Smoke ’em if you got ’em

Leroy Smokes takes white hip-hop in a predictable direction

by Nathan Hall

I must have fallen asleep again and missed another meeting. When exactly did hippies infiltrate rap music? I was under the impression that the hip-hop art form was about political discourse, or was at least a ghetto notebook primer. Unfortunately, it looks like suburban potheads who preface everything they say with “one love” or “know what I’m saying?” make up local outfit Leroy Smokes, whose sophomore CD “The Plot Thickens” comes off as highly derivative at best.

Ever since Wild Cherry’s fluke one-hit wonder, “Play That Funky Music,” the idea of white boys being adequately proficient in the art of producing funky music has become a mildly accepted, albeit heavily lampooned, practice in our society. Stetasonic blazed the trail for the concept of a live hip-hop band, which in turn helped A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots create jazz-tinged funk-hop that eventually birthed a legitimate art form.

Nevertheless, the press has oft noted the fact that these artists are virtually exclusively black. It is understood that white folks are more than welcome on the Mothership Connection, but it is painfully obvious that the weight of history is decidedly stacked against the venture.

Leroy Smokes’ album mines The Roots catalog extensively, a semi-pardonable offense since there are much worse artists they could be ripping off. One could even look past their mindless, nihilistic, fight-for-your-right-to-party vibe, excusing the silly devil-may-care shout-outs to Lake Calhoun, by chocking it up to their younger age group and semi-charmed living environments. The unforgivable sins here are the unnecessary homophobic slams, a tired cliche usually delegated to lowbrow gangsta schlock. You would think a group of insecure males constantly calling each other “bro” and touching each other’s hands would be a sliver more open-minded about that sort of thing.

If nothing else, Leroy Smokes is a driven bunch of cats. Their raucous record release party was held on a Mississippi River boat cruise, and their disc appears to be stocked in the vast majority of local head shops as well as more traditional music outlets. Abandoning their early punk roots for the burgeoning Twin Cities hip-hop scene, the group waited nearly ten years before recording their demo “Come From Beneath.” Their Web site is one of the most exhaustive resources on a local band I have ever seen.

It is indeed great to see rappers actually having a good time and forgoing the predictably torment-ridden, gloomy route for once. If only they had something original and interesting to say instead of resorting to, “No, you’re the fag, fag!”

Leroy Smokes performs with Stereotype Click, Fighting Tongs, Unknown Prophets, Musab and Ill State at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday at First Avenue (612) 332-1775, 18+ $8/$10.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]