Ho99o9 exists at a time where music isn’t as restrained by genre labels as it used to be. The duo spoke with Okayplayer about their chaotic live shows, being independent, and the importance of the Bad Brains.
On a Wednesday in Washington, D.C., a line has formed outside the U Street Music Hall, a venue that holds 500 people. The line wraps around the corner on U Street and 11th Street. Teens and young adults of color make up the line — some wearing studded black denim vests, others wearing Marilyn Manson and Wu-Tang Clan t-shirts. All of them there for a soldout show made up of Ho99o9, Ghostemane, and Horus the Astroneer.
As the night’s middle act, Ho99o9, a Los Angeles-based rap-rock duo, have made a name for themselves through their enthrallingly chaotic and unpredictable live shows. The set starts off tame: TheOGM — one half of the duo — triggers a “Perfect” sample that’s borrowed from Street Fighter II as Eaddy — the other half — and Billy Rymer — the former drummer for New Jersey experimental metal band The Dillinger Escape Plan who’s subbing for Ho99o9’s regular drummer Brandon Pertzborn — takes the stage.
Then, the chaos begins.
The pair trade-off between rapping, screaming, and singing, all while electronic sounds clash against Rymer’s acoustic drums. At one point, Eaddy jumps offstage and positions himself in the center of the crowd, commanding the audience not to move until the next song starts. As soon as it begins he propels upward and lands right in the middle of bodies colliding with each other. When Eaddy returns to the stage, he’s shirtless, drenched in sweat. Various people are crowd surfing, much to the dismay of the security guards present. The scene is a testament to Ho99o9’s commitment to pushing themselves as performers, and one-upping whoever they’re sharing the stage with — whether that be the trap metal of Ghostemane or Marilyn Manson.
“It don’t matter who we opening up for. Our mindset is ‘We got to destroy these motherfuckers,'” TheOGM explained when we met at a bar near the venue before the band’s performance. “I’m a competitor. I can’t let nobody fucking turn up on me like that. I just can’t.”
TheOGM and Eaddy’s transformation into the genre-blending, show-stealing Ho99o9 began in New Jersey. The two grew up in the rougher neighborhoods of different Jersey cities: TheOGM in Elizabeth and Linden, Eaddy in Newark and Union. As adolescents, they mainly listened to rap music discovered on Hot 97 — DMX, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Busta Rhymes, and Onyx.
When Eaddy was 18 he was introduced to the Bad Brains. He was at a DIY space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when he saw Ninjasonik, a Brooklyn-based rap duo, cover the all-black hardcore punk group’s song “Attitude.”
“It was like all hell broke loose. I’d never seen a mosh pit or people pushing or moving in front of me the way it happened. And that right there sparked it,” Eaddy said. “I was like, ‘What is this? I’ve never listened to this stuff. I usually don’t listen to punk, I’ve been listening to rap. But the sound, these drums, these guitars, this black dude with dreads going fucking wild. I like it.'”
Upon returning to Newark, Eaddy scoured the internet for anything he could find on the Bad Brains and discovered their historic Live at CBGB 1982 video. From there, he learned about other seminal hardcore punk bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat. But he resonated with Bad Brains most. It wasn’t only the fact that he saw himself in the group’s charismatic and commanding frontman, H.R., but that they came to define and redefine a subgenre of music associated with — and often credited to — white men.
“They started hardcore,” Eaddy said. “I’m like a fanatic, so I’ve talked to people. I’ve done my research. When they came on the scene, it was like playing the fastest [music] —”
“And really well,” TheOGM interjected. “It wasn’t just fast — they were playing really well.”
In late 2008, shortly after Eaddy attended the Williamsburg DIY show, he met TheOGM through mutual friends. The pair started attending DIY shows together in the city.
“It was really inspirational just to go to New York [City], and have a good time in somebody’s loft that people play shows in,” TheOGM said. “There’s no security. There’s no bouncer. There are, but they’re punks too. They’re controlling their own shows. It’s a group of people that live together and they put these shows on, and it’s different houses or apartments or backyards.”
Inspired, the two started hosting their own DIY shows at hole-in-the-wall venues in New Jersey. The goal was inclusiveness: to have a rap show, punk show, and art show all happening in the same place, encouraging people from different backgrounds to interact with one another. It also allowed the pair to reach other young people of color who sought the same experiences they had in New York but didn’t have the access to.
