For the record, I will say I do not like white rappers. There have been a few decent ones over the course of rap's history, but the scales are so tipped the other way that it's just easier to make a blanket statement against all white rappers. I grew up reporting on hip-hop in the 90s, the de facto greatest era of rap music. Aside from 3rd Bass, there weren't too many specs of salt in the pepper shaker worth mentioning and I quite liked it that way.
Worst than my dislike of white rappers is my distain for skateboarders who rap, of any creed or color. It tends to be the absolute most hideous abuse of a genre of music that is meant to be beautiful. I don't know how to explain skate rap to you other than for you to close your eyes and think of everything you love about hip-hop (the rhythm, the flow, the fluid word play) and then discard that. Picture Helen Keller in a sound booth calling for someone, "To turn my headphones up! Turn my headphones up!"
The ironic thing about it is Helen Keller was a genius whereas skate rappers tend to be so deaf/dumb/blind that they miss the fact that they are creating the worst sounds and noises ever recorded by man. I wish I could understand the thinking behind it. All I can surmise is that their level of success in skateboarding has affected their view of reality and how the world operates. Most successful skaters have never had a real job, most are high school dropouts and yet big checks and boxes of free, expensive merchandise magically appear at their door step each day. Add an unhealthy amount of marijuana to that equation and you've got a kid with a sense of entitlement that leads them to believe they can be successful at anything they do despite all evidence to the contrary. It's truly painful to watch with second-hand embarrassment as someone throws away any credibility their career might have earned them in pursuit of a pipedream.
Vert skating veteran Chris Gentry, the original rapping skateboarder, is an exception to the rule for the simple fact that he's never taken himself all that serious. Back in the 90s when skateboarding was beginning to adopt this inflated sense of self that's so prevalent nowadays, Gentry and his ex-wife were making absurd ads where they floated in outer space or skateboarded cars on handrails. And yes, he rapped. Admittedly his stuff wasn't that good back then, but he also wasn't quitting skating to start a rap career. Rhyming was just something he did in his spare time when not riding a skateboard.
And 20 years later, he's still doing it. He recently started CGNN (Chris Gentry Neighborhood Network), where he drops a monthly YouTube video of him rapping all the latest news in skateboarding, BMX, and Motocross. It's beyond ridiculous and you can't help but love it. (I think more kids would watch the news if it was rapped at them…)
I caught up with Chris right before his demo in Butte, Montana, for Evel Knievel Day to discuss skate rappers, touring with Gator after he murdered the girl, an entire generation of skaters lusting for his ex-wife, and more.
VICE: What are you up to these days, Chris?
Chris Gentry: I just moved down to Carlsbad. I bought an RV, so I'm living in the RV at the DC Ramp and just skating every day. I'm trying to get a video part going. I've been knocking out a few bangers, just spending time on each trick. I got a whole list of tricks I want to knock out.
You're 40, what's it like living in an RV?
It's just one of those things. I could have a house if I wanted to, but it's just too much work to get to it and go home and go to the ramp and all that. I was just like, "Man, I just need to be at the ramp!" I don't have no rent. I basically just got an RV and am living there and traveling around on the weekends, going camping, going to different ramps. I got a full editing studio in the RV. I don't know if you saw that last video I did—Ridaz Gotta Ride: The Ridalution Has Begun—but I have a whole series of those episodes. They're going to come out once a month.
You've always been rapping and skating. Are you trying to pursue one more than the other these days?
No, not really. I just do what I love. I skate all day and then work on music and these videos at night. I put my energy into all that. I've been changing my style up a little bit to where I don't just sit and write songs and go shoot a video anymore. Now I shoot the video first and then I write the song to the video for my little network I call CGNN. It's a play off CNN and I basically just report the news by rapping about skateboarding, bikes, motocross, action sports, whatever.
The first episode had legends like Too $hort and Scarface in there. How'd that happen?
Scarface, I've known for a while. He's my boy in Houston. I've known him for nine years and he's always down to represent. He's backing my whole Pro Rider thing. But he performed with Too $hort and E-40 in LA and I went and filmed him and showed love and he showed love back. He's one of my mentors.
