I left the office at 5:45, stopped home to feed my cat, then headed east to pick up Chris.
From his place, it was another 40 minutes to the “venue,” which gave us more than enough time to go through our entire set twice. But I still wasn’t ready.
“Are you ready?” he asked as we pulled into the banquet hall parking lot.
My hands trembling, I put the disc with our instrumentals into my coat pocket and we got out of the car.
For the longest time, we had wanted to start a band – Chris on bass and me on guitar. Or keyboard. Or vocals. But the problem was, I couldn’t play guitar. Or keyboard. And I have no business singing.
So we started making electronic music, under the moniker Kissing Cuzzins.
We discovered early on that writing songs – even techno – requires skill. But once we figured out the kick-hat-kick-hat + snare roll formula, things slowly came together.
Then when we realized you can drop techno down to 85 beats-per-minute and essentially create ‘80s-style rap beats… well; it all sort of snowballed from there.
“Hey, do you know where DJ Ray is?” We asked a dozen people before finally spotting him at the merch table. He matched the description we’d been given perfectly (white kid in a black t-shirt). “Hi, Ray?”
We shook hands as some other white kids in black t-shirts set up lights above the stage. Ray introduced us to his collaborator, MC Exactly (also white, but with a gray hoodie). They handed us copies of their new CD and thanked us for supporting them at their release party.
We breathed no word about the fact that we had never played another show.
Ray said the first act would hit the stage in a little over an hour. We were going on in the third slot. So we found ourselves a table on the outskirts of the dance floor, took off our coats and headed for the bar.
It was the perfect setting for a second-rate prom, the archetype of a banquet hall. There were minute gold details on the dirty ceiling tile, chipped plaster columns in the lobby, and the worn carpet would have looked at home in the elevator of a fleabag motel.
We had heard that one of the other rappers on the bill actually worked there. I never did find out who, but by the looks of the crowd milling about, it could have been anyone.
White rappers – whether they spend their days as banquet hall dishwashers or technical support representatives for local publishing firms – are not a rarity in the suburbs of Metro Detroit. Chris and I took to it just as soon as we realized no one would ever listen to our tracks unless we added vocals.
When I started writing lyrics, they mostly took the form of “I’m like this, you’re like that.” Who was I battling? The status quo? Other rappers? No idea really. But at least it gave me something to do while occupying the periodicals window at my part-time library job.
I’d go over Chris’ place once a week and we would drink, exchange beats and lyrics we’d written, and record whatever verses fit. At no point was it clear whether we were serious, or if this was all a joke.
In fact, there was no plan to do anything with our tracks other than post them on MySpace or PureVolume (as was the custom at the time). But when our friend, Jon asked us to record a proper LP – which he would put out on his indie label, Splattercat Records – we obliged without much arm-twisting.
Chris came up with the title (We’ll Burn That Bridge When We Come To It), I took over production duties, and we each wrote 12 sets of verses.
The ridiculousness of it all was not lost as we recorded vocals in my tiny bedroom – embarrassingly located across the hall from my parents’ room.
When the album was finished, Chris and I listened to it together, pat each other on the back, and then… did nothing.
Instead of releasing We’ll Burn, Kissing Cuzzins went on hiatus. I graduated from college, spent six months looking for a “real job,” found one and moved away. Chris got busy with his life, too.
Though I sometimes brought up MCing as a sort of self-referential joke, I had no plans to return to it. And by the time I met the girl who would ultimately become my fiancée, I had stopped mentioning rap entirely.
The further I got from it, the weirder it all seemed. It was as if I had been in some kind of daze for four years. How could I – an office worker who ends hard days with some Madeleine Peyroux and a good Earl Grey – think I could/should be a rapper?
And yet, when I got the text message from Jon, asking if we’d play at his friend, Ray’s CD release party, I replied “Sure” without hesitation.
It had been over a year since Chris and I had written or recorded music together. I was 25 and months away from quitting my office job and moving to Florida. MC Exactly was introducing us to a tremendously pasty crowd.
“These guys are Kissing Cuzzins. No, they don’t do that. That’s what they’re called,” he said. Then he burped into the microphone and added, “I didn’t do that.”
A bass line hummed through the speakers, shaking the flimsy stage beneath us. Voices steady, Chris and I uttered the first few words in unison: “Straight out the ‘burbs!”
20 minutes later, I officially retired from rap.