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Since forming 10 years ago, the diabolical duo of Yeti Bones and theOGM have only done things their way, marking Ho99o9 out as genuine alternatives to the mainstream. Feared and respected in equal measure, we sit down with the two rap-punks to find out what they’re really all about…
In February 1992, one of the most influential and important hip-hop labels in the world was born. Co-founded by Dr Dre, The D.O.C., Suge Knight and Dick Griffey, Death Row Records helped gangsta rap take over the world, thanks in part to the first two albums it released – Dr Dre’s The Chronic at the end of 1992 and the following year’s Doggystyle, by the artist then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg.
But Death Row wasn’t just well-known for its music. The label’s reputation was mired in a constant cloud of controversy, becoming synonymous with violence. The stories are both entertaining and harrowing. There’s the infamous (and probably apocryphal) time that Suge Knight held Vanilla Ice by the ankles from the balcony of a 15th floor hotel room, but there were also many darker occurrences involving gangs, incarceration and even murder. On September 7, 1996, Suge Knight was sitting in his car next to rapper Tupac Shakur when the latter was shot four times from another vehicle. Suge survived, but controversy has followed him ever since, and in 2018 he was sentenced to 28 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter after deliberately driving into two men and killing one of them three years before.
It’s for all those reasons and more that Ho99o9 decided to open their second album with a song named after Suge Knight. It’s not about him, per se, but it’s such a brutal and intense track that the hip-hop/punk crossover duo felt it just captured the former music executive’s terrifying essence. “That was the first track we recorded,” says the man who goes by Yeti Bones, smiling kindly over Zoom from his home in Los Angeles. “When we heard it, the instrumental was so brutal that our attitude was like Suge Knight in the ’90s. People were scared of this human being. He was like a pitbull. A huge, giant pitbull. And he was feared. And that was the energy we had to bring, like, ‘You gonna fear us.’”
“Yeah, that type of shit, that’s the tone!” the other half of the band, known as theOGM, laughs warmly.
“It’s unpredictable, and you don’t know what might happen,” adds Yeti Bones. “You might get beat up, you might die, you might end up in the hospital, you might end up with a broken leg. Either way, we’re gonna get our way.”
He looks down through his half-frame horn-rimmed glasses, a smile stretching across his face just below his large nose ring, his voice and eyes gentle, both at odds with the words he’s just said.
“Or I might share my spliff with you!” offers theOGM. “You never know. You don’t know what the vibe is, but we set the tone, like, ‘Yo, just so you know, this is what I’m on.’”
That contradiction – between hard and soft, violent and gentle, threatening and welcoming – has defined Ho99o9’s music since the pair started the band in Newark, New Jersey in 2012. But it also encapsulates their attitude towards the world around them. This is a band who don’t play by the rules, who never do what people expect, who have forged their own path – and essentially created their very own sound. They’ve refused to make the kind of music that was expected of them, instead embarking on a journey of utter freedom, flaunting the rules and instead just doing whatever the fuck they wanted. Their songs are heavy and dark and violent, an unrelenting mix of hip-hop and hardcore punk that combines to create something uniquely different and wilfully inaccessible, gleefully working against the grain in a scene that’s predominantly white. And it’s worked.
“Even in our own crews back home in New Jersey,” begins theOGM, “there was homies who was like, ‘Damn, this a different approach!’ Because we come from the hood, where it’s, like, rap – nobody really listening to no metal, no thrash, no nothing.”
Before they started making music together, Yeti Bones and theOGM – bonded by both their similar outlooks on life and their ‘unusual’ taste in music – would cross the Hudson River to take in the countless punk and hardcore shows that were happening all over New York City. Back then, they didn’t even really have any intention of pursuing music. At least, not that kind of music. That shit, they thought, was only for white people. Yeti Bones, specifically, remembers in his formative years of how he’d tune into MTV at his grandmother’s house to watch DMX, Jay-Z and Eminem, and how, while he waited for them to come on, would end up watching videos by Korn and System Of A Down. They intrigued him, but that was about it.
“Coming from a black family, my relatives would be like, ‘Yo, that’s white people music,’ referring to anything extreme, because black people don’t listen to that or play that,” he remembers. “You’re not going to see too many black people play grindcore or death metal or any type of extreme music. Growing up, I used to look at that shit like, ‘It’s weird, but I kinda like it.’ But I never really went out and bought that music, I was just like, ‘I’ll watch this Freak On A Leash video because it’s cool.”
