Rappers Ballzack and Odoms are Kings of the Wank (VICE. June 2013).


Some New Orleans artists travel far and wide, enhancing the city’s well-deserved rep as a incubator of innovative music, but other acts achieve fame and pack rooms without ever having to hop in a van. Rappers Ballzack (real name Rami Sharkey) and Odoms (Adam Bourgeois) have never even left Louisiana, but have a huge following in the world’s music capital. There’s a reason they don’t travel often—if you ain’t from New Orleans, you may not understand a thing the surrealist suburban hip-hop duo say.

Ballzack and Odoms rap mostly about the West Bank, which is the big chunk of New Orleans that exists across the river from the city’s more renowned areas. “The Wank,” as East Bankers call it, is a much different creature than the French Quarter. Though lacking touristy charms, the West Bank is nonetheless deeply New Orleanian—while walkability and unique flavor defines New Orleans as y’all know it, the West Bank is like most of America: big, busy roads and strip malls. Meaning you need a car. Meaning until you’re 16 years old, you’re stuck. For a decade, Ballzack and Odoms, both in their 30s now, have been making music that harkens back to their West Bank childhoods and the art of conjuring fun out of suburban nothingness.Odoms and Ballzack grew up (or never grew up) near each other on the West Bank, but first bonded in the dorms at Lousiana State University over Hot Boy$ records. Their first album, 2002’s Knucklehead Memoirs, featured songs like “The Pencil Crack Tournament” and “Monkey Handjobs,” and they went on to experiment with live instrumentation on Chipmunk Dream Machine and recorded a New Orleans bounce record with Jay Yeunger of White Zombie. Each release contained “hit” songs that never got any play beyond local college radio but nonetheless sold shitloads of drinks for a lot of New Orleans clubs. Because few artists have ever gone out of their way to glorify West Bank life, Ballzack and Odoms enjoyed a giant local following from the beginning, and their audience grew exponentially after Ballzack and Odoms created Lil Doogie, a puppet that Odoms sometimes hides behind while brandishing a hotheaded attitude and thick West Bank accent (think the laid-back slur of an old-school Brooklyn dock worker).

I recently sat backstage with Ballzack and Odoms at One Eyed Jacks in the French Quarter just before the release party for Ballzack and Odoms Present: Ace N Ernie (a concept album about a pair of heavy metal heshers who decide to record a rap record—it’s better than it sounds) to discuss the Wank, riding a puppet’s coattails, and why they don’t think regional rap is a bad thing.

VICE: How would you explain the West Bank to outsiders?Ballzack: It all starts at the river, where shit is real old—the farther out you go, there’s more suburban-type new shit. But there’s also more Cajun spillover, more of like a coon-ass thing. [Coon-ass is a common word for “Louisiana good ol’ boys.”]

Some people who live in the heart of the city see all the outskirts as “white flight” destinations, but that’s really not an accurate depiction of the West Bank. Ballzack: When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to go to someone’s house and hear racial slurs, but then they’d go out in public and get along with other races. It’s like it’s not hate, it’s just another way to rag on somebody. Whoever is the minority is going to get ribbed. I’m Lebanese and Palestinian, and in high school they would sing [to the tune of Run DMC’s “Mary, Mary”] “Rami, Rami, why you Muslim…” I got it from black people and white people. But I couldn’t help laughing, because they loved me, they were friends. I did start getting paranoid about it after 9/11. People coming up and saying shit to me. Like I worked in this kitchen the chef came up to me and said [adopts West Bank accent], “Fuckin’ Rami dude, be careful out there, some dudes they goin’ around lookin for people like you.” Before that I’d never thought that was a possibility, ’cause I’ve been here my whole life! CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE PIECE AT Vice Magazine…

Or watch the duo’s new wild music video full of live animals…

 

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