"Maybe I could be the first rapper-slash-doctor!"
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!"
With Sleeper Horse, Show Pony, DJ Physical Baby and the Chain Gang of 1974, 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 22; with Signal to Noise, the Life There Is and Renegades, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 23, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, $10, all ages, 1-866-468-7621.
"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."
Plenty of lesser bands have had equally magnanimous benefactors. What made the difference for 3OH!3 was the quality of its songs and performances. On the strength of their high-energy live shows and a thriving online following, Motte and Foreman have scored openings slots for hotshots like the Faint and booked an upcoming two-night headlining gig at the Marquis. On the Web, the duo's MySpace tracks have received well over 100,000 plays each, and they've even been flattered with several fan-made YouTube videos.
3OH!3's broad appeal can be attributed partly to the group's liberal use of humor. With tongues buried deep in their cheeks, Foreman and Motte rap and sing like gangstas, despite coming straight outta Boulder. Motte's irresistible hard-edged beats and the pair's sucker-punch vocal delivery, however, provide musical proof that they're no joke. Both bristle at being labeled a novelty act.
"We get asked the question, 'Is your music serious?'" says Motte. "I think we're serious about making music that's fun."
Still, a couple of very white guys playing with the signifiers of hip-hop culture are bound to catch some flak. Motte and Foreman have even been called racists for the way they allegedly appropriate and lampoon the culture.
"We're having fun with it, not making fun of it," replies Motte, getting his dander up again. "Just because we're making music that is fun, it doesn't mean that what we're doing is racist, contrived or dumb. If people are so musically close-minded that they can't get their eight brain cells around the challenge of integrating and reinterpreting different music, then have fun being left behind in an ever-changing world. Racist? Just because we use an 808 drum hit and we rap? Fuck that. We understand the roots of hip-hop and respect the black culture from which it came, but I've always believed that music should be inclusive, not exclusive. I think white kids doing hip-hop should be seen as an homage, not a ripoff."
Ultimately, Foreman and Motte estimate that they've only received about five pieces of MySpace hate mail. The rest of the response has been overwhelmingly positive and has led to a rapid ascent on the local scene. In the face of it, the two friends work hard to keep their musical ideas fresh. Sometimes that means drawing inspiration from their earliest collaborations.
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"Our first band was called Two Lame Choads," Foreman offers. "We'd get together, and Nat would have a riff on the guitar and I would freestyle college rock — just benign Maroon 5 or Jack Johnson kind of stuff. We'd record full albums in one sitting. Sometimes we still get together and just revert to that."
That creative chemistry is the real key to 3OH!3's success. Motte and Foreman bounce ideas off each other, one-up each other and tease each other almost compulsively. Meanwhile, in the backs of their minds, both are processing how to turn the exchange into a song.
"Sean and I have been on the same mental and aesthetic page for about 13.2 light-years," Motte rhapsodizes, with complete disregard for physics.
"It feels like a second," Foreman adds, "but it's really been forever."