By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Village Voice Writers
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
Tom Flowers rarely appears in public without veneer fangs, white face powder, black eyeliner, fake blood dribbling down his chin and contact lenses that make his brown eyes look like a wild cat's.
Simply put, Tom Flowers is a vampire. He calls himself Havok and his fans "donors."
Inspired by the 1980s camp-horror flick The Lost Boys and by fond memories of playing a vampire at a haunted house in St. Peters the 24-year-old Flowers decided two years ago to become a full-time bloodsucker. Which begs the question: Why?
"I got bit by a bitch, woke up the next day and the sun hurt my eyes," he says. "And I didn't like the garlic in my spaghetti, so I knew what was up. The whole dark thing, the whole being able to live forever thing it's just fucking kick-ass."
An emerging rapper who lives with his mother in an O'Fallon subdivision, Flowers seldom breaks character not at the mall, not while smoking Newports with his crew at Culpepper's, and not for an instant at his Pageant concert in March.
On show night, Havok is high on Vicodin, owing to injuries suffered after falling asleep at the wheel and slamming into a tree a few weeks before the performance. He's with fellow rhymer Stogie, who wears a red handkerchief over his face and black batting gloves. An elaborate graveyard is behind them, with a half-dozen plywood headstones and a gothic column with a cross on top.
Some 1,300 young fans have come from all over the Midwest, making it one of the largest crowds in the history of this monthly event known as the Loop Underground. Some of the audience members' faces are painted like clowns', identifying them as "Juggalos" or fans of Insane Clown Posse.
"I got bodies in the trunk, blood dripping off the license-plate cover. I bite 'em and I drain 'em and I dump 'em, and I go and find another," raps Havok.
Stogie answers: "They're some dead motherfuckers!"
Later, a lithe, stacked brunette struts onto the stage, decked out in a white tank top and jeans. She dresses Stogie in a black hoodie. Then, as she starts to leave, Havok grabs her ponytail and violently pulls her toward him. He bites her neck and a geyser of fake blood spills out. She falls to the stage, her arms draped in a Christ pose.
"That's what the fuck I'm talking about!" says Havok.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, man?" counters Stogie. "Why the fuck you always biting my bitches?"
"She's out here like that," Havok goes on. "I'm gonna bite that shit!"
"Somebody get this fucking bitch off the ground," Stogie concludes. A crewman carries her off the stage as the emcees launch into a song called "Get the Fuck Up."
Afterward, the brunette Alivemagazine model and Havok's ex-girlfriend, Rachel Hadfield says she finds nothing objectionable about the act. "Vampires and sex completely go together. I just think it's a sexy idea to be bit by a vampire. I think it's the power thing, the control, and what comes from that. They're in love with you forever, and you live forever."
Borrowing from gangsta rap, death metal and horror movies, Havok and Stogie self-identify with a hardcore rap genre called hell-hop (or, at times, "horror-core," "murder rap" or "goth rap").
As popular in St. Louis as anywhere else in the nation, hell-hop's themes center on nihilism and misanthropy. The music took off after the late-'90s success of Insane Clown Posse. But in recent years ICP's popularity has waned, leaving millions of Juggalos pining for a new messiah.
Other St. Louis hell-hop acts like Wet Grimlinz, Hellsent and Maddhouse Clique don't dress like clowns or vampires, nor do they preach satanic messages. But their rage-fueled raps are rich with explicit tales of revenge, often culled from unfortunate personal experience. And they've managed to win over legions of young fans who identify with their grim lyricism.
"The last thing we ever want is violence," says Wet Grimlinz emcee P.R.E.A.C.H. whose name stands for "Peacefully Respect Everyone Against Continuous Hate." "But we talk about the violence that goes on in St. Louis."
Havok offers a different take: "Anything that you see me do or hear me say is a reflection of me. I will never say something 'out there' just to say it. If I talk about killing somebody, then I'm in the mood to kill somebody!"
"Whoever came up with that is definitely talented, man," says Mistah Creepy of Saw, in which a villain named Jigsaw tries to manipulate people into cutting each other up.
Traumatic personal histories have also had a measured impact on the rappers' music. Demonic's father died a violent death, getting drunk and accidentally shooting himself in the head with a .22 pistol. Demonic was seven years old.
Muerte's family, meanwhile, was pure blue-collar, while many of his peers at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville were raised with a silver spoon. "There were kids whose daddies are doctors and lawyers, while my dad's over in Fairmont throwing trash and shit," says the emcee, who, along with Demonic, forms the group Hellsent.
