The year is 2009 and you’re in your mid-teens. You’re wearing neon checkered vans, skinny jeans and a hoodie unzipped to show off your Christian metalcore band T-shirt. Your penny-sized gauges glimmer in the light like smooth beach glass poking out of sand. All the normies think you’re scary, and the punks and hipsters think you’re a wannabe-goth, but things could always be worse: at least you don’t listen to Brokencyde.
That wasn’t me, because my mum didn’t let me get gauges, but it might as well have been. I was a high-schooler who owned multiple Asking Alexandria T-shirts, used an A Day To Remember lyric as my yearbook quote and could recite every line of Hollywood Undead’s “Everywhere I Go” on command. However, even a rawring monstrosity like myself thought I was way too based for Brokencyde.
In the late-2000s, the New Mexico duo were known for two things: bringing the word “crunkcore” into existence (their music was an even split between bouncy Southern hip-hop and Myspace metalcore), and being absolutely fucking despised for it.
There’s a strong argument to be made that Brokencyde is the most hated band in internet history. When the video for their 2008 breakout single “Freaxxx” emerged (which currently boasts 10,000 more downvotes than upvotes on YouTube), it was as if every metalhead or “scene”-adjacent figure was contractually obligated to shit on it. The band’s racoon-haired members, David “Se7en” Gallegos and Michael “Mikl” Shea – who dressed like they’d been dragged through Camden Cyberdog – danced, sung, rapped and screamed awkwardly with a group of girls who looked like disinterested contestants on Nathan Fielder’s ripoff of The Bachelor.
The popular metal blog Metalsucks called the video, “A shitstain on the ass of the universe”; NME wrote that it was “like having an auto-tuned, crack-addled Cher with a hard-on bearing down on you singing, ‘Let’s get freaky’”; and one YouTube commenter succinctly called it “perfectly terrible”. That’s just a minuscule portion of the incessant vitriol Brokencyde received in the years that followed.
Within the last year or so, though, a strange shift has begun to take place.
For every negative article Brokencyde accumulated in the early 2010s, there are now just as many tweets lovingly comparing them to the electronic pop duo 100 gecs – an act who, like Brokencyde, combine auto-tuned pop with hip-hop, metal and electro beats. But unlike Brokencyde, the music press has universally crowned 100 gecs as the apex of “cool”, and there are many other well-respected rappers and left-field pop artists now being rewarded for merging musical elements that Brokencyde used to receive literal death threats for.
“I know there’s been other mixtures of music, but I don’t think there’ve been many that have caused so much controversy, chaos and happiness at the same time,” Michael Shea tells me, while reflecting on Brokencyde’s legacy.
In today’s hip-hop climate, auto-tune is ubiquitous, and taking influence from pop-punk, emo and metal has been completely normalised by legends like Juice WRLD, Lil Uzi Vert and the contentious XXXtentacion. However, when Brokencyde were breaking out in the late-2000s, they were navigating completely uncharted territory.
An early Myspace hit of theirs, “Bree Bree”, was a merging of metal and mainstream hip-hop that’s still unlike anything of its kind. Lyrically, it’s a filthy sex-rap track that interpolates Shop Boyz’s Top 40 hit “Party Like A Rockstar”, but the phrase “bree bree” was internet metal slang for the “pig squeal” vocal delivery employed by deathcore bands. It was like reading from the Lambgoat comment section in the booth with DJ Paul: two entirely different worlds colliding in the time of Myspace.
In other tracks from that era, Brokencyde were referencing Nelly and Justin Timberlake through throat-searing metal shrieks and odes to “Scene Girlz”. It was as if they were in direct conversation with the pop zeitgeist, taunting it with their jarringly crass lyrics and screamed deliveries. But, as it turns out, these were earnest nods to a realm of music they always aspired to cross into.
Brokencyde were outsiders in the Warped Tour scene, which was largely associated with white suburban rebellion and middle-class mall culture. Shea and Gallegos, both of hispanic descent, grew up in poverty and ingrained in hip-hop culture. Even though Se7en screamed in the style of metalcore bands like Attack Attack! or The Devil Wears Prada, they always thought of themselves more as rappers.
