‘Yeah, I Rock Skinnies, So What?’
In the tiresome paint-by-numbers scheme of modern hip-hop music, newcomers, the New Boyz, are coloring outside the lines. As the Grand Masters of the West-Coast jerk movement, Ben J and Legacy are ushering in a new genre of hip-hop, one that’s brimming with youthful funkiness and enviable not-even-trying hipness.
With the enormous success of their first single, ‘You’re a Jerk’, from their debut album, Skinny Jeanz and a Mic, The New Boyz have created a pop-culture wake of considerable size. Skinny Jeanz and a Mic has become the flagship for the jerkin’ counter-culture; minimalist heavy bass sounds with old school synth elements artfully paired with Skittles-colored skinnies and eighties flash fashion. As the New Boyz, the two carefree and enigmatic teens are the kit and caboodle of modern marketable hip-hop supergroups.
Exclusive Magazine recently caught up with the duo and got the ‘skinny’ on their busy North American tour, their rise to stardom, and where they find such blindingly bright inspiration.
Your music has it’s roots in hip-hop and rap. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? L: "I grew up listening to a lot of Eminem. He was my inspiration, especially with the way he puts his words together and how he rhymes. I picked that up at an early age and it would inspire me to start writing my own rhymes."
B: "I grew up listening to people like Ice Cube, Bone Thugs, Biggie and Jay-Z who is my dad's favorite. Lil Wayne is my favorite to this day. I like those new albums by Kid Cudi and Drake too. There's something fresh about it."
As up-and-coming artists, how would you describe the sound and style of your debut album Skinny Jeanz and Mic? L: "When people think of the New Boyz, they think of skinny jeans, but people don't realize that we can really spit too. The jeans reflect our involvement in the jerk movement and the beats that fit that genre, but the mic represents us being the leaders to take it forward based on our talent. Sonically, I produced a bunch of songs along with some local youth so it definitely."
B: "The album covers topics that normal teenagers go through. We have music for all kinds of people: those that like to party, those that are into the jerk things, songs for the ladies, and other where we are straight clowning, having a good time."
The first single, You’re a Jerk, peaked at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has brought global attention to the sub-culture phenomenon of jerkin’. Tell us a little about this West Coast style. B: "Well the dance came from LA as a inner city dance that was popular first with the gangs in the 80's that people were already familiar with. We made a song because we thought the dance had bigger potential than the house parties you would see these kids battling each other in groups and cliques."
L: "There are four main moves: the jerk, the reject, dip and pin drop. Everything all together is jerking when you mix it up. It has a lot in common with break dancing. The less baggy jeans and bright colors are just a way to differentiate yourself from what people expect you to look and act like."
You’re currently on a North American tour. What can fans expect from a live New Boyz show? L: "Well we just wrapped a tour with Chris Brown. We had some great shows. Fans should expect an entertaining set with some dope beats by some fly guys."
B: "Of course we'll jerk, but we're so much more than that. In a way, our live show introduces that side of our music to people who might have not known otherwise."
2009 has been a big year for the New Boyz where you’ve gone from performing in high school gyms to performing on the BET red carpet. What has been the most memorable experience thus far? B: "The BET Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta were dope. We got a chance to present an award and meet people we were just listening to on our way up there."
Ben J and Legacy, you’ve both been friends since the freshmen year of high school and even pooled your birthday money together to buy your first set of recording equipment. How has your recent success as artists affected your friendships, both with each other and with those you grew up with? L: "Oh that's like my brother from another. We travel all the time, so we naturally bump heads every so often, but that's family, right?"
B: "As far as those around us, you see some people change on you, but that's life. You keep the inner circle close though because they can see the changes in you and point them out if you get out of line."
How easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? B: "The beauty of this thing is that there was already a need out there. We just happened to be one of the first to put a stamp on it and make it catchy enough for those outside the community to rock with."
You worked with acclaimed DJ/ producer Diplo (MIA’s Paper Planes) on portions of Skinny Jeanz and a Mic. How has this renowned talent helped with the sound and direction the album? L: "It definitely helped in having us maintain our focus in the booth. As far as direction, we kinda knew what we wanted to say coming in, but he definitely put the finishing touches on it. He comes with a lot of influences and history; and as a young producer working on my own craft, I learned a lot."
You have over 17 million Myspace fans with over 32 million plays. With the success of You’re a Jerk on Youtube, how do you feel the internet, including social media sites like Myspace, have helped you in building a loyal fan base? B: "It's definitely helped us in communicating with our fans. It's kind of dope because that's something different about us: we communicate with all our fans. Our fans love it and if you don't communicate with the fans or if you change, your start to lose them."
L: "We get instant, real-time feedback on how they feel about a song, performance or whatever. This helps us incorporate changes in what we do if we feel they have a valid point about something."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? L: "We recently met Kid N Play at the BET Hip Hop Awards. I could see us using the hook from "Rollin' with Kid 'n Play" in something."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins, do you? B: "We have nothing against the people of Antarctica!"
For more information on hip-hop’s hippest duo, check them out on their official website and Myspace pages. Be sure to watch the video for their hit single ‘You’re a Jerk’ on Youtube and download Skinny Jeanz and a Mic available now on iTunes!
Interview: Erin M. Stranyak
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