Whiskey Blanket Celebrates Ten Years of Truly Unconventional Hip-Hop

Steven "Steakhouse" Pampel and Jordan "Funny Biz" Polovina started Whiskey Blanket ten years ago, when they were still teenagers. Originally focused on beatboxing and keyboards, the two friends soon transitioned into rapping over live instruments. That change came about after they met Joe "Sloppy Joe" Lessard at a house party and learned that he played violin, something that fit right in with Pampel's classical-piano training and Polovina's experience on the cello.

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The three played mostly house shows in those early days, and when they moved on to larger venues, they didn't take the usual bar-and-club route."I think our first show was at UMC, on the CU campus," says Pampel. "That was the first show at a real venue, and it sold out. Then we booked a headliner at the Fox a few months later, and we managed to sell that out -- so we started out with a lot of momentum. I think hip-hop was pretty popular at that time. We had a huge high-school following, and we were able to pack venues pretty well for quite a while."

To this day, Pampel is unsure of the exact reasons for the band's immediate popularity, but he says tha Whiskey Blanket's unusual musical palette deserves the credit for its longevity. The group uses some samples, but it also draws from a wide range of sources, including classical music and Japanese jazz and funk from the '60s and '70s. Artists such as Maki Asakawa, Toshiro Mayuzumi and Jimmy Takeuchi have all informed the Whiskey Blanket sound; some of those influences can be heard on the group's latest EP, From the Dead of Dark. A video for one of the songs found on that release, "Blatto Nox," will screen at this week's anniversary show at the Fox Theatre. The name of the band suggests Americana, and the bandmembers' appearance often adds to that impression. And while the hip-hop created by Whiskey Blanket bears little resemblance to the genre sonically, it does share an aversion to computers with it.

"We love instruments," says Pampel. "I think there's just something irreplaceable [about] the sound of analog and acoustic instruments; it can't really be beat. The direction most hip-hop is going is more electronic. I'm not a big fan of most of it, and we really think a lot is lost when you sacrifice instruments, so we make a strong point to keep those central.

"We just feel that musicianship in hip-hop has been lost in a lot of ways. Some people are a little too lazy with their live shows and their performances, so [playing instruments] is a good way to bring that element of musicianship back."


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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.