“There’s so many young kids that we was looking after. If we didn’t have that safe space those couple of years of us doing those shows, what else was they going to do at dark?” TheOGM said. “If you from the hood and you listen to rock and roll, it’s like, ‘Oh, you doing that white boy music.’ No, we made that. Our goal was to be like, ‘Yo. This is a safe space where we listen to all that and it’s OK to be you.”
Eaddy and TheOGM were also collaborating artistically. The latter asked the former to do some illustrations for an EP he was working on pre-Ho99o9. Although TheOGM had already been rapping for a few years — he rapped under various monikers like GOLDFingers, GOLDvillain, and DarthVador, the music being a stark contrast from Ho99o9 — his experiences with Eaddy in New York made him want to make music that fused rap and punk. In 2012, they began collaborating musically under the name Dead Idols, before taking on the name of an early track they had made called “The Horror.” The notable difference is that the number nine has replaced each “r,” a response to the resurgence of satanic imagery and symbols — specifically 666 — in rap music that came about during the early 2010s thanks to Odd Future, SpaceGhostPurrp, and other rappers.
“Everyone was just rockin’ it because it was a trend, but not really knowing what it means,” TheOGM said in an interview with Revolver magazine last year. “We’re anti-trend, so we flipped the sixes for nines, like we’re neutral: We’re not for evil, but we’re not saying we’re good. We’re in the middle. We’re human beings — capable of good, capable of bad. Fucking human — that’s pretty much it.”
That same year they had their first performance at the now-defunct New Jersey venue the Metropolitan, which — despite Eaddy getting hit in the face with a glass bottle — was well-received by those in attendance and foreshadowed the ferocious live shows they’ve become known for. In 2013, they released their first single on SoundCloud — the distorted, synth-warbling “Bone Collector.” The next year, they released their Mutant Freax EP, an early standout including two tracks that capture the core of their sound: the electronic and grimy “Da Blue Nigga From Hellboy” and the guitar and drum-driven “Hated In Amerika.”
That the group received early comparisons to Death Grips was inevitable. The fellow genre-blending group preceded them by a couple of years (Death Grips released its first mixtape, Exmilitary, in 2011) and also features a black man as the frontman. But it’s a lazy, surface-level comparison. Sure, there are similar roots: the abrasive and heavy electronic sounds of The Prodigy or the industrial rock churn of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. However, Ho99o9’s rap leanings feel more apparent. That TheOGM is a fan of Onyx, the Queens-based rap group best known for their song “Slam,” makes sense. The group offered an enthralling dose of punk energy in their music and live performances, with member Sticky Fingaz once declaring, “We’re the…only rap group to make a crowd slam dance, stage dive, throw water.”
“Hardcore could just be rap,” TheOGM said in an interview with NME, before going on to explain why Onyx was worthy of being defined hardcore alongside hardcore punk groups like Bad Brains and Cro-Mags. At one point he references how Onyx infamously fired an actual gun while performing their song “Throw Ya Gunz” at the first-ever Source Awards, adding “It gets no hardcore than that.”
TheOGM’s sentiment reflects Ho99o9’s aversion to categories and labels. The group exists at a time where music is becoming more and more post-genre — where the biggest song of the year is a country-rap song by Lil Nas X, a 20-year-old gay black man.
“Look at Post Malone. He’s a white dude and he’s doing rap,” Eaddy said. “I hope Little Nas X fucking shoots to the top. God bless that kid, man.”
“I like that there’s experimenting [in music], because there’s always been experimenting,” TheOGM added. “That’s what music is. There’s no boundary. Music is seamless. It’s free. You can’t put no music in a box, bro.”
The music that Ho99o9 has made since Mutant Freax is a testament to that. In 2017, they released their debut album, United States of Horror. There is a deliberateness and focus to Horror that separates it from its predecessors. Aside from being well-produced, the album is so precise in its use of electronic and live instrumentation, both even appearing on the same song at times. Take “Street Power,” for example. The track interpolates John Carpenter’s “Halloween Theme” as 808s boom underneath the frightening melody. Then, it shifts into distorted, overdrive guitar and pummeling drums, as TheOGM and Eaddy ferociously scream “street power.”
