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Back That Smut Up

They're your pusher men: DJ Mighty Mi, Cage, Mr. Eon and Beetlejuice (kneeling) are the Smut Peddlers.

The Smut Peddlers have chosen an odd place to call home. New York City, formerly the sin capitol of the world, has been virtually transformed into a porn-free zone thanks to a woefully energetic mayor. For a group that traffics in the very trash the city has so swiftly swept to the curb and whose goal is to become the Larry Flynt of the rap world, a Manhattan zip code seems almost like a death wish. So far, however, the Smut Peddlers have managed to prove that they have more staying power than Bob Dole after his evening Viagra.

The Smut Peddlers were originally conceived as a one-off side project of the High and Mighty, the duo composed of Philly natives Mr. Eon (Erik Meltzer) and Mighty Mi (Milo Berger). With New York rapper Cage, the group released its first effort under the Smut Peddlers name, the twelve-inch "One by One," in 1998. But the Peddlers have experienced a rebirth with the release of a new full-length album, Porn Again -- a nasty, grimy, offensive effort that is nothing short of irresistible. Will the most politically incorrect rap artists please stand up?

On Porn Again, the sick and twisted Peddlers bake up some XXX-rated rhymes accompanied by plenty of beats and weed by the pound. Berger's production sounds like a downtown- Saturday-night hybrid of DJ Premier spliced with the soundtrack to a '70s skin flick. The cover of the album features Beetlejuice -- the diminutive bug-eyed master of swank from the Howard Stern show -- surrounded by a bevy of "New York ho's" (as Berger describes them). Beetlejuice also raps on the disc ("Pimpology"), sounding like some pimp barker from a hip-hop/porn cable access show set in the outer limits. (According to Berger, Beetlejuice fit in perfectly: "We thought he really embodies the perfect Smut Peddler. Now he is an honorary member.") This isn't progressive, enlightening or political music. It's down-and-dirty stuff about getting down.

"The type of hip-hop we make is smut -- unadulterated, no-prophylactics type shit," says Berger.

"It's the side that people try to repress," adds Meltzer. "Governments try to repress it all over the world, but [we need] a freedom to explore. We've got to keep the smut in there, or people are going to get more repressed, and there is going to be more rape. Like if you go to Europe: They've got their red-light districts, and it's very open. It seems like they're talking about it. But here, it's like the old puritans in us."

It's doubtful that Meltzer's argument will persuade the opinions of people like C. DeLores Tucker or Andrea Dworkin. The porn-laden content of the record has certainly invited the criticism that the Peddlers are misogynistic -- a tough charge to beat when one considers the group's own words. Lyrically, the Peddlers put the magnifying glass to all things sleazy, dirty and funky -- a thematic trifecta that's best summarized in the track "That's Smut": "Money shots and porno plots/Politicians in limousines sniffing double Ds trapped in baby tees."

With Porn Again, Meltzer and Berger find themselves in a position that many hip-hop artists know all too well: that is, defending the musical merits of their work, even when the message might be objectionable to some.

"I think some people might think it is misogynistic, but that's just on the surface," Meltzer says. "The whole layer of porn is just there to attract you. Once you put the CD in the player, we just hope you like that shit for what it is: dope lyrics and dope beats."

The lyrics, he notes, are usually born more of humor than ideology, though it's a matter of taste (or lack thereof) as to whether a listener is likely to find certain lines funny. The track "Talk Like Sex Part II," in which Cage waxes on Mary-Kate and Ashley, those lovable twins from TV land, is a particularly salient example: "Exactly four years [from] today/The Olsen twins will be doing their first three-way." Later in the track, the legendary Kool G. Rap spits this jewel: "Get a nigga freaky enough/It'll make him want to fuck his armpit."

Without Meltzer and Cage's talents on the mike -- and Berger's production and deejaying skills -- it would be easy to deride these guys as exploiting a rap gimmick that's as old as Luke Skywalker. But each Peddler has established himself as a viable player in the hip-hop game. Meltzer and Berger's cachet within the scene was cemented with the High and Mighty's successful debut Home Field Advantage in 1999; their single "B-Boy Document '99" (with Mos Def and Mad Skillz) blasted radio airwaves while the accompanying video saw steady rotation on BET. Cage has been making noise for some time now, for both his personal travails and his music: After spending three years in a mental institution, he inked a deal with Columbia (which eventually went south), blazed a cut by Pete Nice and began releasing twelve-inch singles (including "Agent Orange/Radio Head") on Bobbito Garcia's Fondle 'Em Records. He probably is most notoriously known for his ongoing beefs with Eminem, whom he refers to as his "bitch lady" and accuses of biting his style. (The two have been dissing each other on wax for the past year: In his track "Drastic Measures," Eminem raps, "I'm picking up Cage's sister early.../Went on stage and sprayed Cage with Agent Orange." On his cut "Illest Four Letter Word," Cage raps, "I heard some blond bitch walking through New York looking for Cage/I'll stab you in the face, ten times in the same place.")

