Everyone started jerkin’ last year. When the kids returned from summer vacation, it was like they’d contracted some rare virus. A tsetse-fly bite in reverse, but rather than sleeping sickness, teenagers from Long Beach to Lancaster started getting geeked up … a dancing dominoes of flailing limbs, skinny jeans and fluorescent accessorizing. Jerkin’ at talent shows and on top of lunchroom tabletops. Jerkin’ in parking lots and bus stops, underground teen clubs, every single function (party), and, of course, on YouTube. Much of Los Angeles’ 18-and-under population was jerkin’ — presumably because they were the only ones young enough not to snicker at the term’s historically self-flagellating connotation.
Every generation has its own rites and rituals, but they all share the desire to delineate themselves from their predecessors and create something unique. L.A. natives were never going to ghost-ride the whip, that’s a Bay Area thing. The “Crank That” dance and “Stanky Leg” were cool, but that was the Dirty South’s thing. And no one wanted to rock khakis and oversized white tees anymore. I mean, you’re really going to gangbang? That’s so ’90s. Besides, Ice Cube said it best: Gangstas don’t dance, they boogie.
The MySpace masses needed something new … and jerkin’ was new. Yeah, yeah, there was that old Monkey ripoff where everyone’s grandparents “did the jerk.” Sure, there was that movie The Jerk, with that guy from The Pink Panther, but that was a million years ago. So what if jerkin’s go-to move, the Reject, is essentially a lateral grasshopper glide that amounts to the Running Man, or that its roots can be partially traced to gang dances like the Hoover Stomp and the Crip Walk? It doesn’t matter when the girls love it. All spring, every time you entered Fox Hills Mall or the Beverly Center, or the Ladera Starbucks, some crew was hollering. There’s this function that only we know about. All of them, rocking the uniform: tilted lids with stickers on the brims, skinny jeans, Mohawks, piercings, glasses, tattoos, skateboards, Vans and a crisp tee the color of an equatorial fruit.
Clownin’ and Krumpin’ were the last local crazes, and while Dave LaChapelle’s documentary Rize may have become the hip “2005-I-Know-What-the-Kids-are-Doing” name-drop among the Camembert-and-Cabernet crowd, neither trend blew up. It’s not hard to see why. Have you ever tried to Krump? Unless your arms and legs are looser than Slinkys, you’ll look lamer than a satin vest on a fat man. But provided you have a modicum of rhythm, anyone can jerk. All you really need to do is feel the beat and put a little swag, or style, into it.
When school started last September, Swaggin’, the Reject’s predecessor, still held sway, but by Thanksgiving, it might as well have been the Macarena. People first started uploading YouTube clips jerkin’ to cuts from Bay Area rappers E-40, the Pack, Keak Da Sneak and Atlanta trap-rapper Gorilla Zoe’s “Hood Nigga.” But soon, everyone just started to make their own. In Long Beach and Compton, YG, Tay 3rd, the Cold Flamez and girl group the Vixenz emerged with scabrous sex raps that would freak out most of their parents, had said parents not been weaned on Eazy-E’s “Gimme That Nutt.”
A fertile scene cropped up at Hamilton High too, that perennial talent locus thanks to its renowned Academy of Music. There, a bespectacled, softspoken kid named Jeremy Hawkins (a.k.a. J-Hawk) alchemized the perfect jerkin’ beat, and when he did, a chain reaction started like he was Enrico Fermi, not a bookish, baby-faced 17-year-old messing around with Reason music software in the garage. Cooking up massive but somehow minimalist beats with a slow tempo, the low end cranked up as high as possible. Soon everyone either wanted to rap over a J-Hawk beat or jerk to one. Besides offering beats to YG and Tay 3rd, J-Hawk supplied classmates Pink Dollaz and YT — the latter of whom also danced in jerkin’s biggest crew, the Go-Go Power Ranger$.
One more group occasionally rapped over J-Hawk beats: Ben J (Earl Benjamin) and Legacy (Dominic Thomas), two 17-year-olds who had grown up around Los Angeles before their families moved out to Victorville, only found out about jerkin’ from watching it on YouTube. Calling themselves the New Boyz, they failed in their first attempt to make a jerkin’ anthem (“I Jerk”), but the duo got it right when Legacy produced “You’re a Jerk,” the song that is to jerkin’ what Chubby Checker was to the Twist.
Sometime early in the new year, “You’re a Jerk” began appearing on seemingly every MySpace page, Twitter account, YouTube and AIM, and in every all-ages dance club. Word spread virally and organically — no managers, no radio, nothing. Just a bunch of ’90s babies using every technological tool at their disposal to share music they loved. Then in February, Power 106 recruited the New Boyz to perform at local high schools. The next month, “You’re a Jerk” cracked the station’s playlist, and, well, that’s when things started to get really crazy.