“We were always fighting to get into the rap world, but we were just pushed into the rock world because of how we were making a hybrid of a bunch of different sounds and genres,” Shea says. “We really wanted to do music with Lil Jon at the time, and Lil Wayne, because he was using that auto-tune.”
Brokencyde were somehow able to nab features from E-40, Paul Wall and Daddy X on their first few records, but that was as far as they got in that lane. However – most likely because of their lyrical content, which rarely stretched beyond catcalling women and getting blackout drunk – the metalcore world was even more hostile to their existence.
Brokencyde had a fanbase: they were selling out shows across the US, and their 2009 debut I’m Not a Fan, But the Kids Like It! landed at number 86 on the Billboard 200. However, Shea tells me that after “Freaxxx” started getting roasted online, they struggled to find tour-mates and had to headline the majority of their shows. Even when they were keeping to themselves, they would still deal with hate that extended far beyond the screen.
“We would get death threats, we would get into altercations, just the dumbest stuff,” Shea remembers. “People would throw eggs at us, or shoes, or bleach or shit. It was the worst experience to ever have as a human being, because you’re simply trying to put on a show and make people happy.”
According to Shea, many of the people who would try to fight or harass the band at shows would also be in the crowd singing every word back to them. “They wanted to hurt you and be cool, but yet still go to your show and recite the lyrics,” he says. There was even a bizarre mill of TMZ-style rumours that Brokencyde had died in one way or another, as well as a quickly debunked hoax that they were arrested on child pornography charges. “I think we’ve died five or six times,” Shea says with an exhausted sigh. “It was cool to hate Brokencyde,” he adds. “If you liked Brokencyde, you were an outcast, pretty much.”
If Brokencyde were starting out today, that might not be the case. The rigid boundaries between heavy music, hip-hop and glossy pop don’t really exist anymore. 100 gecs’ 2019 debut was a uniquely comprehensive spread of formerly dissimilar styles, but even neighbouring artists like the recently defunct noise-pop duo Black Dresses – and others, like Mood Killer and William Crooks – are playing with Brokencyde-esque emo melodies and scream-rap verses. Then there are full-on rappers like Ghostmane, lil aaron, City Morgue and $uicideboy$, who are all making abrasive hip-hop that’s much closer to Brokencyde than any other major rap-rock groups of the 21st century.
“There’re a lot of artists today – Soundcloud rap, kind of – who I know in my heart that we’ve influenced significantly,” Shea says. “I was hoping someone would finally realise what we’ve done and not just bash us and use us as clickbait.”
That cultural stamp of approval might have happened sooner if things played out a little differently a decade back. Shea says that around the I’m Not A Fan… era, Brokencyde were in talks with Universal Music Group about a potential deal that would attempt to put them in the lane of Korn or Linkin Park. Apparently it never panned out because of “industry politics”, but that move wouldn’t have been inconceivable.
Similar acts, like Millionaires, Breathe Carolina and Kreayshawn, had varying degrees of success by merging the proud sleaze of Jersey Shore with Hot Topic aesthetics. Even Hollywood Undead were melding hip-hop with scene screams on their early material, before they ended up crossing into rock radio by writing emotional ballads that dropped the crass schtick Brokencyde refused to turn off.
In the midst of all the nose-holding they received from the press, there was one L.A. Times article from 2008 that actually included a pointed and prescient critique. The writer posited that Brokencyde “has done for Myspace emo what some think Soulja Boy did for hip-hop: turn their career into a kind of macro-performance art that exists so far beyond the tropes of irony and sincerity that to ask 'are they kidding?'”
If nothing else, Brokencyde were, consciously or not, godfathers of toeing the line between living meme and musical product, a form of artistic presentation that’s become omnipresent in a post-ironic world. One where rappers get signed for their jokes first and their music second, and critics exhale shameless praise for once-despised acts like Skrillex and Limp Bizkit with the chaotic wink of the devil emoji.
Brokencyde are still active today, although in recent years they’ve pivoted from their signature crunkcore to a middling echo of Atlanta trap. But even if they never get the validation they desire, Shea assures me that the mantra they’ve been screaming since their earliest demos still rings true: “Brokencyde will never die. Never.”