What also makes the album so enjoyable is how anthemic it is. Songs like “Street Power,” “Knuckle Up,” and its title track are driven by commanding and infectious chrouses. In the context of the album, which finds the pair explicitly commenting on the country’s current political climate, the hooks become rallying cries. A brash catharsis that captures the frustration of so many people trying to live and survive in a country being run by the executive producer of The Apprentice.
That angst and frustration carries on in a trilogy of music videos Ho99o9 made for songs from United States of Horror. The last two videos — one for the title track, the other for “War Is Hell” — stand out most. In the former, Eaddy is strapped to a wheelchair and forced to watch provocative images that range from Ku Klux Klan cross burnings to the death of Eric Garner.
It’s reminiscent of Alex DeLarge’s rehabilitation scene in A Clockwork Orange or the “Hard-Core Convert” short story from Tales from the Hood. By the end of the video it’s revealed that an anthropomorphic TV screen is pulling the strings, a timely and unsubtle commentary on how the type of media people consume can desensitize them.
“War Is Hell” ends on a more optimistic note. The anthropomorphic TV screen replaces Eaddy in the wheelchair, shaking frantically as Eaddy and TheOGM slowly approach it with a baseball bat and sledgehammer in hand — presumably to kill it.
“Our whole mantra is that you can be going through whatever, but you’re capable of getting through that other side,” TheOGM said. “Around [the time when President Donald Trump was elected], everybody was so hung up over, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s going to become President.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s going to become President. So what are you going to do to regain power? What are you going to do to make your community better, knowing that this person is now in power?'”
United States of Horror and the rest of Ho99o9’s catalog has been independently released through their own 999 Deathkult label. To be independent — as it pertains to the music industry — isn’t as clear-cut as it once was. In an age where Chance the Rapper can claim to be independent while also exclusively releasing his projects to a music streaming service, and independent labels can distribute their artist’s music through distribution companies owned by major labels, what is and isn’t independent is as relative as it’s ever been.
For Ho99o9, one of the primary cons of being independent is a lack of money. But it’s a challenge they’d rather have over sacrificing their creative freedom.
“You don’t got somebody saying you can’t do this, or you should do this, or you can’t put that out, or this needs to be handled in this time,” Eaddy said. “You’ve got freedom. That’s the top of the list. You’ve got freedom.”
In taking the independent route, Ho99o9 feels as if they’ve amassed their following in an organic way. Not through the contemporary avenues of curated playlists or viral memes, but simply through word of mouth. It’s how they’ve received co-signs from hard rock veterans like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, as well as performed alongside Body Count (Ice-T’s thrash metal band) and Rob Zombie. (They’re currently on tour with Korn, Alice in Chains, and Underoath.)
A crucial part of Ho99o9’s appeal, however, is how dedicated they are to their live performances. In 2013, the band rented a merch booth at Brooklyn’s Afropunk with the intent of performing an impromptu set. They brought their own PA system and, once more people came through, started performing. The following year, they were on Afropunk’s official 2014 lineup. In 2015, the group was supposed to be on the Vans Warped Tour but was removed following a kickoff show because of how wild their performance was. (And this isn’t even including the various times in which Eaddy has performed naked.)
When asked if they feel pressured to outperform because they’re black artists navigating a genre that has a predominantly white fanbase, TheOGM offered a response that served as a reminder of his rap roots: “It’s pressure we put on ourselves, not other people.”
Once Ho99o9 is done with their Korn tour they plan on finishing up the sequel to the Cyber Cop EP they released late last year, as well as a new album that they hope to have done at the top of next year.
“It’s going to be totally different from the United States of Horror, as far as politics,” TheOGM said. “We’ll still talk about those things but it won’t be so centered around that.”
As our conversation wraps up, it inevitably ends with Bad Brains and their contribution to music, particularly how a drum fill from Earl Hudson served as the blueprint for Dave Grohl’s iconic drum opening on Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Several hours later, halfway through their Music Hall set, Eaddy acknowledges the crowd for the first time and tells them that his favorite band is from D.C.
“If it wasn’t for this band we wouldn’t be here,” he said, before the band went into a cover of the Bad Brains’ “Big Take Over.”