It’s freezing and windy outside once again, but tonight Ninjasonik is playing a local show before going on a nationwide tour, so despite the cold it’s reason enough to leave the house. Inside the small Brooklyn club the Shank, a couple of guys linger around the turntables near the stage. Telli Gramz and Jah Jah (a.k.a. Reverend McFly) of Ninjasonik are sipping on cans of Miller Lite and cracking jokes—nothing too new.
This up-and-coming rap-rock band creates some of the most interesting sounds coming out of the underground New York music scene; their songs “Tight Pants” and “Art School Girls” have become internet phenomena through the anyone-can-be-famous ideology of YouTube and MySpace. With their newfound notoriety, Ninjasonik is taking their noise on the road for a countrywide tour with fellow Brooklyn rockers Japanther.
Ninjasonik’s Teenwolf (the DJ), Jah Jah (the punk), and Telli (the rapper) bring a contagious energy to their shows, incorporating influences from across the board into their sound—the rawness of punk, the lawlessness of rap, the danceability of electronic beats. Some songs employ more repetitive phrases and beats, using the humor of their lingo like “tight-pants-wearin’ ass nigga” to get the crowd shaking. However, their live shows (as with all of their music) have never been rehearsed, and while Teenwolf spends his time laying down dance tracks and beats, Telli and Jah Jah rally the crowds on stage with freestyle rapping and call-and-response-type vocals.
At the Shank, Telli and Jah Jah find a semi-quiet room above the stage to discuss their tremendous musical compatibility—the trio of brothers that make up Ninjasonik, more or less just loving life. “Basically, we just took the whole Baltimore up-tempo sound that New York became accustomed to and tried to flip it,” explains Jah. “If you know Baltimore music, it’s like ‘Shorty got a fat ass, hit it from the back…,’ and we were like, ‘Well, we can make songs like that joking around.’ Let’s take it to the extreme where it’s danceable.”
As an extension of their freestyle mindset, the boys of Ninjasonik bring a whimsical attitude to their music, adding their own lingo and tastes into the mix. With three distinct personalities contributing to the project, it seems that the variety brings the ultimate flavor. “That’s what gets people about us,” says Jah. “It’s not just the shows we play, it’s being out and around us. It’s the way we’re living. It’s different personalities, but all together it’s like one big party package.”
Crowds seem to be responding, as well as fellow musicians. The day after our interview, Ninjasonik headed out on their third U.S. tour with Brooklyn rock duo Japanther, covering both coasts and several places along the middle. A couple weeks into the tour the bands are traveling alongside each other (like “a band of brothers,” says Ian Vanek, drummer and vocalist for Japanther) in a single tour bus they call the “Vanpanther.”
Japanther built their own reputation throughout the country as a band you must see live; they have been on what Vanek says seems like 36,000 tours. Vagabonds with no permanent residence—only next stops on the tour—they have been traveling more or less continuously for the past nine years. Their shows bring an element of excitement and youthful rebellion that makes the music worth listening to. Kids from all parts of the country pack themselves into big and small clubs to jump and rage and sweat and pound their fists together.
Getting on the bill with Ninjasonik to tour the country in ghetto-fabulous luxury is no small feat. But to Japanther, the choice was an obvious one. “Ninjasonik is the perfect tour partner for Japanther,” says Vanek. “They get the crowd hyped and bring that energy the same way Japanther gets the crowd hyped. We’ve just been playing music, drinking, smoking, graffiting, breaking hearts.”
Originally the groups met through the music scenes around Brooklyn, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Baltimore. They started mixing bills and collaborating together regularly, creating new music “out there” live on stage, as Telli puts it. Fast-forward a few weeks, Japanther, Ninjasonik, and female rapper Jasmine Solano are tearing it up in Austin, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, D.C., New York, and the tour goes on and on.
The two bands’ musical compatibility could have been a natural result of their similar ideologies. Despite the fact that this is a Japanther tour, there is an equilibrium and respect that lies outside the simple boundaries of headliners vs. opening acts. Vanek explained that they’ve created this life for themselves in order to avoid the usual bureaucracy and worrying about “things they write on the Internet.”
Ninjasonik agrees. “I look at a lot of artists,” explains Jah Jah, “And their fans are like, ‘You’re my idol.’ And we’re like, ‘Fuck that man, kill your idols, we’re all on the same level.’”
MEGAN MARTIN is a freelance writer and editor in chief of Working Class Magazine.