He grins excitedly about the memory he’s about to unearth. “And then I found out about Bad Brains,” he continues, “and my head exploded. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?! Black people?! Dreads? A mosh-pit?! This is insane!’ And I filled theOGM in, like, ‘Yo, this literally changed my life!’”
Indeed it did. It paved the way for Ho99o9 to become one of the most unique and sonically threatening bands in the world today.
In 2014, theOGM and Yeti Bones left their native New Jersey and relocated to Los Angeles, and in 2017, Ho99o9 released their debut album, The United States Of Horror. They’d already attained some notoriety due to their furious fusion of genres, not to mention their visceral live shows and their provocative, outlandish and gender-nonconforming fashion sense. Today, they’re both wearing hoodies, but the essence of who they are and what they represent is unmistakable.
There’s one word that they keep coming back to, which flows through everything they say: freedom. It’s behind everything that Yeti Bones and theOGM stand for, both as people and as a band. It’s at the heart of what they do and how they do it, woven into the fabric of every song and video they’ve ever made.
To say it’s helped them stand out from the crowd would be an understatement. Quite the opposite, in fact – it’s all led to a second record that was produced by Travis Barker and features Corey Taylor. Given that Ho99o9 illicitly sampled two Slipknot songs on their 2018 track Mega City Nine, his involvement – helped, in part, by Corey’s bassist Jason Christopher, whom Ho99o9 met when he was playing with Ministry – is a huge validation of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Not, of course, that Ho99o9 want or need validation.
“We was tripping on that,” remembers theOGM, “because we made that song like, ‘Yo, these Slipknot songs are fire – we just gonna rip these songs and put it out and we don’t give a fuck what happens. If they hear it and somebody’s like, ’Take it down!’ then we’ll take it down.’ But even that would have been cool, you know what I’m saying? But he loved it.”
“He found it and he embraced it,” beams Yeti Bones, clearly still finding it impossible to hide his enthusiasm and excitement. “Jason was like, ‘My boy Corey is gonna hit you up!’ and I got a text. It was just mind-blowing that he texted me! I was just like, ‘Yo shit! What the fuck?!’"
It's a similar tale with Travis Barker. In fact – as if to prove how contrarian Ho99o9 are – when they first found out that the blink-182 drummer-turned-producer was keen on working with them, they weren’t particularly interested. They knew he’d been playing shows in Ho99o9 merch, but where most bands would be flattered and jump at the chance to have such a rock legend on board, it took two mutual friends to convince the pair it was the right thing to do.
“This is why I love good people, and why you gotta have good people around you,” explains theOGM. “One of our friends was like, ‘Travis is trying to link up.’ But at the time we were like, ‘I don’t think we’re trying to work with nobody right now, so we’re not really able to entertain a conversation,’ and then we kind of just dipped off. But then another friend was like, ‘Yo, Travis is mad cool – you should link up!’ These are two solid individuals that we trust and love, and if they’re saying that, we should go check him out. And we did. And it was good vibrations from the moment that we linked up.”
At the time of writing, much of what they created with Travis is under wraps. Even the title of the record is a secret that K! isn’t allowed to divulge, but suffice to say that the album, coming out on Travis’ label, DTA Records, takes what Ho99o9 were already doing and pushes it to even further extremes, placing the band entirely in their own world. Yes, there are plenty of artists who have inspired them, and plenty of bands they love, but Ho99o9, now more than ever, exist on their own, and on their own terms.
“There are scenes going on out there and there are bands that I listen to and I love,” ponders theOGM, “but I don’t feel like we fit in those moulds. We’re not part of those scenes. Not that we wouldn’t work together or tour together or be cool together, but in terms of the music that we make, we’re not in that scene. I know that there are other worlds and I respect them, but Ho99o9 is just Ho99o9. No-one sounds like Ho99o9. No-one will ever be Ho99o9.”
“I might be taking a long shot with this,” adds Yeti Bones, “but this is just something that hasn’t been done before. I think it’s just going to be monumental. It’s just always forward-thinking, staying 10 steps ahead of the game musically and mentally with what we’re doing and how we do it and how we put everything out on the table. This album has to stand the test of time.”
