By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
THE NEW BOYZ IN THE HOOD
Boondocked in the far recesses of Woodland Hills, El Camino Real High School is a drab, dilapidated relic of the pre–computer age, the last place you’d expect to see anything new, other than trophies for their athletic and academic decathlon teams. But right now, with school a week from relenting, the Black Student Association has recruited the hottest young group in California to close out the talent show. Khaki-clad teachers attempt to tame the teens, but summer break is ssssoooo soon and, well, everyone’s wriggling, texting, tweeting. Suddenly, the room goes pitch black ... a pale stage light oscillates from side to side and ... here they come: Blasting through bulky auditorium doors, the New Boyz strut slowly toward the stage. Rocketing to their feet and whipping out their Sidekicks and iPhones, the kids snap photos and record video as shrill screams and obscene ululations rock the auditorium.
Ben J and Legacy saunter with a conqueror’s swagger. Everyone calls jerkin’ a “movement,” but this feels like revolution. Consider it the revenge of the millennials — skipping the po-faced posturing of the previous generation’s gangsta rap for the rap-rock roller-skate bounce that preceded it.
Legacy leads — black vest, teal T-shirt, red Angels cap, skinny sable jeans — holding the mic and baying, “Ayyyyy .” Ben J follows in a purple-and-gold flannel, diamond earrings glistening, disco-tight purple pants, yellow Vans, and matching Los Angeles Lakers fitted cap.
“How many of y’all like jerkin’?” Bedlam. “I don’t think y’all do,” Earl Benjamin taunts. A stuttering snare slams out of the loudspeakers. A bass line reverberates with Richter throb.
You’re a Jerk, I Know, You’re a Jerk, I Know ... You’re a Jerk, You’re a You’re a Jerk ... You’re a Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ... Jerk ...
With Pavlovian response, the students form a makeshift dance floor and do the Pin Drop, the Reject, the Sponge Bob, the Dip ... jerkin’. This might be sponsored by the BSA, but the spontaneous locomotion has kids of varying ethnicities and dance abilities covalently bonded by their love of dancing, incandescent color and constrictive denim. Only teen culture could birth something imbued with such unselfconscious, unironic joy. Who in their right mind wouldn’t jerk? This is fun.
Felli Fel, the music director and top-rated DJ at Power 106, had witnessed the pandemonium this spring. The urban-radio powerhouse had brought the New Boyz to roughly half of their charity high school basketball games, and each time, the response ranged between Beatlemania, the Backstreet Boys/N’ SYNC sandbagging of the late ’90s and the Second Great Awakening.
“We’ve brought a lot of stars to the high schools over the years, but the reaction to the New Boyz was unlike any we’d seen,” Fel says. “It was amazing — you could see it was a movement ... entire gymnasiums of kids jerkin’. It sparked my interest as both a DJ and music director.”
Video and the Internet were supposed to kill the radio star, but 40 years after the apex of Cousin Brucie, the spawn of Marconi are having the last laugh. A variety of reasons can explain the medium’s durability — easy, portable and free access always helps, and the glut of product ushered in by the Internet era only increased the need for gatekeepers. But for all the accusations of payola, Clear Channel sterilization and rote Top 40 reliance, radio has ultimately survived thanks to an innate populism and adaptability to trends.
It’s much simpler to remove an unpopular song from playlists than it is to cancel a television program or yank a film from theaters. According to Fel, the station’s songs are rigorously tested and rely upon listener phone-ins to ensure continued airplay. Unsurprisingly, nearly every jerkin’ artist’s MySpace page urges people to text requests. Few stations can match the influence that Power wields in car-crazy Los Angeles — with the Burbank-based station’s loyal fan base one of the last willing to pay for music.
Which partially explains why on a Friday afternoon, a week prior to conquering El Camino, the New Boyz could be found lounging among the ’70s Laurel Canyon shag decor of Warner Bros./Asylum Records’ Burbank office. Piqued by jerkin’s potential, its artists’ DIY ethic and their ability to crack the notoriously tough Los Angeles market, Asylum president Todd Moscowitz went on a shopping spree throughout the spring, cherry-picking the New Boyz, Long Beach’s Cold Flamez and two tangentially affiliated jerkin’ groups, the Rej3ctz (creators of the Reject) and the Bangz, who scored the catchy, trend-hopping single “We Jerkin’.”
“In Houston, Asylum tried to stay ahead of the curve, signing Paul Wall, Mike Jones and Bun B. With the cars, grills and screwed sound, it was a cultural movement,” says Moscowitz. “We were big into Snap artists in Atlanta, same with Hyphy in the Bay. But this feels different. We wouldn’t have signed this many groups if we didn’t think it would have longevity. Jerkin’ has a punk-rock vibe to it.”