By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
En route from St. Louis to Denver in a Dodge Durango, Jonathan Toth from Hoth and Tucker Booth have the volume on their rented SUV's CD player cranked all the way. Now blaring: Booth's disc,Tucker Booth 4 President. In a hazy art-imitates-life tableau, Booth and Toth pass a corncob pipe filled with dank St. Louis weed and rap along to "Born High":
It's my way of killing the sorrow
Higher than Kenyans ascending Kilimanjaro
I might have been tempted when I was feeling bizarro
But the future is now, so I'm stealing tomorrow
The two MCs, friends and collaborators who call themselves the Frozen Food Section, have a fair amount in common: Both are white. Both are devout Christian Scientists (except for the weed-smoking part). Both short-circuited their academic careers at Principia College (a.k.a. Christian Science U) in Elsah, Illinois, by toking. Toth runs a roofing company; Booth valets at a restaurant downtown.
But their day-job lives are miles away as they and two young women who've come along for the ride pilot west on Interstate 70. Their destination: Denver International Airport, where they're scheduled to pick up a girl named Claire. She's the girlfriend of an underground rapper from Minneapolis, Eyedea, who's performing in Boulder tonight with Abilities, his DJ counterpart. In exchange for the shuttle service, Eyedea's label has agreed to spring for their hotel room. But the 30-year-old Toth and Booth, five years his junior, aim to leverage the scenario into an invitation to come onstage during the rapper's set.
Why wasn't I born high
Like swimming in Jupiter's shorelines?
We're smoking poor swine like pork rinds
You're real nice but you gotta be more kind
"Other people like to talk about it, Jon and Tucker just do it. It's not some party to tell their friends about ten years later. They are going from town to town with their music. They have a goal, they have a plan."
The goal is to spread their Christian Science-meets-underground-hip-hop message to anyone who'll listen. Distributing hundreds of promotional CDs is part of the plan, as is panhandling on the Delmar Loop and sucking up to better-known indie rappers. So is performing in the trenches, which is what brings the Frozen Food Section to the Hanger 9 bar in Carbondale on a warm November night.
Carbondale's hip-hop scene is out in force for the show. As Booth and Toth take the elevated stage -- so elevated, in fact, that there's barely room for them to stand up -- the crowd, mostly black twentysomethings, mills toward the back of the bar, sipping cheap mugs of Blue Moon with orange slices. Most have come to hear the crunk sounds of the night's headliners, Modern Optiks. But first they'll sample Frozen Food's appetizers. The sight of the wispy-bearded Toth, who's decked out like a Secret Service agent in black suit and dark glasses, and Booth, who looks like a Mormon missionary, elicits guffaws from a boothful of women up front.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am of the security of the First World tonight, and I am actually a time cop from the future," Toth proclaims. "I have been brought back for you tonight by the future president of 2012: Tucker Booth, the 44th president of the United States!"
Backed by a prerecorded CD of instrumentals, the duo launches into Tucker Booth 4 President's title track. It goes over well, as do "Rockstar on the Roof" and "Growing Pains," the latter an homage to Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Tracey Gold and the rest of the cast of the late-'80s sitcom. Assorted head-nodders in the crowd are drawn forward like magnets to a fridge.
But during "Fast Living (fat children remix)," a technical glitch: The CD skips. And skips again. A sweaty Toth taps the player, but it's clear that the piece of shit is done for the night.
But rather than shimmy offstage à la Ashlee Simpson, Toth commences beat-boxing and Booth breaks it down a cappella:
Fast livin' in the back of a limo
Standin' legs akimbo over a bimbo
I said, 'You're real nimble'
But then she hit me upside the head with a hymnal!
In the world of indie rap, image and sales are bullshit; ingenuity is the currency. Artists at the top of this game -- such as Eyedea, Slug and the rest of Minneapolis' Rhymesayers crew, and RJD2 and El-P from New York City's Definitive Jux -- would never be caught rapping about popping Cristal in a Jacuzziful of shorties. They'll also never go platinum. But they consider themselves heirs to the thrones of Grandmaster Flash and the Sugar Hill Gang, who pioneered an art form and had fun doing it, and they've amassed worldwide followings of street intellectuals.
Toth is the Frozen Food Section's technical virtuoso, Booth its whimsical troubadour. Some of St. Louis' biggest hip-hop heads have called them a joke -- a criticism almost as vicious as that leveled by the Principia students who see their predilection for drugs as heretical. But don't doubt their commitment to hip-hop, or to a faith that advocates spiritual solutions even in the most dire of circumstances. To understand their beliefs, a good place to start might be Toth's Brainwashing, The Art of Hip-Hopera, which he describes as "Star Trek meets The Matrix meets Kool Keith meets Christian Science."