Tobacco, the manic genius behind Pittsburgh’s Black Moth Super Rainbow, turns out mutated beats so orgasmic it’ll make almost any MC or producer cream themselves. But apart from a few remixes and a track featuring Aesop Rock, Tobacco’s actual use of rap has been sparse. His latest project, Demon Queen, with Tucson, Arizona MC Zackey Force Funk, is set to change all that.
“I got a lot of people pushing me to work with rappers, but you can imagine what that’s gonna sound like before it happens and that makes me ADD out. Zackey was the cure for my ADD,” Tobacco says, speaking to HasItLeaked.com. “It was the first time I forced myself to step back a little, but it was maybe the easiest album Iʼve been a part of. It just flowed.”
ZZF and Tobacco met at a BMSR show in San Francisco last year. Soon, a file exchange between Pittsburgh and Tucson began and Demon Queen was born. A mixture of impure Satanic squeals, VHS tape nightmares and apocalyptic chic, Demon Queen’s Exorcise Tape (out Aug. 6, Rad Cult) features verses written primarily by Zackey Force Funk, an airplane mechanic, ex-convict and father. The Tucson ghetto king rides with the Machina Muerte crew, fronted by Isaiah Toothtaker, who ain’t a dentist—apparently he gets his name from the molars he loosened in bar fights and now collects in a mason jar.
Spear bald, sporting a faded goatee and flourishing a Prince-like falsetto Zackey Force Funk, 39, got into producing music only seven years ago, while he was bored out of his fucking mind on house arrest. His brother N8NOFACE, who also appears on Exorcise Tape, was dabbling in chiptune music and gave Zackey a pirated beat-making program.
I just have to see if this guy is for real, so I make the drive from Phoenix to Tucson, strung out on Adderall and blaring Björk’s Vespertine. Not as Gonzo as I’d hoped, but I’ll take it. Two hours later, I arrive near 29th Street, which Zackey later describes to me as “low-income housing,” slightly reluctant to label it ghetto.
“It’s gone downhill, for sure. When I was growing up, it was really, really cool,” The Force Funk recalls. “There was a lot of diversity and shit like that. Not anymore. Now it’s just everyone’s after everybody … Everyone is trying to fight for control, for the prostitution or the crack. It’s just Wild West, man. It’s fucking Wild West.”
Zackey’s condo is sparse, but immaculate. Ever since his cat ran off, he lives alone, explaining that his property is “underwater.” But he’s heading to L.A. ASAP, hopefully landing a gig with SpaceX, the commercial aerospace company. For now, the MC is an airplane mechanic, his first job he could land out of prison.
He’s done three stints in the slammer, all of them drug related. He was caught shipping loads of marijuana to the East Coast via Kinko’s, as FedEx Office was known back then. He’d double-box between 30 and 50 pounds of pot, tell the guy at the counter it was a TV and send it off.
“You’d get an address somewhere on the East Coast, somewhere where it would be vacant, but a real, valid address,” Zackey explains. “They don’t ask questions and there’s a thing where you can check on the box where no one has to sign for it on the East Coast. They just go there and drop it off and walk away. And you have these people watching across the street ... And that’s how you get motherfucking weed across.”
The plan was almost foolproof, as Zackey and his crew would use gloves the whole time and if the shit was lost, there goes your money, but at least you didn’t get arrested. And at 19, the Force Funk was making around $100,000, but it wasn’t long before ol’ Zackey’s luck ran out.
“Some people over there, when they received the shit, got it, they started watching them over there,” Zackey recalls. “Yeah, I just got raided with me there with my shit. They were like, what’s this young Mexican kid from Tucson doing with these plates, you know? All this weed and shit. Oh, you got priors? They put two and two together.”
The Force Funk saw a lot in prison, including a guy who removed a half-ounce of weed from his ass. But it wasn’t long before he was bringing in drugs himself. Zackey started out as a fish at 19, but within six months, he says he was probably bringing in all the pot in Winslow Prison’s yard.
“I was right there on top of running the yard, until they got busted, someone trying to street charge me,” Zackey recalls. “[But] they couldn’t, so instead they sent me to SMU [Special Management Unit]. That was crazy. That was insane, to experience that at 20 years old.”
