The poet Langston Hughes once asked, "What happens to a dream deferred?" One possible answer is unfolding on the stage of the Whiskey a Go Go at a recent Hed(pe) show. Front man Jerred Shaine is jumping up and down, sweat dripping off the obligatory goatee that fuzzies up his chiseled jaw, his dreds swinging to the beat of B.C.'s (Ben) pounding drums. Chizad (Chad) is jumping, too, sani-wrapped in a white-boy, Parliament-Funkadelic-inspired hospital gown, complete with oxygen tubes in his nostrils. Sparks fly from the drill DJ Product uses to tweak his keyboard. Mawk maintains the rhythm while keeping a steady B-boy bounce. The Dickies-clad crowd is eating up Hed(pe)'s show and sound, a P-Funk-meets-G-Funk hybrid that the band calls G-Punk. But then Shaine—who goes by the stage name M.C.U.D.—brings everything to a dramatic stop. There's something on his mind, and he wants to share it: "Fuck your mama and the scandalous child she raised!"
Ouch! Could he possibly mean me? Naw, no way—it's gotta be one of these other chicks.
"I know you're fucking every one of my friends!" M.C.U.D. screams, continuing his rant. "You're no good for me!"
Well, I don't know his friends, and I'm not fucking M.C.U.D., so I quickly delete myself from the list of women he might be talking about. And that should settle it, except it doesn't—quite. Actually, M.C.U.D.'s big shit fit has me stalled. But the song does have a good beat. So there I am: offended but bobbing my head, not sure what to make of Hed(pe)—or its contradictory effect on me.
A week later, as I sit with the band in Ground Zero studios in Huntington Beach, there's a very different Shaine slouched against the wall in front of me. He's not as scary—he might even be a little scared of me, since I'm the one working the tape recorder. And the one with the question: So, what's your bitch with women?
"When I say something inflammatory about sex onstage, people think I'm anti-woman," he says. "But I enjoy a gritty lyrical style. It's more provocative. I'm not a gangster from the hood, so I'm going to find my own way to make things more inflammatory-sounding."
Hed(pe) comes from a generation nurtured at the teats of KROQ and MTV, bombarded by sights and sounds that were formerly incongruous elements—like alternative rock and underground hip-hop—but that now create a genre defined by blurred lines. In recent years, bands like Ice-T and Body Count, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Rage Against the Machine have sent record-store employees into a categorizing panic, trying to decide whether to install a new CD gondola and take on the weighty responsibility of labeling the new sound. The guys in Hed(pe) grew up listening to punk but were attracted to the energy and power behind hardcore rappers like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. They borrow from the energy but not the substance—these guys aren't about pretending they're from the hood, and it's pretty hard to rap about drive-bys when you're chillin' in Huntington Beach.
They have to go with the problems they've got, and from their perspective—which is in the land of strippers and porn stars—that leaves them singing, usually angrily, about chicks. And getting a lot of reactions.
"One paper said we advocated rape," laughs Wes Geer (a.k.a. Wesstyle), who provides the screeching guitar wails behind the metal edge in the mix. "I don't know where that came from. We've never sung about rape."
As edgy as Hed(pe) are onstage, they're fairly gentle in person. Like their sound, they're a contradiction. And with all the talk about bitches and anger, it's surprising to find out the ethereal meaning behind their name. "Hed" refers to "Deep in yo mind"; (pe), stands for planet earth, planetary evolution, universal consciousness.
It seems a stretch until you consider the social issues the group addressed on its first release, Church of Realities. They sang about race, overcoming life's obstacles, government abuse and more. But they've spent a lot of time on the road since that album. And they've discovered new horrors closer to home: the music industry and, um, some ladies.
"Sure, I've gone out with women who were liars and bitches," says Shaine. "But my mom's a nice lady. I'm sure there are tons of females who are truthful and trustworthy, and I'm sure that someday I'll meet one. There are guys who are dicks I'd like to stick my fist into. It's the same thing with women. I think that anybody is going to answer the question that way if they're honest. But not everybody gets a chance to be on the mic and let their true feelings come out. It's one minute out of your waking hour. You put it down at that moment, and you have to rap it for eternity. It's only an expression of how I might feel on one Tuesday out of a week. But anything else wouldn't be honest. Any vocalist who could get up there and do nothing but sing praises about the opposite sex would not be being honest."