"I hate people on the whole," Muerte goes on. "People are killing people, raping old women and shit that's retarded. To rap about it, that's a different thing. That's how you feel, what you'd like to do to this motherfucker, because he's out doing this stupid-ass shit."
Muerte's heroes are the Insane Clown Posse. In their songs, brutal deaths are ladled out regularly not to innocent bystanders, but rather folks who, as Muerte says, "deserve" it, like child-molesting priests and bigots.
Muerte's music also doles out vigilante justice. There's an untitled song about a Madison, Illinois, man he claims made unwanted sexual advances on his sister four years ago. He and labelmate J-Rok served jail time for viciously assaulting the man Muerte for a few days; J-Rok for a month.
"They had to put some 50-odd staples in his skull to sew the outside of his head shut," remembers J-Rok.
Raps Muerte in the song:
What's it like to have a gang of killers on your lawn?
Staring at you bitch about to crack open your dome?
Stomped his fucking ass while his family screamed and cried
Let them feel the pain that she must have felt inside
J-Rok says something inside of him snapped when his mother passed away. He was eleven when she died from complications related to breast cancer.
"There's a very, very dark side of me that I didn't have before that," says J-Rok, who is part of the group Maddhouse Clique. He asked not to be identified by his real name because he sells pot for a living.
J-Rok no longer speaks to his younger half-brother, after an argument on how to spend his father's inheritance. "If I see you again, bitch, blood's gonna spill," J-Rok raps on "Come Take a Walk with Me."
The Wet Grimlinz's Brian Stringer goes by the name B-Skandalus and has the letters "FTW" ("Fuck the World") tattooed on the inside of his lower lip. His autobiographical contributions to the Grimlinz's library include: "Don't Know What You Got Till It's Gone," about a longtime friend who committed suicide, and "Only You," that speaks to his father's abusive behavior toward his mother.
In 2002 B-Skandalus' best friend robbed him at gunpoint. That same year he got into a brawl on a Columbia, Illinois, basketball court. After one of the guys he was fighting with called him a "nigger lover," B-Skandalus fired at him with a .380 pistol. The shots missed, but B-Skandalus was later arrested. His mother had to put up the family's house as collateral to get him out of jail. He was sentenced to probation and the judge ordered him to stay out of Illinois for five years.
He says his songs are part reality, part fiction: "Literally, if I went out and did everything that I'm saying on the CD, I would be in prison or dead."
B-Skandalus says his ruffian days are behind him, and now he uses his music to channel his anger. Dark imagery, he says, has universal appeal.
"Everybody's got that time when they want to grab somebody and just choke them," he says, his tone suddenly furious. "At your worst moment, you've thought about killing somebody that bitch that wouldn't leave you alone and she's threatening to fucking tell your wife that you've been cheating on her. Or, it could be road rage when you're driving on 44 and somebody cuts you off."
Hell-hop's roots include gangsta rappers like Tupac Shakur, Tech N9ne and DMX the cover of whose album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, features him drenched in the red stuff and goth-industrialists like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
Heavy metal's gothic imagery and shock tactics are an integral part of the genre. Alice Cooper wouldn't look out of place at a Havok show, nor would Ozzy Osbourne, who famously bit off the head of a live bat during a 1982 concert.
Hell-hop's undisputed godfather is Insane Clown Posse, formed in the early '90s by a pair of white Detroit rappers named Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Morphing out of a group called Inner City Posse, they revealed that they'd been infected by something called the "Carnival Spirit," and that the apocalypse would follow the release of six "Joker's Cards" albums.
ICP's ascendancy began after Disney-owned Hollywood Records refused to release the band's second major-label effort, The Great Milenko, citing its obscene content. Island Records issued the record instead, and the band went on to sell more than ten million albums.
"I have mad respect for them because they did it on their own," says Havok, who sports a tattoo of the group's trademark "hatchet man" a running man carrying a hatchet on his back. "They didn't have to sell out and do no poppy-ass shit."
He attended his first ICP show in 1997, which was heavily promoted by The Point (105.7 FM). Before the show, the station's assistant promotions director, Tom O'Keefe, drove the performers from their downtown hotel to an autograph-signing session in a parking lot across from the Kiel Center.
Arriving to an overwhelming crowd "the million-clown march," O'Keefe calls it ICP refused to get out of O'Keefe's Geo Prism, fearing for their safety. O'Keefe peeled out after angry fans dumped Faygo root beer all over his car.
The largely white, suburban followers of the group were later named Juggalos, after the ICP song "The Juggla," about a mentally disturbed carnival juggler. Juggalos came out in throngs when the group then at the height of their popularity performed at the old Galaxy club on Washington Avenue in February 2000.
