Palo Alto: known for being the home of Stanford, a school whose reputed academic excellence and whose football team’s ceremonious trips to the Rose Bowl garner yearly national acclaim for it and its geographic resting place. Notorious for its now mythical Silicon Valley (where cybergeeks have taken over with Internet start-ups that leave the average Joe or Jane dazed and confused) and for its palatial estates with ivy cascading down walls and fences in obsequious bursts. Palo Alto is a lush town of sprawling affluence. If you were to step just over the train tracks, to the East Side, however, you’d find yourself in the midst of rotting avenues, eroded storefronts, and urban decay so vast it makes Hell’s Kitchen look like Pixie Playland. In Palo Alto the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor, and the middle class live somewhere else.
Brougham is the musical embodiment of this paradoxical place that is home to childhood friends Luke Sick and Jason Slater. Fueled by a rabid confluence of burning hip-hop grooves and a whip-smart sense of humor, the band’s Warner Bros. Records debut, Le Cock Sportif, is a sharply-produced hybrid of literate rap and funky street metal that studies the dichotomy of Palo Alto, as it airs its frustration and affection for the city on 11 blistering tracks.
“It’s about Palo Alto and how it’s changed,” Luke Sick says. “When Palo Alto first started showing up on the map, it was the place where the Beats would come and mellow out, the Grateful Dead would play at the Frost Amphitheater and the streets were named after poets. But since then, Apple computers started coming out, the Internet exploded, Hewlett Packard started buying up all the land, and the natives who used to do all this cultural stuff in Palo Alto got really screwed out of rent. It left a lot of my friends who poured coffee for the newcomers with nowhere to live. These companies are making so much money that they’re shipping college grads to Palo Alto and raising the rent. They don’t really care about the culture or believe that there is anything like that in America. We did actually have something cool going on in Palo Alto, and the record is all about the sadness of that being screwed up by the dot-com world.”
Taking its name from the Brougham luxury Cadillac, but given a phonetic twist so that it’s pronounced Bro-haam, the band got its start when Luke Sick (then with the strictly hip-hop Sacred Hoop) knocked on Slater’s door, hoping he would mix the band’s new album. The two hadn’t worked together since high school where, as pubescent musical aspirants, they would tinker around in the studio making demos. Suddenly, Luke Sick and Slater found that not only were their collaborations just as much fun as the old days, it seemed as though they were onto something. “In three days we had six songs,” Slater recalls. “It was pretty effortless because we both work the same way.” Although Slater had just left Third Eye Blind and was now a member of Snake River Conspiracy, and Luke Sick was still an invaluable component of Sacred Hoop, the two decided to take a busman’s holiday from their current bands and focus on Brougham.
With its prowling loops, loquacious rhymes and funky breaks, Le Cock Sportif is the kind of record that constantly sneaks up on you. From the atomic punk of the album’s opening track “Don’t Speak English” to the underwater burn of “Kareem” and the hypnotic chants of “Hubba Rock,” Le Cock Sportif is filled with undulating street anthems and fiery urban crawl.
With his fast-talking freestyles and lippy snarl, Luke Sick is the band’s rapper. Utilizing lyrical high jumps like “See Selassie an’ everything is peace/What I’m all about space cakes and great legs in French braids/Smokin’ brown dank in eighth grade” (“Seventh Grade”) or “Bandulu bizness I fall 4 fishnets/No quick sex time longer than some/No cup no broke no coffee a dash/way a promise is a comfort to a fool” (“Can’t Sleep It Off”), Luke Sick is a cross between Charles Bukowski and Busta Rhymes. His compositions are snapshots of the material world taken by a maverick street poet who bends words around breaks and lives his life with a perfect balance of intensity and humor. “He’s really living it. I’ve never heard him write anything that wasn’t true to his life,” Slater says of Luke Sick.
A mastermind producer with a deft hand and an ear for breaks, Slater backs Luke Sick by effortlessly fusing metal, rap and soul into a seamless mix that has more swagger than Steven Tyler at limbo contest. Le Cock Sportif is a diverse blast of musical cross-referencing that isn’t afraid to take chances. For example, Slater describes “Don’t Speak English” as “AC/DC turned sideways.” He depicts “Sangria” as “a laconic, lazy rap groove,” and says, “‘Murked Out,’ has a metallic edge.” Luke adds, “I think it’s a messed up jubilee that takes from a lot of musical genres but is not reverent toward any of them and that’s always good. It contradicts itself beautifully.”
With a mutual affection for Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Run DMC and Son of Bazerk, Luke Sick and Slater are the perfect team. Boyhood friends and longtime musical renegades, they have a relationship that goes beyond the parameters of a normal friendship. However, as with most friendships, Luke Sick and Slater have their ups and downs – they’ll drink beer at strip clubs at 10 o’clock in the morning, then they won’t talk for a week. “We live our crazy separate lives,” Luke Sick says. “We’re pretty close and we see each other many times throughout the week, but it’s not a perfect romance or anything. We’ve been friends for a long time but it can get to be real insanity, which I think is better.”
Although Luke Sick and Slater admit that Le Cock Sportif was therapeutic to make because it offered a medium where they could sublimate their frustration with Palo Alto, the effect was admittedly palliative. The fact of the matter is that the disparity of class and the erosion of their hometown will always be sources of despair. “The record is pretty literal. It’s about how no one ever looks at the underside of Palo Alto,” Slater says. “Either you’re rich or you’re broke. It sucks growing up there, because even if you’re poor, you’re automatically thrown into a school with all these rich people. The difference is always right in your face.” “It’s this annoying ‘winner’ town,” Luke Sick adds, “but then there’s all these people who are the ‘losers’ with nowhere to go. It’s amazing that the Donnas and Stanley Jordan, or anything cultural, have come out of Palo Alto since all of this has happened. I’ve got to get out!”
Most musicians can’t wait to get in the limo and embark on a life filled with monstrous mansions and celebrity dalliances, but Luke Sick really just wants to be alone so he can write. “If you’re famous, it’s a short-lived thing. The reality is they’ll chew you and they’ll like the way it tastes for a while, but [eventually] they’ll spit you out. You’re just bubble-gum.”
A champion of John Steinbeck and the reclusive J.D. Salinger, Luke Sick yearns for the solitude that will allow him to perfect his craft. “I want to rap and I want to write. I don’t want to think about anything else. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. With The Catcher in The Rye, Salinger put out his super album. I like that he put it out there. He knew it would always be out there, and he knew he could live off that and so he disappeared into New Hampshire with no responsibilities. Salinger only lets himself be seen enough to stay interesting. He knows what he’s doing. He’s keeping himself famous by being not famous.” If Le Cock Sportif sells millions of copies and the money flows like water into his bank account, he has no interest in a lavish life. “I don’t need very much,” he says. “I’d rather move to Salinas and be a farmer or live for wine like the guys in Tortilla Flat.”
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