I resolve not to resist getting my groove on the next time I hear Shaine verbally assault his ex onstage.
The guys acknowledge another, bigger problem: they're in debt. To their record company. For all of their fuck-her rants, Hed(pe) say they're really getting screwed by the record industry.
"We got into the industry when we didn't know anything about signing a record deal," explains Shaine, echoing the tired lament of so many who have seen the reality behind the rock-star dream. "We had these romantic visions of the music industry, and we thought it would be cool to be a punk band on a rap label. So we fulfilled that dream, but it was also probably the worst thing that could have happened. The rap game vs. the rock game—it's totally different. In hindsight, we kind of think we should have held off."
Because of the terms of the contract they signed and the lower-than-expected sales of their records, Hed(pe) have been unable to repay the cash advances that Jive Records gave the band. And that limits the band's options for changing its situation.
"We've had offers from Sony and others that we can't take because we owe Jive so much money," says Shaine. "I'm really disillusioned because a lot of people don't know what goes on behind-the-scenes. To them, if you didn't sell a ton of records, it's because you're not as good as whoever did sell."
"We would rather start fresh," says Geer, "but we have a commitment with Jive. The label still likes us so much, and they're 100 percent behind us. We used to print fliers for our own shows and do all the promotion ourselves, but now it's turned into this big cumbersome ball covered with B.S. and red tape every step we take."
"We've literally slaved ourselves out to our record company," says Shaine. "We've come back after two years of touring without much of anything to show for it, except an increased fan base. Before, we all had jobs where we were making good money and had job security. Then we signed this record deal. We received a nice sum of signing money, which made us feel kind of secure, as compared to right now, when we don't feel any security. I'm making one-quarter of what I was making at my previous job."
(Calls by OC Weekly to Jive Records remain unanswered, except for one record-label representative who accidentally answered her line instead of letting her voice mail pick up. When asked whether Hed(pe) is in debt to the label, she said her receiver was going dead and she could no longer hear. She said she would call back but did not by press time.)
Even angry G-Punks want the white picket fence and sparkly SUV. And the guys were already close to picking up the keys through their multiple careers, ranging from a transcriber to a computer programmer to an EMT. They chose to gamble with their future for a shot at big-time rock success. "When we put out our first album, I had huge expectations of having a career—and a car and a house," says Shaine. "Things just didn't turn out like that. So now it's more of a despair thing while writing the second album. Now I'm more disillusioned with the industry."
And it shows on the new record, which isn't nearly as Hed or as (pe) as the first. "Where we were coming from on our first album is definitely different from where we're about to come from on this one," says Shaine of their still-untitled release, scheduled for February. "The first album was more analytical about big things. I think this one is more about personal depression and personal doubts. It's more about how I'm overcoming problems."
Not that Hed(pe) expects sympathy from guys punching the clock at the local machine shop. "We're stoked to be getting to do music," says Geer. "But the problems can sometimes get in the way of doing all you can, music-wise. And worse albums than ours have gone huge."
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Amid all the economic insecurity and threats to their egos, the members of Hed(pe) say they cling to what brought them to the music in the first place: their need to create it. "When we don't rehearse for a while, I feel like I'm going to explode," explains Shaine. "We get back in the studio, and it's a huge sense of relief. This is the only thing I can do with my life that makes me happy."
"We've gotten to a point where we can play clubs and people come to see us," says Geer. "And there's also the support we get from fellow bands, the kind of admiration that makes us feel we should keep on doing it. When we play onstage, that's when we go, 'Yeah, this is why we're here.'"
Still, it's impossible not to be affected by the hard lessons they've learned. And sometimes they consider the alternatives. "All of us feel we could make money doing whatever else, but we all want to make a living at what we like to do," says Shaine. "We're being pulled between knowing that if we keep doing this, we have a chance to make a career at it and throw in the towel and say fuck it."
Meanwhile, they consider how different things might have been if they knew then what they know now. "It's like you need a break to get signed," says Shaine, "but then after that, you still need more of them: to break in your album, or to get a big band to let you tour with them, or to where your record company is going to pay a radio station to play your song. Those are breaks we didn't get."