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.”
But the notion of jerkin’ as neo-punk extends little beyond fashion — with a mutual predilection for piercings, tattoos, Mohawks and multihued hair. After all, when I ask the New Boyz what they plan to do with the advance that they’re about to receive from Asylum, Legacy mentions their desire to invest in real estate. Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten they are not. Whereas the Sex Pistols imploded under the weight of self-destructive nihilism, the jerkin’ movement is predicated on a positive affirmation of the self within society — with most of the affiliated kids displaying an entrepreneurial streak and corporate amenability at odds with the “Fuck the Man” aesthetic.
“Because they’re so entrenched in Internet technology, they have a different thought process toward fashion, music and social engagement. Their perspective of the world is very individualistic and entrepreneurial,” says Shariff Hasan, a 30-year-old entrepreneur and producer for the forthcoming “Jerkin” The Movie and Skinny Jeans: The Movement,a 20-webisode reality show airing on Hulu and other outlets.
The New Boyz didn’t need a Malcolm McLaren–type svengali to conceive a style or sound, let alone a Kings Road or CBGB. Who needs them when you can do everything digitally? After all, Legacy taught himself how to make beats just six months ago, messing around with FL Studio, the computer program known as Fruity Loops. “I had to teach myself,” Legacy admits. “We didn’t want to pay for beats.”
A New York Times reviewer, in a rave for “You’re a Jerk,” interpreted their first song, “Colors,” as a jab at the Cool Kids, but the group claims that the Chicago duo were a chief inspiration, along with fellow Windy City rappers Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne and the Virginia-raised producer Pharrell Williams. All of them deserve credit for recasting the hip-hop paradigm from the alpha-male gangster archetype to fashionista, rock-friendly skateboarders in skinny jeans. Rap no longer needed to be hard, just fun.
“Pharrell’s style is so different,” Ben J says reverently. “We learned from him — we did the whole baggy-shirts-long-pants thing, but it gets old. We got tired of the police stopping us, thinking that we were something we’re not. You can’t carry a gun in skinny jeans. Besides, it’s like, ‘Oh, another gang song.’”
Any analogue seems imperfect, as both the New Boyz and jerkin’ are absolutely products of their era. While radio play burnished the group with a ready-for-prime-time patina, their renown was staked on an intuitive grasp of technology. Without cheap, easily obtainable bedroom recording equipment, the one-time Hesperia High classmates would’ve been hard-pressed to afford studio time. Without YouTube, it may have taken years for jerkin’ to reach the High Desert. Without MySpace, “You’re a Jerk” would have had to rely on major-label muscle. With it, all Ben J and Legacy had to do was upload it to their music player and watch everything travel at warp speed.
“We called ourselves the New Boyz because we’re always up to something new. New Boyz do new things,” Ben J says.
“We’re the voice of the typical California teenager,” Legacy adds. “We share their slang, we share their style.”
Everything snowballed with such velocity that, still one week away from their high school graduation and 10 million MySpace plays later, the New Boyz can lean back on the plush leather couches, close their eyes and listen to Asylum’s radio promo man barking at them: We’re going to break you in Phoenix and Houston and Portland and Vegas and …
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE HAMILTONS
“That can’t be them. Have you seen their MySpace? Who hasn’t? Trust me, it’s them. Who? The Pink Dollaz and the Power Ranger$ and J-Hawk. Go talk to them. No, you. Why would they be here? Why wouldn’t they?”
A group of eighth-graders babble back and forth, gawking from a Jacuzzi inside the gated Inglewood community in which the Pink Dollaz’ manager, Lance Whitaker, resides. It’s the day after Hamilton High graduation, and assembled poolside on this murky June afternoon are the Dollaz, L.A.’s best female rap group since J.J. Fad; J-Hawk, the city’s top jerkin’ producer; and its best dance crew, the Go-Go Power Ranger$.
Well, technically, the Ranger$ aren’t here. A week prior, the dozen-member crew split up, with half keeping the Ranger$ name, and the rest pursuing a musical career under the name JINC Entertainment — save for fellow ex-Ranger YT, who, aided by his former clique, scored an incredibly raunchy and successful hit this spring with “Tippin’ on My Dick.” Thus, he’s doing the solo thing, but he’s still here, and everyone’s filling each other in on the previous night’s festivities. Except there aren’t any to speak of; despite their raunchy raps, no one’s claiming the Superbad-style debauchery you’d expect.