“Travis Barker is known for the pop-punk aesthetic with most of the artists that he’s worked with,” adds theOGM, “and I like that we were able to do something different with him and challenge that. I know [there will be people] who hear that Ho99o9 are putting out an album with Travis Barker, and probably be like, ’Ah man, I don’t know. They probably sold out…’ But when you hear it, you’re like, ‘Oh shit, it’s still Ho99o9! This is fire!’ There’s going to be people that love it and there’s going to be people that don’t fuck with it. Fuck ’em. Who cares? That’s what comes with putting your art out there. Anything that you do, that comes with it. But this shit gonna hit. I’m telling you right now, I don’t have no doubts.”
Some two months after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin, Ho99o9 released a single called Pigs Want Me Dead. A coruscating, violent indictment of white supremacy and police brutality matched only by its provocative video, it was a reminder of the fact that, despite their acceptance by the rock world, Ho99o9 is the brainchild of two black men who live in America. And although Ho99o9 aren’t an overtly political band, their very existence in many ways is. Their decidedly DIY, nonconformist attitude is political. The fact they’re two black men making “white people music” – or at least their interpretation of it – is political. But for them, it all comes back to that one important word: freedom. And while that manifests itself in many different ways, for Ho99o9 it’s mostly about freedom of identity – of being proud of, and comfortable with, who you are.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up, whoever you are,” says theOGM. “Whoever you are, be you. Love who you are. That’s what all this is. We love who we are and I’m unapologetic about that shit. I’m here in your face, I’m going to scream it in your face, I’m going to whisper it in your ear, I’m going to scream it at you, I’m going to blow smoke in your face. All that shit!”
That, of course, is something he absolutely should do. That everybody should. But doesn’t doing that and then wearing dresses on top of it all make the battle that much more difficult, the hill that much steeper to climb?
At that question, theOGM bursts into almost maniacal laughter. “That’s me having fun with this shit!” he cackles.
“That goes back to that word ‘freedom’,” says Yeti Bones. “Be comfortable in your own skin. We like to wear nail polish, dresses. I look good in a dress! I feel good in a dress!”
“Right, look at these nails, man,” chimes the OGM, waving his beautifully painted nails in front of Kerrang! proudly. “It’s freedom. It all goes back to freedom and just being comfortable with who you are and knowing yourself. When you know yourself, that’s when you’re comfortable doing things like that. You think Andre 3000 wasn’t comfortable? Missy Elliott? Busta Rhymes? Those artists that were before me wearing crazy shit. Prince! Are you kidding me? Rick James! Oh my God!”
“George Clinton! Parliament!” exclaims Yeti Bones, adding to the list. “They were wearing crazy shit when black people were wearing suits and bow ties.”
“So the message is to love who you are,” says theOGM. “No matter what’s going on in the world, love who you are first.”
“Know who you are,” adds Yeti Bones, the inspiration and exuberance and chemistry clearly flowing between – and through – them now. “Know yourself, know your worth, know your growth, know what you want to do in life. Be compassionate, empathetic – just be a strong human being and accept change, accept evolution. You’re not going to be the same person you was 15 years ago, five years ago, 10 months ago, last week… it’s just a continuously growing process of the human mind and actions. It’s all about awareness. You’ve just got to get in this world and make people aware of something they might not have been aware of. You’ve gotta know your friend and your enemy. This world is a vicious place and also a beautiful place at the same time, so you have to be in the know. You have to educate yourself.”
That then, is the ultimate paradox of Ho99o9. They make some of the most brutal, primal unforgiving music the rock world has ever heard, but it all comes from a place of compassion, of emotional and cerebral intelligence, of awareness of the world and your place in it. It’s kicking against the pricks, rising up against injustice, and, ultimately, being true to yourself. It’s a constant process, but Ho99o9 exist to help you get on the right track and stay there.
“We want to be a part of helping the community,” theOGM says. “It starts from there – just being around positive people. And parents matter. Parents fucking matter, man.”
“It’s also learning from your mistakes that you made throughout your life,” says Yeti Bones. “Because everybody’s not perfect, everybody’s not an angel. We all make mistakes and we live, we learn and we grow from those mistakes to not make them again. And that’s all with growing up. You’re not going come out your mother’s womb an angel – you’re going to find out stuff, you’re gonna be curious, you’re gonna be tempted. You might have bumps in the road, but you learn from those bumps so you won’t go over the bump again.”
And with this new album Ho99o9 solidify this education. Through their words and their music, they teach us to be kind to ourselves, to always strive to be better, to be free. And that ultimately the only thing to fear is Ho99o9 itself.
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