If you haven’t heard of The Retar Crew your life is meaningless. Okay, maybe not meaningless but definitely lacking in dick jokes and Shakespearian influenced Hip-Hop. While Retar Crew members The Q Brothers created Chicago hit Funk it UP About Nothin (by the q bros/CST/Richard Jordan productions), an urban “hip-hoptation” of the Bard’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, The Retar Crew as a whole is perhaps more famous for the internet sensation "No Homo." But whether updating Shakespeare or slyly skewering the same people who embrace their music, The Retar Crew remains fresh, silly and unexpectedly shrewd. This May, all four members are involved in the much anticipated Othello The Remix which goes up at London’s Globe Theater, but first, member Jackson Doran spoke with Our Town about humor both high and lowbrow.
Our Town How did you get involved with Funk it UP About Nothin’?
Jackson Doran In 2007 I was freestyling drunkenly at a party to the repeat of the Napoleon Dynamite DVD menu when another guest joined me and basically slaughtered me with his skills. I never saw the gentlemen again until about a year later, I was drinking bourbon by myself at my local pub and noticed another fellow a few stools down also drinking bourbon alone. It was the same guy from the party. I was like, "JQ?" and he was all, "Jackson?" and for the next two hours we proceeded to play the Megatouch game where you are a polar bear trying to hit a fish as far as you can with a baseball bat. JQ remembered I could "rap" and that I was a struggling Chicago actor. He had written a play with his brother, Funk It Up About Nothin,' which adapted Shakespeare into hip hop. JQ said he would get me an audition and I [told] him not to blow smoke up my ass. Two days later I got a call from Chicago Shakespeare.
OT What makes Shakespeare and Hip Hop such a good fit?
JD Shakespeare and rap actually use many of the same poetic and rhetorical devices. GQ always says if Shakespeare were alive today he would be a rapper.
OT How do you go about transforming Shakespeare?
JD J and G as "The Q Brothers" write the hip-hop adaptations of Shakespeare. They go through and translate line by line to make the whole play into rhyming couplets. From there, the play goes through anywhere from 20 to 40 drafts. [It’s] transformed into a new conceptual rap form of the same story, usually a condensed version and very fast paced. Since this style of theater is relatively new, the form is being adapted as we create more pieces.
OT And The Retar Crew grew out of your experiences doing the show?
JD While in Edinburgh [where Funk It Up About Nothin,' won best musical at the Fringe Festival] JQ and I began writing little refrains about our experiences abroad--the Fringe Fest is a pool of art and debauchery. When we returned, out of depression and boredom, we began to develop our little ditties into real songs. We asked JQ's brother GQ and their long time collaborator and friend, Postell Pringle to write verses on the songs. After six months we had ten tracks about sex and drinking to complete an album. The Retar Crew* was formed.
OT I have to ask how you got your name and, seriously, why?
JD The first time JQ and GQ let me come on stage for their set at Lollapolooza-- they perform at the kids stage every year--I rapped about having fun and getting crazy and rocking the mic real hard. Then in front of hundreds of kids I almost rhymed "hard" with "retard" and stopped myself before I could finish the ‘d.’ We never mention or write about mental disabilities and indeed one of our mission statements has become to kill the stigma and hate that words can cause. We are against political correctness and stretch the boundaries of appropriateness in a satirical way. Needless to say its been a rough road trying to go mainstream.
The Retar Crew is Jaxtar, Binxy, JQ, and Jason Postell Prigletar AKA Jackson GQ JAQ and Postell Pringle.
OT Why put your music catalog up online for free?
JD We believe in getting paid for our art but in the modern capitalist and greed-driven music industry where people pirate things anyway, our intention was to allow the young music fans free access to help our art spread faster with the hopes of then exploiting the capitalist mentality we don't subscribe to in the form of sponsorship. If we can get enough traffic to our free site, corporations will then see us as a commodity and want to stamp their name on us in the form of advertisement. We then continue to produce our own art and have the money come to us from businesses with our fans still having free access to the art. This is the philosophy. So far our one corporate sponsor tried to censor us so we had a parting of ways. We're still hoping this new way of looking at making money on art will pan out.
OT You’re definitely internet famous for "No Homo."
JD J and I wrote the whole sketch at a pub in Sydney Australia. It was an awesome and hilarious process. It took about 3 hours. The hardest parts were writing the trading dialogue parts. The super-graphic explicitly-gay Dr. Suess monologue I do actually came quite easily for some reason. We knew where the sketch was heading and were a few pints deep at the point. Some sort of repression coming out? Who knows.
OT "No Homo" pretty much mocks the frat types who say No Homo but I’d imagine that those exact types end up celebrating some of your work. Conflict of interest?
JD We started this group knowing we were going to toe the line when it came to appropriateness. We asked ourselves how we could be controversial and offensive and still appeal to a large demographic. I think the solution has been to incorporate comedic forms that haven't as popular in American humor, like satire and parody in a more veiled and less blatantly sarcastic way. Unfortunately we live in a very divided country when it comes to education and values. We're trying to comment on that and at the same time make art that can be accessible on a basic level of auditory enjoyment as well as advanced on multiple comedic levels. It's like well-made family movies. They are enjoyable for children on one level and adults in a more clever way. Homophobes like no homo cause its gross I guess and they can just be like "ha ha fags!" but the sketch ultimately is pretty "pro-homo."
OT What's a typical Retar Crew show like?
JD Drunken, super melodic, dancey, funny, smiley, joyous, delicious, passionate, free of charge. No seriously all our sh*t is free.... we're broke. Next free show: June 23rd. Double Door. Be there!
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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