The wiry J-Hawk is the nexus that binds all of these groups together. After all, he’s produced their hits, and to think it might not have happened if Daniel Murphy High hadn’t shuttered last year, causing the 17-year-old Hawkins to transfer to Hamilton. Thanks to a quirk in graduation requirements, the senior found himself in a P.E. class with Cammy B of Pink Dollaz. By the time the girls discovered they had “flow” while riding around in the car freestyling to 2Pac’s “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” J-Hawk had already made a name for himself as the go-to jerkin’ producer.
“J-Hawk wanted to work with a girl group and we were already freestyling,” Cammy B says. “So I told the girls that we should lay some tracks down. We didn’t expect for our music to get that big, but people felt it. Next thing we knew, everyone was saying, ‘Pink Dollaaaz.’”
But they did get that big, and fast. Upon inception, the Pink Dollaz were an A&R’s dream: five beautiful and fashionable female rappers barely old enough to drive, with an exponentially expanding fan base and the ability to write their own songs. The quintet only joined MySpace in January, but its debut track, “I’m Tasty,” already beat J-Hawk to a million plays, though he’s been a member since 2007. It was explicitly engineered for success: infectious beat, instantly memorable hook, and lyrics blue enough to turn Foxy Brown pink.
“Jerkin’ songs can be about anything from skinny jeans to everyday life,” J-Hawk says. “Most are about sex. No one’s saying we’re these ‘clean people.’ We’re just teenagers who want to express ourselves freely.”
Subsequent MySpace smashes “Don’t Need No Nigga” and “Never Hungry” proved Pink Dollaz could write complete songs with an empowering independent-woman message.
“We’re trying to show the world that girls can rap … girls are going to take over,” the Dollaz’ CeCe says, only half-sarcastically.
“We go a lot harder than the guys; some dudes on the radio can’t rap at all,” Mocha adds, with a smile bigger than her grapefruit-sized gold earrings. “People think girls can’t do it, but when they hear us they’re always surprised.”
No one needed to tell that to the kids from Carson to Canoga Park who flocked to the Hamilton High parking lot all spring, waiting for the Pink Dollaz and the Ranger$ to get out of class. But it’s a post–Soulja Boy world — the surprise isn’t that a school talent show prompted the Ranger$ to form only last December, but, rather, that movements like this haven’t already happened in every metropolis across America.
“Rejectin’ had its own bounce and swag, but there’s only so much you can do with one move,” says the Ranger$’ Frank Freedman, a.k.a. Phaze-1. “When each of us started to add our own, it made us unstoppable.”
Once the crew uploaded their often shaky, handheld footage to YouTube, the combination of their acrobatic and innovative moves and impeccable sartorial flair earned them instant converts. Almost instantly, their YouTube views climbed well into six and even seven figures. Moreover, they helped spur jerkin’s elasticity, which began to resemble open-source code, with anyone able to adapt it to their particular swag or style. For a youth culture weaned on the cult of individualism, jerkin’ is its apotheosis.
With support already accrued underground, the visual component added by the Power Ranger$ and other prominent crews, like Action Figure$, the Rej3ctz, LOL Kiid$z, Hi 5ive, Cool Kidz and UCLA Jerk Kings, has galvanized dozens more to form, many of whom challenged the reigning champs.
“Groups constantly tried to show up to Hamilton to battle us and challenge us on YouTube. We never lost,” YT says matter-of-factly.
The ex-Ranger$/current members of JINC also stress jerkin’s viability as a gang-culture alternative.
“People used to think being a gangbanger was cool and fun,” says Marquese Scott, a.k.a. Nifty. “But it was negative, everyone got in trouble. Jerkin’ turned it around. It’s about using the same energy to do something positive.”
COMPTON AND LONG BEACH IS STILL IN THE HOUSE
YG is so fresh out of jail that the “Free YG” campaign hasn’t been removed from the MySpace pages of his Pu$haz Inc. crew. Since a judge sentenced him back to County two months ago for violating his work-release program (original conviction: burglary), the Compton-raised rapper watched from afar while jerkin’ exploded. The closest thing to an originator, YG can remember the day three summers ago when the Rej3ctz birthed the Reject stomp at a Pu$haz function — back when “jerkin’” was the catch-all appellation used to describe any party that was popping.
Walk into Club Kiss, Club Anonymous or any of the other underground clubs and you’ll hear YG bumping. Ask anyone in the lowlands lying adjacent to the 710, 105 and 110 freeways — most have heard about the 19-year-old rapper with the domesticated Mohawk and concentric whirls carved into the side of his scalp. Hell, when YG returned to prison, his new cellmate’s ring tone was his hit single, “Pussy Killer.”
