Despite the fact that the group is signed to Big Boi's Purple Ribbon label and is featured on his single "Follow Us," some people have major problems with Vonnegutt. The controversy has extended to its name — an homage to the late scribe Kurt Vonnegut.
The Marietta-based hip-hop group's 2007 debut, The Vice Nine EP, was even named after a substance called "ice-nine" from the author's 1963 classic Cat's Cradle. (It turned water into a solid.) The EP came out a few months after the author's death, and neither the circumstances nor the music impressed a Tastes Like Chicken reviewer, who opined: "To associate this album's content with the memory of the late Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is straight up legacy rape. I read Cat's Cradle in sophomore English class too, assholes."
The reviewer, Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, also compared the group to Gym Class Heroes, another admitted touchstone of Vonnegutt. "I'm a huge fan," says the group's MC, Kyle Lucas. "They sold a million records, so I don't know what we would do different."
Like the upstate New York crossover hip-hop act, Vonnegutt is quick-witted, bratty, and plays with a live band. Though sometimes called a rock/rap fusion, Lucas insists there's nothing hybrid about them. Indeed, he's an experienced mixtape rapper, and the group's other co-founder, guitarist and vocalist Neil Garrard, has done session work for local heavyweights like Organized Noize and Pastor Troy. They're attempting to prove their mettle to a larger audience with the rerelease of their mini-album from earlier this year, The Appetizer EP, on Sept. 21. It builds on the hype of "Follow Us" and a recent appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," and spotlights the group's joint signing with Purple Ribbon and Manchester Orchestra's Favorite Gentlemen Recordings. A full-length is due later this year, but the question remains: Is Vonnegutt the real deal, or does it simply have the right friends?
Garrard befriended Big's younger brother Jason Patton while attending Gordon College in Barnesville, Ga., and before long he was playing with Rick Wallkk and Jeron Ward of the Big-affiliated Royal Flush production team. Garrard met Lucas separately, after answering the MC's posted flier requesting bandmates, and the pair later brought on Patrick Postlewait on bass and Taylor White on drums. Wallkk was a fan of their self-made The Vice Nine EP, and the group began recording demos of the songs at Stankonia.
Big felt the vibe. "He got what we were trying to do," says Garrard. "It wasn't just disposable pop. It was pop music that had depth."
Like much of Big's highly praised, recently released solo debut, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, "Follow Us" was recorded awhile back — a year and a half ago, or so. Big played Garrard the song's Salaam Remi-crafted beat and noted he didn't have a hook for it. As if on cue, Garrard came up with the chorus — "Follow us, now/Try to walk away, now/It's not another letdown/Got something to say right now" — pretty much on the spot, and Big loved it. Despite the fact that no one in the band besides Garrard contributed to "Follow Us," they decided to dub it "featuring Vonnegutt" for the sake of branding the band. The Manchester Orchestra connection, meanwhile, came about through a mutual acquaintance at Columbia Records; it's a little-known fact that the Atlanta indie rockers are big rap fans, and after drummer Jeremiah Edmond left the outfit to focus on their label, he took Vonnegutt on.
Unfortunately, such a convergence of talent has not rubbed off on the Marietta boys. Though "Follow Us" is hot, their startlingly slight Appetizer EP — three songs and a remix — is a grating mash of juvenile sentiment and gimmicky hooks. While Lucas is a skilled rapper, and the playing is strong throughout, the production is soulless and the lyrics are unrealistic, uninteresting and unfunny. Sample verse, from "Bright Eyes": "She handcuffed me to the bed with chains/She took out whips and all those freaky thangs/Of course she left me before morning came/And come to think about it I didn't even catch your name."
Fans of Gym Class Heroes will probably dig their shtick, but fair warning to anyone turned off by titles like "Ex Girlfriends Are Stupid" (also off Appetizer). Even demigods walking among us like Big Boi, it seems, are subject to occasional lapses in taste.
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