By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
As he applies to medical schools for next year, Nathaniel Motte — beatmaker and one half of Boulder crunk-rock duo 3OH!3 — is getting psyched about the cred this will win him in the hip-hop game.
"Let's put this down in ink," he shouts, sitting in a trendy Boulder coffee shop. "Dr. Dre is NOT a real doctor!"
"I was thinking I'd name my kid Doctor," Sean Foreman, the wordsmith of the group adds. "Then he'd have no problems getting through life."
"Could you change your name to Angelina Jolie?" Motte wonders aloud.
"I think that sounds like a good way to finally get with her," muses Foreman. "Just become her."
Inspired by the prospect of beating the system that has kept him from bedding one of America's hottest stars, Motte puffs out his chest. "Ha! I got you good, Angelina!" he boasts. "Suck it, Brad!"
From this stream-of-consciousness, improvisational interchange, it's clear how these two friends develop their clever musical wordplay. In just over a year of playing for the public, they've made their name by skillfully weaving together diverse musical influences and witty lyrics for optimal booty-shaking and grin-inducing effect. Beat-heavy rap-rock tracks like "Holler 'Til You Pass Out" and "Chokechain" suggest the unholy union of Angus Young and DMX, while more lighthearted and light-footed songs such as "I'm Not Coming to Your Party" and "N-E-A-T-F-R-E-A-K 47" (spell it out loud) find LCD Soundsystem hiding toys in the attic with Crispin Glover. Live, Motte and Foreman tag-team vocals as they run through synchronized, spastic dance moves and menace the crowd. Ardent fans, meanwhile, hold up the signature 3OH!3 gang sign like acolytes at a down-home revival.
"We combine hip-hop, rock, thug rap, country, classical, jazz, blues and all different kinds of music and try to make a little amalgam of all of them," Motte explains. "Mostly, it's just important that we have fun when we do it."
If it were only about fun, however, the pair might never have gotten together. While both grew up in Boulder and attended rival high schools, Motte was a year ahead of Foreman, and the two met when they shared a physics class at CU.
"I sat down one day," recalls Motte, "and I looked to my left, and there was this kid who was really serious, and I was like, 'Damn, that kid must not be a lot of fun!'"
"I used to watch this public-access TV show that Nat's high school did," Foreman interjects to set the record straight. "He was on it with this Buck 65 video he had made. I saw him in class, and I was just like, 'Maybe I should talk to this dude.' It was a little homoerotic."
Aside from their mutual attraction, the two shared a love of underground hip-hop, one of the few genres that enjoyed support in Boulder's jam-band-dominated music scene at the time.
"There wasn't really an indie or rock-and-roll scene here," Foreman recalls. "But a lot of big-name underground hip-hop artists would come through, like Atmosphere, Brother Ali, the Shapeshifters."
Inspired by these artists — as well as by his older brother, Spencer, of Boulder's Grace Gale — Foreman began doing a lot of MC battles and formed his first hip-hop group with producer/MC Devin Scheffel. The accessibility of hip-hop was what first turned him on.
"Growing up, you hear rock-and-roll bands, but you don't know how to go about mastering the guitar or the drums," he explains. "But with underground hip-hop, I just took to writing and freestyling."
Foreman and Scheffel released one full-length CD under the name Eight Hour Orphans. By that time, Foreman had made Motte's acquaintance and invited him to do a few beats. The hidden track, "Say 'Dem Up," would become the first 3OH!3 track.
"I didn't really produce music until right around when I met Sean," Motte reveals. "I started taking little chunks of songs — like individual drum hits — and copying and pasting them. It sounded horrible. I played the beats for Sean, and he was pretty nice about it. I mean, he wouldn't openly laugh at it. I'm intrigued by heavy synth sounds and all types of distortion, and mixing clean sounds with dirty sounds to see the interplay between that stuff." He pauses for a moment, visibly changing character from mild-mannered musician to quick-witted showman. "And then one day, when I was lying in bed, an aura of Lil Jon appeared in front of me and poured crunk juice all over me, and he was like, 'I baptize you, my son.' So I took it upon myself to follow in his footsteps."
While a visit from the crunk Jesus might have had some impact, the support and friendship these musicians found in Boulder's music community probably helped more. In addition to Grace Gale, Signal to Noise and Blackout Pact were early supporters who invited 3OH!3 to warm up crowds for them.
"We had it pretty easy," says Motte, dismissing the pair's early success. "We had a lot of friends in bands who chaperoned us around and got us shows, and that was enough hype or buzz to get us going on our own."