“The streets talk — if you’re doing your thing, they’ll hear about you.” YG squints into the blindingly bright summer sun, freshly dipped in purple penguin shirt, red Phillies fitted cap, Vans and, of course, skinny jeans. “I’m a Vans freak.” YG has an uncanny facial resemblance to a young Michael Jordan. Unlike Jordan, he’s obsessed with tattoos, his skin inked up with Polynesian intricacy: tribal designs, to footlong crucifixes, to the names of the fallen. While jerkin’ has certainly emerged as an alternative to gang life, it’s impossible to ignore the gap between the middle-class kids north of the 10 and the subgenre’s hood roots.
“Whenever my mom would try to move us away, I’d go back. I’m from Compton, that’s what it is,” YG shrugs. “Shit’s still crazy in Compton, you’ve got to watch yourself. It’s worse than it used to be. People still get killed every night over small stuff.”
YG used to bang in Tree Top Piru Bloods, but claims to have swapped gang life for music — smart move, considering his success sans radio play or mainstream attention. His MySpace page approaches 1.3 million profile views, with two songs above one million plays and two more nearing seven digits.
While everyone from Interscope to Def Jam has expressed interest in the unsigned people’s champ, YG claims he’s waiting for the right offer. In the interim, he’s grateful for the movement that he helped to birth.
“I never thought I’d be successful, I always used to get in trouble,” YG says, still slightly stunned. “My 15-year-old brother and his homies used to do badly in school. Then jerkin’ came along and kids could jerk at the parties and girls liked it. You didn’t need to fight when you could make YouTube videos. Kids that wore baggy pants with a rag hanging out began wearing skinny jeans and jerkin’ and having fun. It’s saved lives.”
If YG has competition for the nod as jerkin’ music’s progenitor, it’s 19-year-old Long Beach rapper Tay 3rd, whose manager likens him to Hyphy godfather Mac Dre. While the analogy might be a stretch, it’s not unfounded. Even before Power 106 spun “I” on New @ 2, the half-Korean, half–African-American rapper drew crowds throughout the LBC, his trademark two braids always betraying his identity.
But had he not been arrested for “sales,” his rap career might never have occurred, as a chance encounter with Goldie Loc of the Eastsidaz prodded him to take his craft seriously.
“Everything changed when Goldie heard me in jail. He was, like, ‘You need to do this for real.’ Since then, it’s just been rapping, rapping, rapping,” Tay says, wearing a “Jerkin’ Is Not a Crime” T-shirt that barely conceals his byzantine network of tattoos.
Recording his first songs with an Xbox microphone in his bedroom, Tay was penning hood anthems before long, dominating the club scene and racking up MySpace plays into the high six figures. A year ago, his parents disowned him when he dropped out of Long Beach Community College and refused to get a job, but when they heard him on the radio they finally understood.
“The West was stuck on the ’90s look of baggy jeans, khakis and Chucks,” says the unsigned but sought-after Tay. “The New West is skinny jeans, Vans, colorful shirts and jerkin’. We’re trying to bring a new vibe.”
Next to the New Boyz, the most commercially viable act is Long Beach’s Cold Flamez, whose “Miss Me, Kiss Me” has earned 6.5 million MySpace plays and cracked the regular Power 106 playlist. Sporting streaks of bleached hair, eyebrow piercings, labyrinthine tattoos and the prerequisite skinnys, Cold Flamez’ Dash, D-Real and Mic 3rd are progeny of a post–Tha Carter III and 808s & Heartbreak landscape, unafraid to incorporate rock and autotune into their self-described “cold-hearted music.”
As with most of the other jerkin’-affiliated artists, Cold Flamez’ success story could unthaw Rupert Murdoch’s icy scowl.
“When jerkin’ came around, we decided to make a club banger because everyone was fixated on that,” 20-year-old Dash says. “We dropped out of school and stopped everything to promote ourselves on MySpace. We spent two weeks with no sleep, commenting on people’s pages, sending our player out, anything we could think of.”
Loosely paralleling their online habits, Cold Flamez supported themselves via a different form of social networking.
“We trapped all day, every day. If you don’t know what trapping is, consult your hood dictionary,” D-Real says. (The Hood Dictionary defines “trapping” as “going to a place to make money selling drugs.”)
Like Tay and YG, Cold Flamez emerged from hardscrabble origins. Dash taught himself to make beats on Garage Band while living in a group home in Watts. Most of their current material was recorded in Compton, at a spot only accessible after dodging barbed wire and vigilant security guards. Unsurprisingly, the sounds emanating from the hood have a more distinctly raw and uncut tint.
