money, which made us feel kind of secure, as compared to right now, when we don’t feel any security. I’m making one-quarter of what I was making at my previous job. So now it’s more of a despair thing while writing the second album. Now I’m more disillusioned with the industry.” This despair led (hed)PE down the rocky road of musical conformity, jumping the shark with their last two Jive recordings, Broke & Blackout – becoming another Limp Bizkit clone until being dropped by Jive in 2004 to make space on their label for the growing emo trend of the time.
In 1997, (hed)PE did something many strive to do and so few ever achieve. Despite helping evolve the genre that countless less talented bands would imitate with greater success, with the Self Titled debut the band created a Frankenstein monster of sound, taking the best parts of other styles and making it there own – only to be unappreciated by the herds of public. Like a timeless novel; (hed)PE is a diverse piece of art which keeps its dynamic value throughout our generation and the next.