On a Saturday afternoon at Ranchos Cocina restaurant in North Park, Jack King, Jamal Smith and Brandon Zamudio bounce off each other electrically. Between the three members of local hip-hop group Parker & The Numberman, you can hardly get a word in. They break down lines from '80s diss songs, bringing in obscure trivia to add context, and are thoroughly enjoying it. They stumble over each other to give each other props. They riff on W.E.B. Du Bois, Joan Jett and Lorna Doone shortbread cookies. It's a show in itself.
"We hang out all the time," explains Zamudio, who goes by DJ Collagey. "So when we're out there onstage, that's just us. It's not like we're trying. Speaking just for myself, it's just me going out there and wilding out with two of my friends, who like to get equally crazy while performing."
The group's been gaining steam in the past two years with its dynamic live show and unique, fun music. After earning their first San Diego Music Awards nomination last year, the trio has garnered two more nods this year for Best Hip-Hop and Best Hip-Hop Album, the latter for their Clockwork Slang EP, which came out in April. Now, just a few months later, they've dropped BDP&T, a collaborative EP with like-minded duo Broken Dreams.
In a time when hip-hop collaborations are often slapped together via email with little interaction between artists, chemistry has become rare. But Parker & The Numberman have it in spades, especially live. As DJ Collagey mixes a random selection of beats—sometimes from the group's own songs, often not—King and Smith take on their eponymous roles as rappers Parker Edison and 10-19 the Numberman, playing off each other and flowing effortlessly over Collagey's curveballs. Smith raps unassumingly, acting as a stoic counter to the animated King. King moves fluidly between his roles as rapper, entertainer and gracious host ("MC" is short for "master of ceremonies," after all), helping to hype up his fellow performers. On any given night, you might see him explore every corner of the stage, pocketing mics as if he's stealing them, pointing mic stands into the crowd like rifles.
"It is this thing of, How far out can we go?" King says. "My goal is to have done a song so many times I can do it to 17 different beats to the point where I get onstage and really just leave [to] this place where you just black the fuck out."
BDP&T is an extension of the group's onstage chemistry, though with Broken Dreams rappers Moodswingking Yomi and Brek One in the mix. Moodswingking Yomi recalls that after naming the first two songs "Bukowski" and "Boss-Key-Ought (Basquiat)," they aimed for a "portrait scheme," using different cult icons to guide their songs.
While quirky, braggadocio-heavy lyrics and playful group dynamics are constant throughout the album, the relationship between the icon and the song varies. "Don Cornelius"— named after the creator of the R&B, funk and soul music showcase Soul Train—features a funky beat with samples of soulful crooners. However, on "The Buse (Gary Busey)," King takes on the eccentric personality of the actor, claiming to have "invented question marks" and stealing Moodswingking's notebook before expounding on the virtues of living life on your own terms instead of your critics'.
"We can mock Gary Busey, but he's genius," King asserts. "I'm playing with these lines of stupidity. But if you keep listening, you'll catch some real tidbits of reality in there."
King and Smith—both in their early 30s—grew up in Paradise Hills and Lemon Grove, respectively. They met in the mid-'90s, when mutual friends passed King some of Smith's music. Amazed with one song in particular, "Third Life," King found Smith's phone number on the back cover of the album and dialed it. A decade later, in 2007, they formed Parker & The Numberman, originally with King as the lone rapper and Smith as a brutally critical producer.
"I was trying to get my production chops up," Smith says. "Not just beat-making I was really trying to direct traffic. At the time, I just wasn't able to articulate that shit. So it just seemed like I was Simon Cowell."
Soon, Smith brought his own rap skills into the fold. In 2008, the duo's performance at the now-defunct Urban Underground series Downtown impressed Zamudio, who joined the group after contacting them on MySpace.
On a Wednesday night in June, Parker & The Numberman joined Broken Dreams onstage at The Casbah to celebrate the release of BDP&T. Playing to a packed crowd, King came out in a ski mask and sunglasses. The four rappers performed the whole release with their DJ, feeding off the camaraderie.
King advises other performers to think about it like this: "You got hit by a car, God is there, and he said, You got four minutes, dude. What're you gonna do with this last four minutes?' That's what the fuck I wanna see you do onstage."
Parker & The Numberman and Broken Dreams play with The Libyans, Fantasy Arcade and Aki Karmichael at The Tower Bar on Friday, July 6.
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