“Every city’s got its own swag,” D-Real says. “Compton and Long Beach have a grimy swag. You can see the gangster in the music.”
THE NEXT EPISODE
The Function doesn’t start for another hour, but an outrageous queue of kids already snakes around Hollywood’s Avalon nightclub. Judging from the anxious chatter and the candy-bar smiles emblazoned across the crowd’s faces, the sweltering summer sun can’t stifle their excitement. School’s out and everyone’s here, from kids who still probably play with Power Ranger$ to 21-year-olds — crews battling for the $1,000 grand prize and teenagers here just to jerk.
The venerable Art Deco theater is a swanky spot for the upstart movement and the kids are ready for the cameras: 9-year-olds with “jerk” etched into their fades, 16-year-olds in burgundy vests, Kermit the Frog–colored caps, vacuum-sealed skinny jeans. Here, six months’ experience is enough to earn awesome respect and the title of crew C.E.O.
The Function is promoted by Patrick Bradley, the 20-year-old entrepreneur behind Jusjerk.com, a Web site he’s seeking to turn into the premiere portal for jerkin’ music. This is his biggest event yet and he’s wrangled performances from most of jerkin’s biggest crews, and cameos from J-Hawk, the Pink Dollaz, Tay 3rd and his girlfriend, Asia Lynn, a fiercely talented rapper.
Attempting to ride jerkin’s crest as it expands nationally and internationally, the one-time real estate agent has plans for an Internet music label, a documentary and a barnstorming jerkin’ tour.
“These labels give artists low-six-figure advances for three-album deals. That’s not much when you factor in taxes and the probability of some being one-hit wonders,” Bradley says. “We’re partnering with them and teaching merchandising and business. If you get 1 million plays and sell a ring tone to 10 percent, that’s more money than a major will give you.” (It could amount to between $100,000 and $350,000.)
Minus the now-departed JINC contingent, the Ranger$ win handily in the finals. They always do. Asked about the future, 16-year-old Julian Goins, the crew’s co-founder and most known member, insists that they plan “to do everything.” For now, they’ll anchor the Jusjerk national tour and continue shooting videos and making music. Though he is primarily known for his dancing, Goins’ “They Love Me” has accumulated nearly 300,000 MySpace plays.
Several days later, filming commences on Skinny Jeans: The Movement,the reality show produced by Hasan, Bill Lucas and Candor Entertainment. While the program’s purpose is partially to proselytize, Lucas, a former marketing director at Universal Music, insists there’s altruism behind the efforts.
“Some of the music I used to work with was really negative,” Lucas says. “I felt that some of it was as destructive to the community as crack dealers. This generation has reclaimed rap’s innocence; they’ve renamed it and rebranded it. It’s so fun and colorful and positive. It’s a rebirth.”
June accelerated into July and the media feeding frenzy intensified, morphing from an Internet and radio phenomenon to national television audiences. The New Boyz and JINC performed at the BET Awards preshow, with the latter’s debut track, “Bad Chick Alert,” joining Pink Dollaz, Tay, Cold Flamez and, of course, New Boyz on Power 106. Other jerkin’ crews and rap groups began springing up so fast that Vans’ net revenues have probably surpassed those of General Motors.
Hailed as the song of the summer, “You’re a Jerk” has jolted even the most optimistic record executives, with a video exceeding 4 million YouTube views, MySpace plays at 15 million–plus, digital sales of 350,000 units in one month. Across America, radio stations in all formats have spun the record. MTV, BET and Fox 11 News at 10 have beckoned, the latter dragging the New Boyz to Venice Beach to explain jerkin’ for a benighted local news audience.
“You’re the movement! Be the movement!” a cameraman with a radio–traffic reporter voice shouts at Ben J and Legacy, streaming past throngs of Boardwalk lookie-loos. The moment they pause, a crowd clots — pointing and whispering — “Isn’t that the ‘You’re a Jerk’ guys?” It’s no longer just eighth-graders paying attention, but 8-year-olds and sorority girls and European tourists with fanny packs. Everyone notices but that Venice staple, the rap knuckleheads oblivious to the New Era, clutching flimsy Walkmans and still trying to badger you into buying their mixtape. Maybe the New Boyz can give them pointers.
The waves keep crashing and the deluge continues, people asking for photographs, autographs, anything.
“A month ago, we’d never been on an airplane,” Legacy says. “We’ve gone from MySpace to radio to TV. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life. Now that we’re here, we want to stay.”