Indie as Fuck
On the tenth floor of an anonymous building that stands among high-ranked law firms and accounting offices in the financial mecca known as the Brickell district, there lies a small room that looks like a college dorm unit, decorated with random pictures of graffiti on the wall and a boom box on the computer desk. This is the quiet, abnormally normal headquarters of RK Netmedia, one of the biggest Internet porn companies in the world and the mastermind behind BangBus.com.
But this is no adolescent fantasy land. Disappointingly there are no flashing neon lights, no mood music, and no life-size posters of Ron Jeremy in full mast. It is here, oddly enough, where the armed forces of GuerillaARC hide out. Built by Lt. Plex, Gen. Doc Faust, Sgt. Seth P. Brundel, Chief Bean Pie, and Cmdr. José Tavarez, this is the latest entry on a growing list of sure-shot record labels to emerge from Miami's gritty hip-hop underground.
Which brings us back to the fact that these five soldiers are talking in the office kitchen at BangBus.com, where Faust, Bean Pie, and Brundel work as video editors. (Unfortunately the interview's main agenda did not include hunting MILFs in Kendall or detailing the trials and tribulations of being a stunt cock.) Though the funding for the label is coming out of porn paychecks, BangBus.com's raw dog sex doesn't necessarily conflict with the collective's ultraradical stance. The "guerilla" in GuerillaARC is not only political, it's how these kats do business: by any means necessary. "Our business mind state is the guerilla mind state," exclaims Plex. "We take no shorts and make no compromises!"
So who are these guys? Maybe the name "Algorithm" might conjure up some memories. Plex, Faust, and Brundel are Algorithm, the politically charged, in-your-face, do-or-die hip-hop group that has repped Miami since its inception in 1997. Ideologically, the trio's music is a cross between El-P and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. Musically, it's more haunting than that, with Plex and Brundel crafting melancholic strings and piano keys over subtle loops of trumpet horns and a beat that kicks so deep it fluctuates your heart rate. Lyrically, MC Faust spits like machine-gun fire, stacking up enough content to fill library shelves, while maintaining his composure through a monotone so as not to spontaneously combust.
It took about twelve years for the company to come into being. While attending Braddock G. Holmes Senior High School, Brundel and Faust tried to create a rap scene in a city that seemed to be bassed out. They started a party promotion company called the Mad Squad, bringing down such big guys as Redman and OutKast; a mixtape label; a home studio; and a hip-hop magazine called Invasion that never invaded. You name it, they tried it. "We tried many different incarnations of what we thought was the right thing to do," says Faust. "It was just learning as we go." Finally they formed a production company, Algorithm, with Plex in 1997.
Meanwhile Plex and Brundel formed a short-lived group with rapper Stress as Spirit Agent, putting out a twelve-inch called "Input/Output." As the debut single for Miami indie label Counterflow Recordings, an imprint owned by Danny Dominguez, it did fairly well, helping to establish Counterflow as one of the first successful underground hip-hop labels in the city (along with Chocolate Industries, which eventually moved to Chi-town). Dominguez decided to release more music by Plex and Brundel after Spirit Agent's demise, leading to "Defective Experiment" in January of 2001, Algorithm's official introduction to the public.
In hindsight, though, Faust says that Algorithm's relationship with Counterflow has always been more bitter than sweet. He's upset that Dominguez (who was not interviewed for this article) used his success with Algorithm to build a roster of international talent that included Cincinnati's Five Deez and L.A.'s Panda One, making moves that eventually drew his attention away from the Miami hip-hop scene. "In my opinion Danny used Miami to get out there," complains Faust. "Once he got good reviews out of Miami talent -- Algorithm shit -- he turns around and uses that to get other acts from wherever else. He's not trying to cope with local talent, and we're of the opinion that there is talent down here."
"I don't think we ever wanted to be in this position [of owning a label]," adds Plex. "I'm an artist, first and foremost. So when you censor an artist song ... that was a fucking bitter day."
The bitter day he refers to came shortly after 9/11, when Dominguez decided not to release Algorithm's highly charged track, "Suffer Great Nation," written before the World Trade Center attack and performed from the perspective of a terrorist. "The hateful man from Iraq/I wrap/A long stem of thorns around the heartland of America," Faust raps. "Oklahoma bombing blame me/Suspect unknown stereotype and name me/Then you wonder why we extremists/We dealing with a nation run by demons."
Dominguez removed "Suffer Great Nation" from Algorithm's "War @ 120/80" twelve-inch in October of 2001; it turned out to be the group's last Counterflow release. (The track was eventually released by Botanica del Jibaro on the Void EP in early 2002.) "If I give you a song, that shit is for real. Some of my flesh is in that shit," Plex complains. "Don't turn around and tell me it's not the right time to put it out. In fact it was the perfect time! He almost got killed that day."
But faith is hard to come by. With such a diverse demographic, the Miami hip-hop scene is a wild, combative reflection of the city itself. Faust says he tried to hold a community barbecue last year at Biscayne Park in order to bring local players together and create some sort of unity. But this being Miami, the barbecue led to more beef getting placed on the grill. Instead of slugging beers, some of the kats in the crowd were actually throwing punches at each other.
"Motherfuckers will hate on you on purpose!" says Plex, who recently moved back to Miami after a short-lived stint in N.Y.C. "Other cities have their little scenes that's gonna support 'em; there's none of that here. People come here and rape Miami for what they can get and they bounce. At the end of the day, the grassroots organizations can't compete with that big corporate money, or they're not prepared to do what it takes to compete with that. Which is where GuerillaARC comes in -- we're prepared!"
So with a game plan, ample support from manager Tavarez and PR/marketing whiz Bean Pie, and a tight artist roster that includes local brethren such as Mayday (Plex and local MC Bernbiz) and MTV MC Battle II champ Wrekonize, GuerillaARC is amped and ready to start making chess moves. Its first release, Algorithm's debut full-length Dawn of a New Error, hit stores early this year.
Faust declares that, after a decade of bouncing around the rap scene, he's not afraid of failure. "I'm sure we're gonna make our own mistakes," he says. "Even the name of the new Algorithm album is Dawn of a New Error. We've always been making mistakes, but at the end of the day, at least we know it's our fault and we can't point the finger."
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