Having grown up in Berkeley, rapper H.B.K. says he knows the difference between purist punk and punk-lite. "An authentic punk rocker to me is like, half their head shaved, big black boots, and don't give a fuck about anything," he said. "Not colorful. Not 'I'm gonna wear Vans and checkered earrings and a couple of tattoos' and shit like that." H.B.K. takes great pleasure in derogating what he calls the "the punk-rock poser movement," a flash-in-the-pan trend that, he feels, is quite far removed from his own hip-hop rock band, C U Next Weekend.
The band had its genesis about three years ago, coinciding with similarly themed groups like the Flipsyde and the Kev Choice Ensemble. Most of these outfits are buoyed by a rapper-singer with a strong cult of personality, and abetted by a few sidemen who can really play their instruments. C U Next Weekend fits that profile to a tee. H.B.K. makes an appealing frontman with his lip ring and tattoos (at this point he has nearly a hundred of them, including several on his face and neck), and the seven-piece band behind him could hold its own against any other high-energy rock group.
Despite its omnipresent hype man, Mr. 1derful, C U Next Weekend skews more rock than hip-hop. The songs are power-chord heavy and often climax with a sprawling guitar solo. And the group uses fast, propulsive rock beats rather than the programmed drums of hip-hop. The lyrics seem to focus mostly on partying and girls — similar to what you'd hear in an Asher Roth or LMFAO album. Nonetheless, CU Next Weekend still straddles the line between genres — which might be the key to its success.
C U Next Weekend spawned from the improbable mixed-marriage of former high school jock H.B.K. (whose name doesn't stand for anything — "It's just three cool letters") and ex-band geek Dan "DanElectric" Lawrence. A few years ago, H.B.K. started going to Dan's house — actually Dan's mom's house — in Albany to buy beats. Dan had honed his chops at Albany High, where he played trombone in the symphonic, jazz, and R&B bands, while cutting tracks in the school's new digital recording studio. He went on to study music at Sonoma State University but left after two years, when his department became a casualty of budget cuts. He gave away about three albums' worth of beats before launching a business in earnest from his childhood bedroom. By the time H.B.K. got to him, Dan had the market cornered, along with fellow Albany alum Young L from a briefly successful hip-hop group called the Pack.
"I had a cousin who rapped, and he used to take me to studios all around Albany," said H.B.K. "He had a beat from Dan and I was like, 'That shit's hot.' It was actually an intro, but I flipped it into a song. ... Bought another beat from Dan, flipped it ... I'm like, 'You know what? Rather than just buy beats from this dude, we could do some major shit, you know what I mean?"
So H.B.K. decided to holla at Dan, who by that time had risen up the ranks and moved his studio to the Zoo in West Oakland, home of Goapele, Bedrock, and Mephisto Odyssey, among others. "I think Dan didn't fully understand where I was coming from," said H.B.K. "I was like, 'We need to fuse rock with hip-hop ... like, real rock. And Dan was like, 'Uh, yeah.' So he gave me another hip-hop beat."
Some time in late 2006, Dan got it. He called H.B.K. at 1:30 a.m. and played what would become the backbeat of their first single, "All She Really Wants." It had four woozy minor chords over a snare drum, with a keyboard pinging out the melody line. H.B.K. was hooked.
From there, the two musicians began forming their enterprise. Dan auditioned band members from his circle of acquaintances, and eventually came up with the current personnel: Ladante Smith on drums, Brett Zadlo on bass, Clay Barnett on guitar, Elliott "ET" Peltzman on keys. Dan composed about several tracks in the studio and had H.B.K. write lyrics for them. Then he broke the beat into its different melodic elements and transposed them for live instruments. He said it wasn't hard: Most of his beats have a consistent four-chord pattern that easily hews to a rock template. The last piece of the puzzle was Mr. 1derful, H.B.K.'s longtime friend and fellow jock from Richmond's De Anza High School. One day, H.B.K. brought Mr. 1derful into Dan's studio after a night of partying. Mr. 1derful wore short gym shorts and cowboy boots, and busted a River Dance move when he walked in the door. Within a few months, he'd become the band's official hype man.
Dan and H.B.K. had near total creative control of the group's new self-titled EP, which they cobbled together on ProTools and later interpolated on live instruments. They hope to write their album the opposite way, having the band write the music and then refining it on Dan's computer. "We did our first EP from the studio to the band. Now it's from the band to the studio," said H.B.K. "Everything is more what works live." It's also a less hip-hoppy, more rock-band-ish way of doing things, and H.B.K. says that's fine with him. "We're rock, we're not hip-hop," the emcee said. "The only thing hip-hop about our music is the lyrics and the delivery, which is changing daily."
To him, the true litmus test happened a few months ago when CU Next Weekend performed at the East Bay Rats motorcycle club — and didn't get called out. In fact, the Rats loaned their club out for a band video shoot a couple months later. Having that kind of street cred is a tremendous source of pride for H.B.K., who, despite being a rapper and athlete, has long been infatuated with the rock scene. "When we get approached after shows, it's like skater kids and real live punkers," he said. "They're like, 'I love the punk shit that you guys are doing.'"
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