Too Live Crew
A name like Smut Peddlers, an album title like Porn Again and cover art that depicts vulgar Howard Stern Show prankster Beetlejuice flanked by six tantalizing babes who look as if they just left the set of a Jay-Z video all let listeners know what to expect when they press play. But while this New York-based group spits its share of lurid lyrics, Porn Again isn’t a Caligula-style freak-fest. There’s deeper substance buried beneath the misogynistic rants; the Peddlers use sexually charged lyrics as a diversion while they poke fun at the deteriorating state of hip-hop culture and sneak in commentary on politics, materialism and the gangsta lifestyle. As Mr. Eon explains, even the cover art has a hidden meaning.
“The cover has all of these hot girls, then you got Beetlejuice standing there in the middle of them,” Eon says. “Beetlejuice represents the ugliness, and that’s what we are — we are the ugliness among the diamonds and richness ’cause we are doing our thing on the underground level. We are in the dirt. On the surface our record is all about porn and shit, but it’s really about the underlying bullshit that’s going on in hip-hop right about now. We use sex to get people to listen to our message.”
Once they’ve lured listeners with their freaky tales, Eon and his partner on the mic, Cage, deliver sharp criticisms of the industry. On “Amazing Feats,” Eon raps I’m stompin’ on these chatroom fakes/ whose hip-hop birth coincides with them cheesy remakes/You little kids playin’ the critics hard/Go back to your other hobby — Pokemon cards. The Smut Peddlers are actually calling out the bling-bling rappers whose album covers offer all of the garish raunch of Porn Again with none of the self-aware irony. Eon and Cage, along with DJ Mighty Mi, prove too clever to succumb to rap’s troubling strip-club mentality.
“We just try to do our own thing,” Eon says. “We have no obligation to use the formula that a lot of rappers use today. We just enjoy what we wanna do and make what we wanna make. We are just tryin’ to drop some real hip-hop type shit. We takin’ it back to the old school.”
Paradoxically, takin’ it back to the old school does not mean abandoning the flashy boasts of wealth that pollute mainstream rhymes. “Rappers have a long tradition of being materialistic. It’s always been about materialism,” says Eon, who then breaks into the time-honored hip-hop chant Make money, money/Make money, money, money. “Hip-hop has always been about the cars, the money and women.”
But it’s also about the lyrics, and even though the image of three white kids producing sexually explicit raps seems at best to be an amusing gimmick and at the worst a pathetic 2 Live Crew rip-off, Cage and Eon quickly prove that they have serious skills. Porn Again gives hip-hop heads the first legitimate reason to use their vocal decoders since Ghostface Killah dropped his brilliantly inscrutable Supreme Clientele more than a year ago. “I try to talk about shit that only a handful of people know about,” Eon reveals.
Eon’s less esoteric lyrics are not for the easily offended or militantly politically correct, but for listeners who can tolerate bouts with questionable taste, Porn Again should prove witty and entertaining. “Porn Again sort of represents our darker side,” Eon says. “We are not tryin’ to offend anyone. We were just tryin’ to be creative. Porn Again is a record you can’t take too seriously. It’s not just about sex; it’s about a lot of different shit.”
Porn Again does offer some variety, although its range isn’t especially wide. The album’s hottest track, “Josie,” is a twisted ode to the ultimate sexual partner. Respected rap veteran Kool G. Rap sparks the bouncy “Talk Like Sex Pt. II,” and Kool Keith gets convulsive on “Stank MCs.” Musically, DJ Mighty Mi excels at capturing the disc’s theme, constructing all the tracks to reflect its sex, drugs, and rock and roll mentality. He tosses porno-sounding loops, fuzzy guitar licks and hazy sound effects into the mix to create an arresting head-bangin’ experience. His extra-thick, grimy beats perfectly complement Eon’s husky growl and Cage’s geeky nasally whine.
Porn Again, the trio’s debut full-length, was several years in the making. “We linked up to do the single ‘One by One’ back in ’97,” Eon recalls. Eon and Mighty Mi broke into the biz as the rap duo The High & Mighty, whose single “B-Boy Document ’99” became an underground classic. Cage established his reputation with a series of twelve-inches, the best of which was “Agent Orange.” The trio met at the Nuyurican Cafe in New York, exchanged numbers and started recording tracks. The Peddlers now own their own label, Eastern Conference Records, and plan to release a Cage solo project as well as showcasing other up-and-coming artists, such as Mad Skillz and Copywrite.
Future Peddlers projects likely will continue to focus on flesh and fantasy, given that Eon claims to watch porn every day. His devotion to smut has deep roots, tracing back to when his parents purchased a subscription to Playboy for him when he was twelve years old. “My parents were real hippie-ish and wanted me to understand sexuality early on,” Eon says.
That early introduction to adult entertainment may explain why audiences are exposed to blow-up dolls and dancing girls during the Smut Peddlers’ live sets, but Eon claims these dubious props merely add excitement. “You gotta have a little more than just us up on stage rhyming,” he insists. Maybe, maybe not, but such performances prove that the Smut Peddlers remain committed to truth in advertising.