Junkyard Empire


Their fiercely innovative music combines hip-hop and avant garde jazz influences.

You have a few hip-hoppers in the Twin Cities that actually get it – the genre was not spawned way-back-when by The Last Poets, Sugar Hill Gang and the rest of them for the primary purpose of dogging women out and posturing like King Kong should be scared to meet you in a dark alley. And you have a few bands who play hellified avant garde jazz. Enter two-in-one force of nature: Junkyard Empire. They come with fiercely innovative music that’ll have you nodding along before you know it, and coat-pulling verse that defies society and the government to get real about positive change.

Two bassists, Ben Shaffer live and Casey O’Brien in the studio, Jaime Delzer (sax), DJ Soulwork (turntables), Tony Blonigan (guitar), and founder Christopher Robin Cox (trombone/electric piano), featuring MC Brihanu have wrapped their CD debut and are mixing it this month at Fur Seal Studios. Look for a monster disc to hit the record racks. Meanwhile Junkyard Empire is at Stasiu’s, 2500 University Ave. NE in Minneapolis on November 1, 9:00 p.m. with a $5 cover.

DWIGHT HOBBES: Why did you form Junkyard Empire?
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN COX: To speak truth to power during a time of rampant chauvinism, imperialism, plutocracy, deregulation, international war crimes, unfair prosecutions, and the list goes on for miles. After finishing damn near 15 years of professional musicianship, I found myself backpacking around Central Europe. I had finished what was to be my last contract as a musician aboard a cruise ship, something I did for a number of years to bring in the pay. It was 2001, so I didn’t want to come back home to the U.S. to listen to everybody bitch and moan about the towers.

DH: Hold up. You’re not saying the laments of people who lost loved ones is bitching and moaning.
CRC: No. I was referring to people who use the attacks on the Trade Towers to further their political agendas. It was 2001 and since the United States was in mourning, and the Bush Administration was sure to use the public’s fear and loss as a reason to further their hegemonic intentions, I wanted to stay away awhile.

DH: Where’d the name come from?
CRC: The goal was to come up with something that was clearly political, made a statement in itself, and fit the music. Our then-guitar player Zacc Harris said, “what about Junkyard Empire?” Zacc is laughing if he is reading this. I wasn’t immediately for it, because it sounded a little too mainstream for me, but after I sat with it for a while, I liked it and realized it has a good ring to it. Zacc was really instrumental to the making of the band in the beginning, for sure.

DH: You started it as a jazz band, then segued into hip-hop.
CRC: Hip hop was always going to play a role. The real question was to what degree. It was only after we heard Brian rap over the odd meter jazzy shit we were playing when we made the decision to go much deeper into the hip hop world.

Hip hop is the jazz of today. Many jazzers, old and young, totally disagree with that statement, but that’s only because their understanding of jazz is purely musical instead of social and political, too. The role of progressive and conscious hip hop in society today is precisely similar to the role jazz played during the course of history in this country. I think of Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” I think of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” I think of Ornette Coleman’s “Change of the Century.” Jazz has always been the musical answer to the artistic status quo man. Hip hop and jazz is a perfect marriage, because jazz cats can do their thing over hip hop very easily, and hip hop – because of the poetic license of rap – gives street credit and a story to a music that might otherwise be relegated to symphony halls.

DH: How has it worked out?
CRC: Between [MC Brihanu] and I have written original music that speaks truth to power, grooves like hell, [retaining] the two biggest influences we have, which are hip hop and jazz.

DH: What’s next, while the album awaits completion?
CRC: We are planning on doing more all-ages shows, and we are playing a fundraiser for Barack Obama at the end of November. We’ve also talked about doing some shows with the Welfare Poets.