Don’t Call it Rap Metal: The Fresh Heaviness of Hip Hop/Punk/Metal Mixologists Old City

What would it sound like if I put this Aus Rotten guitar part under a James Brown breakbeat.

Few would ask themselves that question — never mind actualize it as a real and awesome thing in the corporeal world — which is probably why the music of Philly revolutionizers Old City is so goddamn interesting and gratifying to explore.

On past releases the duo has sampled Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys but on the recent Old City EP the worlds collide even further as Shawna Potter (War On Women), Melissa “Winter” Hurley (BadXMouth/Pissbath), and Nasty Pavlov (Messed Up!) lend their considerable talents to “Class Act,” a self-described “a shout-out to all the female and non-binary rabble rousers in the punk and alternative scenes out there starting bands, writing zines, surfing crowds, and giving hell.” (J. Robbins of Jawbox fame had a hand in the production as well if you really want to talk how deep and wild this rabbit hole goes…)

Considering all this — not to mention plans to bring Amebix, Disfear, Refused, Gav King from Conflict, and more onboard — it seemed high time Decibel check in with the band about their deft, unusual take on sonic heaviness. Here’s what they had to say…

I’m very interested to hear your origin story considering the uniqueness of your work. What’s your background with music — specifically punk and hip hop?

Justin: I used to book shows in Philly and NJ – mainly punk, metal and hardcore bands. I never played in a band but understood very basic music theory so one day I started putting together some instrumentals soley as a creative outlet. I started chopping up songs, combining samples to test out some musical ‘theories’ like “What would it sound like if I put this Aus Rotten guitar part under a James Brown breakbeat.”

After that first song clicked, I knew I had to develop the sound, using different tempos, tones, and subgenres to give it legs. I started exploring drum breaks & the history of sampling in general, created a library of loops, learning how to execute different sampling techniques, and started putting tracks together. When it was fleshed out enough I asked Tre to pick up the mic and the rest is history.

Rappers had spit over punk and metal before: Rick Rubin sampled Slayer and got Anthrax to play on tracks for Public Enemy. He got Body Count to medley Exploited samples for the Judgement Night soundtrack. There was, of course, the rap-metal of late 90s which I tend to ignore wholesale. There were also punk bands that had rap songs, like Leftover Crack’s So You Want To Be A Cop and No-Cash’s Gasoline. Honestly though, I grew up with Big Beat groups like The Prodigy on the radio, so while I knew it could be more eclectic…I had to figure out how to to do it first.

Tre: Growing up in Buffalo, I wrote graffiti, played basketball and skateboarded so, the soundtrack to my childhood was naturally inspired by Hip Hop and Punk; a lot of Wu-Tang, Beastie Boys and Green Day in the earlier years. I pretty much rapped my whole life but I think rappers like Del &/or Eyedea helped me find my particular style but it was hard to find beats I could really “dumb out” on in that way. I met a local rapper/producer named sparKmatiK who’d eventually produce my first solo album Trècubessence, which is a lit-nerd’s homage to the 27 Club. As far as the writing for that album went, I was heavily inspired by Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast which simultaneously inspired Rap And Destroy, the next project I was involved with. As a group, Rap And Destroy sampled a lot of Heavy Metal, which was right up my alley performance-wise. Justin saw Rap And Destroy on tour at a dive bar in Trenton and now we’re here.

A lot of people into hardcore actually have very refined tastes when it comes to hip hop. Not sure if it’s the same the other way around, to be totally honest. So it’s both unexpected yet makes total sense to see the super legit collaborators you have on Class Act. So, do you find that synergy between the scenes? And, second, can you tell me a little bit about what you were trying to accomplish with “Class Act” and how you reached out to Shawna, Melissa, and Nastya?

Justin: I know what you mean, like beatdown hardcore fans will also like street rap or pop punk kids would be more into cloud rap. Not often do you find people straying outside of what they’ve allotted themselves to like. We tend to develop loose concepts for songs based on the sample used and then if there’s room for a feature, playing into a collaborator’s strengths. Outside of his solo career, MURS fronted The White Mandingos alongside Bad Brains’ Daryl Jenifer and The 1865’s Sacha Jenkins as well as The Invincibles with Whole Wheat Bread. He’s been in and around the LA punk scene for years…

Justin: We wrote and recorded “Class Act” probably in 2019. At the time, I had long felt real itch to make a song that used a Madlib-esque production method of wholesale chopping&looping a chunk of a song. When I heard Society: it was go time. I made the backing track in 15 minutes, on the clock at whatever print shop I was working at. Tre chose the song’s theme, wrote a verse or two and I immediately thought to get Winter from Pissbath & BadXMouth on vocals. I had been listening to Messed Up’s record which had recently dropped so I just hit them up on Facebook. Same with Shawna: I had been listening to Anarcha and Capture The Flag on repeat. War on Women is amazing, they feel like a modern reincarnation of Strike Anywhere. I messaged her with a demo of the song and we tracked vocals live at Magpie Studios with J Robbins.

Tre: Between Hardcore and Hip Hop scenes there is some overlap and I think people forget that Hip Hop is so big that there are subgenres that are just as variable as Rock music as a whole. Hip Hop has a Hardcore subgenre and I think whenever the Hardcore Punk scene sees acts like ONYX or DMX there’s some mutual respect. When Suicidal Tendencies fans and Fishbone fans meet up, it’s the same thing. There are intersections, and I really wanted to build another intersection that I hadn’t quite seen before with Class Act. There are plenty of “crossover” tracks, sure [insert Gwen Stephani song here]. But I wanted to take the Peaches song Boys Wanna Be Her and legitimize that feeling from a boy’s perspective. Winter and Shawna were later additions that Justin worked out and I was super-stoked when I heard that they were signing on.

What’s next?

Justin: We just dropped the Old City EP which is basically the first act of a full length that we have recorded and ready to rip. We’ve got a drone track sampling Conan closing it off. The album has a tonal arc to it, sampling different styles and eras of punk… Amebix, Leftover Crack, Disfear, Refused, more Dead Kennedys. Gav King from Conflict threw some guitar on a song we made called Prey.

Now that the pandemic is lifting, we’re looking to do some full-band shows in the fall. We’ll shoot a video, drop some more singles, and release the LP somewhere in the middle of all that.