So yeah, this is the guy that makes sure your 747 flight to Sky Harbor International doesn’t explode. With storytelling out of the way, our first order of business, naturally, is to hit up the strip club ‘round the corner. We hop a wall, walk through an alley and are soon shaking hands with the doorman. The club has three stages decorated with balloons like it’s some children’s birthday party or maybe a used car dealership. We’re practically the only ones in the place.
We ogle the women, who tear off their lingerie to Rammstein and Disturbed, but I was really more focused on our conversation at hand, whether or not basketball games are thrown by the Illuminati.
Zackey tells me once, when he was in the parking lot here, two strippers who were smoking were approached by a couple of rich dudes in suits. The lead guy offered to pay one girl $100 to stamp her cigarette out on his arm. She happily obliged. I hope to witness something like that tonight, but instead I catch glares from the topless chicks whenever I refuse a lap dance from them. For some reason, this was really funny to me.
We go back to Zackey’s and he pops in Exorcise Tape, my first listen of the album in whole. It’s exactly what I had hoped from a Rad Cult release—it’s like, if LSD really did get lodged in your spine and you could suck it out at will, like sipping the melted remains at the bottom of an ice cream cone. By that, I mean it’s an expansive, nuanced, “licking a plugged-in light socket” sort of buzz. Tobacco’s vocoder is buried under the Force Funk’s high-pitched chirps on tracks like “El Camino 2,” which gives the Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman a completely fresh edge.
When revved up on “Rude Boy,” about some dick blasting a shotgun at a party and “Despise The Lie” ft. Isaiah Toothtaker, you feel like donning a mask and slashing some bitches. True to form, there are devil-worshipping rave-ups, namely “Demon Practice” ft. N8NOFACE, which accompanies a video of a topless chick rubbing blood on her nipples before she murders a priest with a distorted face. But there’s a softly romantic side to Exorcise too, on tracks like “Love Hour Zero,” which details a nuclear holocaust romance.
Zackey explains most of the album is about growing up around 29th Street, going to strip clubs, prison, that sort of thing. But even he admitted to Tobacco that he was “writing too much about gangsta shit.” So he challenged himself and rewrote everything to be a littler weirder, a little more out there. Sounds to me like he succeeded.
Soon, Zackey and I are driving toward 4th Avenue to Mr. Head’s, a kind of divey club with creepy, local art for sale on the walls. Zackey is DJing here tonight and he tells me that unlike certain venues he’s been to in L.A. and Phoenix, people actually get off their asses and dance here. I start to drown myself at the bar and stand back to watch as Zackey cuts into a set of obscure, early ‘90s hip-hop.
The Force Funk is treated somewhat like a minor celebrity. There’s an air of envy from whoever I talk to about him. Yet, Zackey still appears humble through it all, ditching the tired, entitled attitude that most rappers have.
“[Locals] recognize me and know he’s the one that survived … Now it’s pride, like there’s Zack, an old ass man making music, how the fuck did he even do it? So even they kind of bug out. Everyone bugs out. Even I bug out,” Zackey tells me. “I’ve got a little ghetto celebrity status, but still, it’s not cool. It’s not cool. I wish it was like it used to be, that’s for sure.”
The night goes long. I find myself waiting in line for the bathroom and chat up a dude from Nigeria. I stupidly ask him if he prefers the U.S. and he gives me a look like I’m still not toilet trained. He lectures me on the many freedoms afforded to us Americans and I say whatever and then he offers to share a little white baggie with me. Soon, I’m doing bumps in the bathroom and then I’m back on the dance floor and shaking my ass for no reason and everyone around me is grooving because Zackey wasn’t lying about the energy in this place and the night blurs into blackness.
Before I know it, I’m back at Zackey’s, passed out on his couch. Maybe tonight wasn’t some endless string of debauchery, like that time The Force Funk took MDMA with a girl and wandered naked around L.A. or something, but it was a chance to see a humble side of a rising alternative star. Sometimes we want to project this rockstar lifestyle on our heroes, but sometimes it’s enough to know that in spite of talent, here’s a hard-working man that loves his kids and just wants to sing about demonic shit when he gets off work.
Troy Farah might still be passed out on the couch. He's on Twitter — @filth_filler