“Cast us as the monster, and bride of Frankenstein. You’re gonna try to take us, now we’re off the leash. You’re gonna to try break us on these city streets.”
On the surface, these lyrics from MOsley WOtta’s new concept album KinKonk, refer to King Kong on the loose in New York City clutching Ann Darrow in his hands. But dig deeper into the LP that drops this week and you’ll find they relate to exploitation in a much bigger sense. It’s an album Bend audiences should clamor for unlike any other produced locally in recent memory.
What the hip-hop group, comprised of six locals, has done in their sophomore album is weave tales of American history and the human condition with scenes of the 1933 King Kong movie using their own new creature, KinKonk. It’s a story that front man Jason Graham finds inspiring because to him there’s a personal layer here.
“What’s fun about this story is I get to relate this to my personal history of leaving the city of Chicago and coming here to a place where I always stuck out,” said Graham. “This album, as angry as it might get at times, is seeking desperately to find love, to find commonality, to find differences and accept them.
KinKonK is also a chance for MO WO, who won Bend’s 2010 Last Band Standing and will join the McMenamin’s Hotels Great Northwest Tour next month, to get out of their comfort zone. The record stands in stark contrast to their debut album Wake, and Graham acknowledges its success is not guaranteed.
“I think the album is risky to take a stand on,” said Graham. “I’m weaning myself off the obsession of caring about what other people think, but I’m constantly evaluating what other people’s opinions are. It’s an obsession from childhood. Some folks are not going to like [the album], but at least I know I gave it my best effort.”
A couple Fridays ago, I headed to the small and inconspicuously located Oxiliary Studios near Silvermoon Brewing to hear the new album. I had just left the Little Woody Brew Fest, was feeling pretty loose and ready for some creative hip-hop.
I found the almost hidden entrance on the backside of the building and was immediately greeted by Graham who walked me into the new studio, apologizing for the mess. He poured me a plastic cup of 10 Barrel Sinister and showed me around.
The walls were newly painted and the faint smell of latex still hung in the air. Graham—who is also an accomplished visual artist—had strung intricate and slightly schizophrenic ink pen drawings on the walls, soon to become limited edition images for the new CD.
Then it was time to listen. Graham ushered me into the studio’s mixing room. Inside, a couple thousand vinyl records and a small white couch were the distinguishing features of a room lit only by a multi-screened computer set-up. Graham gave a quick overview of the first track titled “Overture,” which he said was a summation of the entire album.
“They discover the KinKonk character, they try to contain him, he breaks free and they kill him. But even in his death, he still infected everybody,” said Graham. “It’s the classic “and it don’t stop” hip-hop thing. There’s this energetic force that gets introduced and recycled and it can’t be destroyed.”
Graham hovered over the computer, double-clicked on the first song and his self-proclaimed “best effort” emerged from the speakers. For the next 40 minutes, he methodically walked me through every track matching them with scenes from King Kong and delivering poetic descriptions of their dual meanings. The album bounced with Graham’s quick flow, while the lyrics delivered vivid imagery on top of thick, jungle-inspired beats.
The fourth track “Once Upon A Native” introduces listeners to the “film crew” as they arrive on the island with tribal, tUnE-yArDs inspired instrumentation. Here Graham paints a lyrical picture of how people improperly judge others by color rather than culture.
Next, “Fire Dance” allows the natives to fire back with lyrics like “Black is just a trend.” The natives complete a King Kong worship ritual on “Sacrifice Ceremony.” Each track is steeped in raw, primal beats, and little imagination was required to picture each scene.
The record’s seventh track “Runaway” drastically swerved away from straight rap into an instrumental electro-pop track produced by local music icon Brian Paul Bennett. Sugary auto-tuned vocals backed up Graham serenading Ann Darrow in a teen-prom song. He croons “I am scared to bruise you.”
KinKonk hits its peak on the title track with chaotic gritty beats layered on top of video game grooves with angry lyrics depicting King Kong loose in the city. It’s a song about Graham’s refusal to cower under the labels of others, he said.
“This is the KinKonK character saying “I’m the monster? Fuck you, you’re the monster,’” said Graham.
I watched Graham sit on the couch, rapping along to his own song about Kong wreaking havoc as he climbed to the top of the Empire State Building holding Darrow tightly. In an attempt to point out hypocrisy, the typically positive and kid-friendly Graham had included potentially offensive language.
I started to wonder how he might bring this belligerent song to life in concert without people thinking he was just another tawdry rap artist.
“There are words in there that are red buttons, and if pressed, will just explode,” Graham admitted.
The record ended with “Fight x Flight = Fall,” a soft, almost ambient rap depicting Kong’s fall and death as well as the epilogue track “Splash” that brought the album full circle with the idea that even in death, our influence isn’t lost.
As I headed back out into the cool late summer night, I couldn’t remember all the lyrics, but the images and emotions they evoked swirled around me. No Bend artist has made anything like this album before. Expect it to spark conversation and your desire to listen again and again as you plunder the layers.
Get To Know Jason Graham of MOsley WOtta
• Moved to Bend as a child from Chicago when his parents inherited a house here.
• First jobs included babysitting and working for Cameron Clark counting money and doing grunt work at events.
• Started making music in Bend with not much more than a microphone.
• Member of longtime Bend rap group Person People.
• During Bend’s 2010 Last Band Standing, had actors play zombies on stage during a performance and wore a variety of crazy costumes during the competition.
• Is a painter and slam poet who regularly teaches art to children in Bend.
• Is a husband and a father who is expecting his second child in January.
• Delivered the keynote address at Central Oregon Community College’s 2012 commencement ceremony and had the entire audience doing calisthenics to start the speech.
• Known for saying “I’m Mosely Wotta, and so are you,” to crowds at his shows.
CD Release Party
Saturday, Sept. 14, 9 p.m.
856 NW Bond St.
Free ($5 suggested donation)