Kemo Treats: Sane Clown Posse
The theory that parodying something long enough causes one to turn into the very thing being made fun is put to the test with Kemo Treats.
Six years after starting the most ridiculous gangsta rap duo in Edmonton – if not the entire world – its co-founder Greg Goa remains clear on the targets of the group’s satire. It’s the self-centred, oh-so serious rap stars who never smile and are just as ridiculous: “Obsessed with money and glitz and sex and all that shit,” he says. He and his partner Karl Sharpe originally tried to make serious rap music, but having come from stable white families in middle class Edmonton ‘hoods like Strathcona and McKernan (respectively), “I just felt like I couldn’t do it,” Goa says. “It felt disingenuous. I don’t feel like we’ve grown up in struggle in any way. So I thought it would be funny to make silly hip hop music, making statements in the most ridiculous manner.”
And what statements they are! With the colourful and outrageous music videos an integral part of the project, many silly examples can be found in Kemo Treats’ oeuvre, including on the new CD, The Essentials, released with a show at the Avenue Theatre Saturday, Nov. 9. You get such groovy tracks as Pancakes, where drug dealers dressed as Breaking Bad stars cook up flapjacks. There’s My Shit’s Hot, poking vulgar fun at typical boastful rappers. On the last album, the Kemo Treats landed a double shot in a song called Pinky Swear – the video filmed while strutting down Whyte Avenue late at night dressed like pimps – using the childish promise of the pinky swear to tee off both on the gangsta “code of the street” while commenting on dishonesty in government.
Pretty deep for a couple of clowns.
At the top of a recent interview, Goa asks if we should do it with his real self or his rapper persona: G-Wizard (his partner is known as Smoovie II Smoov). These characters have taken on lives of their own. Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus from GWAR, asked the same question – and keeping it real is always better.
“To the characters it’s not a joke at all,” Goa says. “They’re living in this world where they think they’re hardcore gangstas and instead of money they accumulate chips and food and that sort of thing.” They also consider Will Smith their spiritual leader, both for his accessible rap work back in the day and for his frequent appearances in movies where he single-handedly saves the world, which is also, Goa says, “so ridiculous.”
There are challenges to being joke rappers. They’re either not taken seriously, or worse, taken seriously. The only other example of note is The Lonely Island, and that started as a sketch on Saturday Night Live before becoming “real,” like the Blues Brothers. Marketing Kemo Treats without the built-in push of a network television show has been hard, Goa says.
“I think there’s a lot of things that are limiting to us,” he says. “We get a really good reaction. There was a Sony rep who was interested, and we got interest from Vegas and L.A., but being in Edmonton it’s tricky. A lot of people comment after our shows, ‘you should be in Toronto.’ Not everybody here picks up on it right away. I think not a lot of people know right away that we’re joking. Hopefully they’ll figure it out.”
Then there is the matter of the profanity. Kemo Treats’ music – which underneath the comedy is just as catchy, well produced and rich in cool beats as any hip hop heard on the radio – is laced with coarse language and mature subject matter. Nothing is too shocking for G-Wizard and Smoovie II Smoov. Their real selves, not so much. Goa brings up one of their old songs that is so rank that he refuses to even talk about it. Now we’re curious, but there are no plans to make it available anywhere.
Fans might be reminded of the late ‘80s Florida rap group 2 Live Crew, whose sexually explicit lyrics and themes got the group banned just about everywhere they or their records appeared. Their ultimate fate – ignominy and obscurity – might be a cautionary tale for other comedy rap groups, if 2 Live Crew could even be put into that category.
Unlike 2 Live Crew, or MacLean and MacLean, a great Canadian folk parody duo from the 1980s known for such songs as “I’ve Seen Pubic Hair” and “Dolly Parton’s Tits” that never, ever got airplay on CBC, The Kemo Treats are not married to profanity. The No. 1 goal of the group, Goa says, is making good music, with comedy being secondary, and even then getting a laugh isn’t as important as merely being “weird.” Mission accomplished!
The profanity thing might take a little work. Goa says, as the new CD contains its share. “There’s some songs we tried to back off a bit, because we want a little bit commercial success so we can make this our main gig. Plus I want my nieces and nephews to be able to listen to it.”