Do they look at you as a white rapper or skateboarder first and foremost?
Both. They know I do both and they show respect, which is cool. They probably look at me as a skateboarder first because that's what I've been doing the longest.
Some skaters suck at rapping. Actually, most of them suck. How do you get around that?
Ha! Most of them suck?
Wouldn't you agree?
Yeah, it's kind of terrible. I don't really pop it all in my deck and listen to it. It's kind of funny. I wasn't always the greatest either. I still don't think I'm the greatest. But I grew up on Scarface. He's my mentor. I try to keep it as real as possible and do the best I can with what I got and what I'm working with. I'm not really pursuing it to be a rap star or nothing, I just love doing it and putting these episodes out is just fun to me.
How did you start rapping? Because as far back as I can remember in your long skate career, you've been rapping.
It's just one of those things where after you skate, you're just on down time. What else are you going to do? Rap has always been a part of my life. I just love listening to it and I love wordplay and metaphors and putting it all together and making it make sense.
Didn't Snoop Dogg hook you up with a track at one point?
No, I never gotten any tracks from Snoop Dogg. But Kokane was on Snoop's label for a while and I was rolling around with him. I did my first album, Gangster Rock, with Kokane. That's how I got in with the Snoop camp from 1999 to 2004.
Like I said, most skate rappers suck. Who do you think doesn't suck?
I don't really know how many there are. I can't even name them all. I think Terry Kennedy is pretty good. I like his stuff. He spits good.
Who is awful?
Man, I don't want to say all that. You already know.
I do. But I'm curious about the opinion of an actual skate rapper.
I don't want to bash anybody. You never know, they might suck today and be the best rapper tomorrow.
What do you think of JR Blastoff?
JR? Jereme Rogers? I mean, he's doing what he likes to do. He loves it. I don't like to say, "He sucks," because he's trying the best he can and he's working with what he's got. Nothing comes easy. It's just practice. When I was rapping and coming out it was kind of odd. People weren't used to that. You just have to listen to your heart. He's just listening to his heart. You can't really bash anybody if they're just listening to their heart.
What if they don't have a heart?
Oh man… I don't know. That's on him.
Did anybody say to you early on that you suck?
Oh yeah. Not that I actually heard them say it. But I put out some stuff that I look back on now and know it was kind of whatever. I didn't think it sucked. At least it was on a rhyme pattern and it had somewhat of a style. I don't think I ever came out sounding 100 percent corny.
Would you have been deterred at all if someone told you, point blank, that you sucked?
No, it's like skateboarding. You can suck for awhile, but eventually you're going to get good if you love it and do it every day. You're gonna start landing shit.
I like that philosophy. Do you consider yourself the original rapping skater?
Yeah, I can't think of anybody before me. The only person that really comes close is Gator [Mark Rogowski, former pro skater turned convicted murderer]. I don't know if you've ever heard any old Gator music back when I was on Vision, but Gator was producing a bunch of songs. I don't know if I'd say he was rapping, but it was kind of rock with him saying some shit over it.
Like Limp Bizkit-style?
Yeah, kind of like that. I remember getting a tape from Gator a long time ago and I was like, "Damn, Gator is doing music." But yeah, I think I was the first skateboarder rapper that I can think of.
Wait a second! Do you have a track somewhere of you and Gator together?
No. I don't have any of that. That would be cool. Well, I don't know if that would be cool, but it would be something. Something like, "Whoa!"
Were you teammates with him when he killed the girl?
Yeah, I was on tour with him after he did it with Mike Crum. We went to the Reno Finals back in 1992. He just became really religious and was reading the Bible all the time and acting odd. Like, we went to this mall in San Francisco one time and he gets out of the car and runs around the mall with no shoes or shirt on. We were driving around the parking lot trying to find him. He was just doing weird shit. But we had no idea he killed someone. Nobody did. It was a super shock to me when I heard the news. I was like 16, I just turned pro for Vision and he was a big part of putting me on the team and then to hear that was crazy. Everybody was shocked.
Have you ever tried to go see him?