That same winter night, a few hundred yards away, art-metalheads Deftones were playing the American Theatre (now the Roberts Orpheum Theatre), while The Point and the now-defunct Extreme Radio broadcast live outside.
Just before seven, according to O'Keefe, Extreme DJ Woody went on the air and began ranting about ICP. "Why would you see that band when you can see a real band like the Deftones?" he asked, before adding: "ICP are pussies."
"I remember thinking, 'That guy's an idiot. He's gonna get his ass kicked,'" says O'Keefe, now marketing manager at the Savvis Center. "Does he not know how this band and their fans are?"
Catching wind of the comments, Violent J and an associate walked the few blocks to the American, pulled Point DJ Cooksie out of his station's van and beat him senseless. They'd mistakenly assumed he'd made the disparaging comments. A group of Juggalos later vandalized The Point's van, according to police reports. Violent J was sentenced to twelve months of probation.
ICP's notoriety was reinforced in a widely reported story this past February, when eighteen-year-old Jacob Robida killed a cop before being gunned down by police officers near Gassville, Arkansas. Police sought him in a hatchet-and-gun attack on men in a New Bedford, Massachusetts, gay bar.
Robida considered himself a Juggalo.
"It's quite obvious that this guy had no clue what being a Juggalo is all about," responds Alex Abbiss, co-founder of ICP's Psychopathic Records, in a prepared statement released shortly after the February 4 shootout. "If anyone knows anything at all about ICP, then you know that they have never, ever been down, or will be down, with any racist or bigotry bullshit."
Ryan Kelley, concert coordinator at Pop's, where ICP plays about once a year, says the typical Juggalo is not a menace.
"They really don't bother anybody else," he says. "They tend to get here before the shows at eight in the morning, sit out there in the parking lot and spray Faygo soda all over themselves."
"Teenagers need to create a world they can call their own," says Sam Dunn, who co-directed Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, a documentary on heavy metal and its fandom. "A lot of kids are more interested in listening to music about hell-fire and the darker forces in life than a crush you have on some girl. On top of that, it never hurts to shock your parents."
Since ICP's sales have fallen off, Juggalos are searching for a new group to shock their parents with, and Wet Grimlinz would be happy to fill the void.
"All the Juggalos I meet, they're looking for a new following," says Wet Grimlinz's B-Skandalus. "They see that ICP's getting older, and [their record label] is signing these young artists, and people aren't feeling them. We're converting people from Juggalos to Grimlinz."
Havok's parents split when he was a year old. About the only time he sees his old man nowadays is when they run into each other on the streets of north county. "We say 'hi,' but he's scared of me. He's scared of responsibility, thinks he owes me something," Havok says.
Some of Havok's finest childhood memories place him in his grandfather's Florissant house, watching USA Network's "Up All Night" programming in the den, or running around in homemade costumes of superheroes he'd invent himself, including one called "Fish Kid."
"I don't know what the hell my powers were supposed to be I guess I could swim real good," says Havok. "I just wanted to have my own superhero."
As a popular McClure North High School student, he listened to Marilyn Manson and wore Adidas jumpsuits with white- and blackface makeup. After dropping out, Havok got his GED and went to St. Charles Community College, where he earned a certificate in computer programming.
Later, he moved back home with his mother, stepfather and two brothers. He wrestled with the Midwest Powerhouse Wrestling League as alter-egos Mickey McCoy (a redneck) and Natas ("Satan" spelled backwards). The pay was twenty bucks per match, but he quit after getting a concussion from falling off the ropes.
Taking up his second love rapping Havok won freestyle contests at the Comedy Forum in St. Peters. He first battled Stogie at a party in the woods of Wentzville in 2002, and, two years later, the pair reunited there in front of 1,000 people. But things got rowdy, police were called, and two cops climbed onstage during Havok's performance.
"They told me: 'You can say whatever you want to the crowd, just get these people out of here,'" he recalls. "So I put my finger right in their face and I say, 'These motherfuckers want us to leave. Ain't that some motherfucking bullshit?' And the crowd just went ballistic."
The party eventually thinned out and Stogie, who'd organized the soiree, spent the night in an O'Fallon jail.
More than 1,000 "wicked"-themed rock and rap acts entered the contest, which was organized by Psychopathic Records. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope picked a few dozen finalists including Havok. He succeeded largely on the strength of his song "Cemetery Party." It boasts a catchy Dr. Dre-like beat from Hardley Davidson, best known for his work with Chamillionaire and Potzee.
