Brainwashing: The Art of Hip-Hopera is an unusual record, certainly the most unusual record we've ever heard from a local rapper. It's a sprawling, chaotic, hilarious and goofy epic, a sci-fi morality tale that's alternately pretentious and progressive, maddening and magical. Calling it ambitious is like describing Slobodan Milosevic as unpleasant or Paradise Lost as religious. Imagine, if you can, a hip-hop manifesto dramatized by characters from the original Star Trek and peppered with references to the teachings of Immanuel Kant, Mary Baker Eddy and Carlos Castaneda. Clunky beats, freakazoid samples, virtuoso scratching and a rap style that can only be described as demented all coalesce to support an allegorical structure that seems completely preposterous on paper (although it's no doubt perfectly reasonable if you're listening to the thing on headphones while stoned immaculate). Make no mistake: This is a Concept Album, and, like all Concept Albums, it's at least as embarrassing as it is enlightening, as wack as it is dope, as liable to provoke pained cringes as belly laughs.
The author of this madness is one Jonathan Getzschman, a 28-year-old Christian Scientist, skateboarder, roofer and film buff who goes by the name Jonathan Toth From Hoth. Getzschman, a lanky, earnest dude who wears his long blond hair looped over his crown in a slapdash updo, met us for coffee last week to discuss the album, which he released on his own label/collective, the Frozen Food Section, an affiliate of DJ Crucial's F5 Records. (Crucial produced one track, scratched on another and generally served as advisor.) Brainwashing's been out for only a couple of months, but already it's making a nice splash on the underground hip-hop scene. " I sent 200 packages to CMJ-charted colleges around the United States," Getzschman says. "In the first week, I made five top-ten hip-hop lists. The freakiest thing is that in the December issue of CMJ magazine, they listed the top ten adds of the week, and there was Atmosphere, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Ja Rule and Jonathan Toth From Hoth."
Getzschman -- who used to be a college-radio DJ himself, at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois -- seems amused and delighted by the response: "I get a lot of DJs calling me, saying, 'Who are you? Where did you come from? This doesn't sound anything like Nelly!'"
A self-described "blind optimist," Getzschman believes that hip-hop fans are hungry for inspiration. "My basic philosophy is that if you're an individual, you can't sound like anyone else," he says. "If everyone used that philosophy, we'd have so much more wonderful music, as opposed to the marketing people, who say, 'No, that's too risky, people won't buy that -- just stick to guns, bitches and clothes.' I've run into a lot of rappers who don't even think what I'm doing is rap or hip-hop."
Most of the music on Brainwashing is culled from videos, ranging from O Brother, Where Art Thou? to The Matrix, from Once Upon a Time in the West to The Seventh Seal. "Nobody touches movies," he says. "It's like this wealth, this untouched source. I go to Blockbuster, come back home, watch movies, find something that's perfect, plug RCA cables from my VCR to my MPC2000, sample it and then cut it up on the machine. Then I find some drums on records or somewhere else, and I link up stuff."
On top of this inspired weirdness, DJ Clockwork (né Jason Koenig), a jaw-droppingly great nineteen-year-old turntablist from Olivette, contributes scratches. Guest rappers -- we suspect they're Getzschman's alter egos, though he insists otherwise -- include Boris the MC, a 48-year-old former KGB agent, and Irish Martharscot, who sounds exactly like Groundskeeper Willie. In addition to rapping as Jonathan Toth From Hoth, Getzschman assumes the roles of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. (You haven't lived until you've heard the Vulcan MC bragging about how he's "battled Klingons and Romulans from kings down to common sons and only got laid once, in Episode 37.")
"I really don't like following," Getzschman admits. "I'd rather do something new and blow everyone's mind."Check out thefrozenfoodsection.com, and see whether it blows yours.
Lemmons Basement Bar, one of our favorite local music venues, was recently shut down by the St. Louis fire marshal. Owner Dave DiFani is working with Alderman Fred Wessels (D-13th Ward) to bring the beloved subterranean nightclub up to code. "We had the inspection done before we purchased the bar," DiFani says, "but obviously we didn't ask the right questions of the right people." The ground-floor portion of the bar remains open, but until the safety issues are addressed, there will be no live music in the basement. "We're trying to find a way to comply," DiFani says. "The music community's stepped forward in a fashion we weren't prepared for. Their generosity is almost overwhelming."