No, I've never gone to go see him. I don't know what I would talk to him about. I wasn't cool with how that all went down. I don't want to go visit somebody that killed somebody.
No, I agree. Fuck that dude. Let's talk about something more upbeat. Your brand Kingdom Skateboards was the shit. Everybody loved those Kingdom ads. Was that all you and how did you come up the ad concepts?
That was just brainstorming. Skateboarding was kind of serious and everybody was taking it serious and we were just lightening it up, making it fun and having a good time with it. I wasn't trying to pay all these riders to ride for us. We were just coming up with funny ads to get a reaction, from the skateboard cars to floating in space to Ricca [Chris' ex-wife] grinding down handrails. As we thought of them, we just shot them and did them. We'd photoshop it all together and try to get a rise out of everybody, with a good sense of humor.
I heard you built all those props yourself.
Yeah, I built every one of those ads myself. I built all that stuff out of balsa wood. I built the lowrider skateboard truck, the monster truck, the limo, the spaceship—shit, all that stuff.
I feel like that stuff was pre-No Limit Records album covers by Pen and Pixel. Do you feel Master P ripped you off?
We were doing all that shit way back then. Nobody was doing ads like we were, but I don't know if he ripped me off. He had his own little style of doing things. Master P was definitely out right around that time. We were just trying to be different from everyone. It was just me and Ricca running the thing. We were hoping people would get a kick out of it. They'd either love it or hate it, but I didn't care ether way.
What happened with Kingdom?
I just got tired of doing it. There was just so much competition in the game and I was overdoing sales. I didn't want to be a competitor to the industry no more. I just wanted to be a skater. The business side is a whole other world that will stress you out and make you not like skateboarding. So I wanted to get away from that.
I thought maybe it was tough for you knowing every skateboarder everywhere was jerking off to photos of your ex-wife.
Ha! Right! No, that wasn't it. We did those calendars of her. Remember those? It was all just fun shit. We were just doing it. I wasn't really tripping off all that. I knew what I was getting into. You can't stop people from looking at your chick. No, I was just working too much and not skating.
Your ex-wife and Rosa from Shorty's were probably the two most desired women in skateboarding in the 90s. Who was hotter?
My ex-chick! She's way hotter! Yeah, she just got married again eight months ago. He's cool.
I would like to possibly apologize to both of you for something I may or may not have done. Someone told me that at the premiere of the Big Brother video CRAP in 2001, I pulled out my dick and pissed on your ex-wife. I was really blacked out for those years and if it's true, I would just like to take this opportunity to apologize.
No, I don't know if I remember that. I think someone is just fucking with you. Yeah, I would've known and she would have freaked out. Drama would have went down. You would've been beat up. I think someone is pulling your chain.
That was my thought. You would have knocked me out. So I feel better knowing that didn't happen. But if it did, I am sorry. To wrap it up, you have 30 years under your belt. What's been the craziest memory?
The wildest story probably in skateboarding history of partying and riots was in Le Grand Bornand, France in 1991. It was the new generation and the old generation of vert riders. You had the new generation of me, Mike Crum, Sluggo, Danny Way, Colin McKay, Omar Hassan, Sean Sheffey. And then you had guys like Craig Johnson, Dave Duncan, all the old generation on the same bus as us going from Germany to France. The bus ride there was crazy with bottles of booze, inflatable dolls, and shit. And then we get to Le Grand Bornand and it rained for three days so nobody could skate. Everybody just got wasted in this little bar everyday, all day long. Jason Ellis was pissing of the balcony. Three hundred skaters were all crammed in this little room playing pool and Craig Johnson was leaning against this light and his dreadlocks started heating up and smoking and caught on fire. Craig turns around and grabs the light by the socket and begins yanking on the light and starts ripping the cord through the drywall all around the whole room. After that, the window opened and people started crawling out the window. Next thing you know, cars are getting jumped on as they drive by. They sent the National Guard out. People were getting maced. It was a full riot zone of young, drunk ass skaters going nuts. It was chaos. It was the gnarliest party I've ever been to.
Follow Chris Gentry on Twitter.