Havok didn't win the contest but says his style drew words of praise from his hero. "Violent J told me, 'No matter how your career turns out, you can always look back and say, 'I did something different. I was the first person to do the vampire thing and stick to it.'"
He also connected with many of the 35,000 Juggalos who voted in the contest's online balloting by passing out promotional flyers in the Loop and at Hot Topic stores with his managers, Jay Deak and Paul Kreitler. Stogie even enlisted his cousin, an Imo's deliveryman, to tape the flyers to boxes of pizza.
Another door opened when Trigga Prophet, a local rapper Havok sometimes performs with, connected him with Vanilla Ice. The Iceman invited him for a brief tour.
"Ice is on a different level now," says Havok. "He was doing magic tricks, riddles and mathematical puzzles at the afterparties. We stayed at five-star hotels, drank Jäger together and bullshitted."
Not everyone, though, feels Havok's vibe.
"We went to hand him a flyer one time, and he wouldn't even accept it. He said, 'Give it to somebody else,'" recalls Hellsent's Demonic. "He always seemed like he thought he was better than everybody that everybody was below him."
It only makes sense, then, that Hellsent penned a song about him, called "Year of the Heathen." Muerte raps: "Brain is pouring, blood is splattered. Oh my God, you killed Havok, you bastard!"
Occasions Banquet Hall features hanging swords, stained-glass windows and the Confederate flag. It could be a meeting place for the Freemasons. But tonight a couple hundred kids have come to the blue-collar suburb of Lemay to listen to hell-hop and celebrate the Hancock High School graduation of Stephanie Jost.
Stephanie is eighteen, a petite blonde who chews green Trident while sipping her beer. She's the younger sister of B-Skandalus, who performs with the Wet Grimlinz and a few other groups.
Immersed in cigarette smoke, a racially mixed crowd drinks straight from bottles of Bacardi and Old English that they've brought. They've paid five bucks for the show, which also gets them a delicious plate of BBQ beef brisket, watermelon and cheesy puffs.
Onstage, the Grimlinz spit out Bone Thugs-N-Harmony-inspired rhymes. Like many admirers in the crowd, they sport oversize, green, air-brushed T-shirts and matching ball caps and bandanas.
Along with Havok, the Grimlinz boast perhaps the biggest local buzz on the hell-hop scene. Erik "P.R.E.A.C.H." Bothazy co-founded the group a couple of years ago along with Brian "Murda Chops" Beyer. They met growing up in their Tower Grove South neighborhood.
P.R.E.A.C.H.'s family arrived from Romania when he was six.
"My father got beat numerous times [in Romania] the government was so corrupt," says P.R.E.A.C.H. "I come from a hard-working family. I want to be the first crossover Romanian hip-hop act, and I feel with God's blessing I will do that."
He says that he learned English largely from his group, which also includes hype-man Josh Brown. They chose their name partially from the 1984 movie Gremlins. "A regular gremlin is cute, fuzzy little thing, but a wet gremlin multiplies, it wreaks havoc and destruction, tears the city up," notes B-Skandalus.
It's not always easy for a white rap group, he goes on. "This guy called once, he was like: 'I got your flyer. I live over here on the Hill. If you guys are metal, you're cool. If you're rap, I'll kill you. I know how to get a hold of you. I'll be in touch.' And then he hung up."
Jost attributes tonight's large turnout to the Grimlinz's popularity at Hancock. Rapper Nuttin Nyce who also performs on the bill credits promotional tactics employed on MySpace.com.
"I bump their CD every day of my life because I feel they have talent," says a 24-year-old fan named Matt Hummel, who works at a Wal-Mart in south county. "I've known a few black rappers in the area around south St. Louis, and P.R.E.A.C.H.'s speed and style out-beats them. People like lyrics about the situations that they've grown up around."
Walking to a nearby 7-Eleven to buy a tallboy, Hummel and a friend are accosted by a pair of sixteen-year-olds. They proceed to smash a bottle on the pavement and threaten to beat them with a brick. Later, Grimlinz's personal security force three enormous guys in Grimlinz shirts kick out a rowdy patron.
Occasions owner Ernie Sengheiser (who is also acting as the evening's DJ) eventually calls the cops.
"I had to call 911 five times before I got an answer," says Sengheiser. "Thirty-five to forty neighborhood kids came walking in carrying packages of drinks, and I know they are not twenty-one. We are not that kind of an establishment."
Three Lemay police cars arrive on the scene, and shortly after eleven the joint clears out.
Although this is the first Grimlinz show to be shut down, Nuttin Nyce has seen it all before. "A lot of our stuff ends like this," he says. "People doing stupid shit."