Though Porn Again abounds with rhymes about breasts, booty and bitches, the Peddlers juggle more topics than those suggested by the album's title. One of their favorite targets is the wack state of hip-hop today, which Meltzer addresses on "Diseases." He takes on frostbitten MCs who have delusions of grandeur: "Hip-hop diseases, too much ice will catch a shorty sneezing." Meltzer, who comes from a battle-rap background, also reserves plenty of venom for all those Internet backpacker "expert" rap heads: "I'm stompin' all these chatroom fakes/Whose hip-hop birth coincides with the cheesy remakes/You little kids playing the critics cards/Go back to your other hobby, Pokémon cards," he chides on "Medicated Minutes."

Professional sports also weigh heavily in Porn Again's mix, an element that harks back to Meltzer's and Berger's youth and the allure of teams like the Philadelphia '76ers -- who had an in-your-face style and flair embodied in players such as Julius Erving (especially when Doc sported an Afro and goatee). The Sixers, as writers like Nelson George have noted, had all the elements of what would become the hip-hop attitude. This influence was definitely apparent on the High and Mighty's debut: The sleeve insert on Home Field Advantage features a picture of a bedroom that probably resembles that of any kid who lived in Philly during that time, with its posters and jerseys of the city's sports and rap icons. On Porn Again, the Peddlers give props to Sixers players like Henry Bibby, an underrated player during Erving's reign who now coaches the USC Trojans. They also reference the future head of the Texas Tech basketball department during a battle segment of "That Smut": "I'll have you more shook than Marathon Man/Make an MC use our fetus and clone us/Coming out looking like Arvydas Sabonis.../I'll wipe my ass and shove it in your face like Bobby Knight."

Yet references to sports figures aren't the only instances in which you feel traces of a Philly background. The City of Brotherly Love was one of the epicenters of the initial hip-hop earthquake in the '80s, a movement characterized by tours like the Fresh Fest (featuring the likes of Run DMC, LL Cool J, Whodini and Public Enemy), which spread the gospel of hip-hop from the Big Apple down through other urban tributaries. Like so many future heads, Berger caught that bill as a youngster; soon after, he and Meltzer saw the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy in their hometown.

"That was one of the first big hip-hop shows I went to," Meltzer says. "We were there to see the Beastie Boys, but Public Enemy really blew our minds. That shit just set it off in terms of us becoming artists. The next month we had this talent show at our high school. We answered that shit; it was very influential in getting us to do hip-hop."

The pair dubbed their initial group the Freshman 3. Meltzer and another cat rocked the mike over an instrumental version of PE's "Public Enemy #1," with Berger at the turntable. Eventually Berger graduated to better DJ equipment and learned to cut and scratch over KRS-One records. (A blunted update of Kris Parker's "Beef" -- renamed "Weed" -- appears on Home Field Advantage.)

Over time, Meltzer and Berger refined their skills, whittled the crew down to two and renamed themselves the High and Mighty, a change partially motivated by a love of ganja. They made demos from 1987 to 1993 and were eventually asked to appear on New York's "Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show," one of the primary radio vehicles to break new hip-hop artists. Still, it took four years for them to produce an EP: In 1997, a three-song recording from High and Mighty was released on the group's own Eastern Conference Records. The mini-EP consisted of three songs, including "Hands On Experience"(with Bobbito and El P), an amusing assessment of the joys of masturbation (which the group later revamped, with the help of the notorious rapper/alleged porn star Kool Keith). A string of successful singles followed, leading the fellas to ink a three-record deal with Rawkus and release Home Field Advantage. Porn Again is the first effort to appear under the Smut Peddlers moniker and to feature Cage.

After touring to support the Peddlers release, Berger and Meltzer plan on devoting a lot of their energy to positioning their label, Eastern Conference Records, as the next Rawkus. Their goal, they say, is to become the Bernard King and Donovan McNabbs of the rap world.

"We've got a lot of stuff coming up, like the Eastern Conference All-Stars Part II," says Meltzer. "We have a lot of guest appearances [on that album], people like Royce the 5-9. It's sort of what Lyricist Lounge 2 should have been like. We're going to have Cage do an album, another High and Mighty joint, we have a Copywright album ready to go, a J-Zone album, so it's all really good."

As for downtime, since Mayor Giuliani has essentially declared smut illegal in New York City, it's a safe bet that you'll find these guys in their Manhattan crib enjoying other means of inspiration.

"I have a couple of channels on my DirecTV that is real porn: Syndee Steel, Sky, Chloe, Tiabella," says Berger.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, you have been warned.


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