Three white guys and a Filipino walk into a bar....
Sounds like the beginning of a generic off-color joke, but in the case of local hip-hoppers The Kneehighs, it's life.
"You look at us and we're not the prototypical rap group," explains DaDa, one of the three Caucasian MCs in The Kneehighs. "I just want people to be surprised and impressed. To have a good time."
Suppositions abound when you see the members before hearing their music. MCs DaDa, Talls and Dalton, along with DJ GarGar, don't really look like a music group, much less a hip-hop group. They don't wear baggy pants or wear their baseball caps in annoyingly disjointed ways. They just look like a group of dudes you might see at a P.O.D. show rather than opening for indie rapper P.O.S.
But once they're onstage, explains Talls, all bets are off.
"We're just trying to bring back the DJ element. You got a little singing [courtesy of Dalton], some good rapping and a message, too. Not preaching, but letting 'em know we're normal people, working day jobs."
Their dynamic performances, combined with an almost effortless ability to get even the most stoic of scenesters crunk, have made them the go-to group for local club owners when they need a hype opener for the Alkoholiks or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Onstage, they're entertainers in the old-school, adding skits, trivia and countless forms of audience participation that makes it hard for people to forget them.
"None of us take it as a joke," explains Dalton. "We all try and think of things that'll set us apart from the typical rap show."
All of the members knew each other from high school but were busy with separate bands until forming The Kneehighs two years ago. Being just "good enough" wasn't an option, says Dalton. They constantly plug their shows and even film them so they can watch them later like a football team, picking out the things that worked and the stuff they should never, ever do again in front of live humans.
"It seems like a lot of San Diego groups are concerned with what sells," adds Dalton. "They don't try to find individuality. I think people who appreciate real hip-hop see that, and when they do go out they say, "This sucks.' To me, it's a formula that creates a lack of support for hip-hop in San Diego."
The Kneehighs released their debut, Global Warming, last year and have another one on the way. While Global Warming has its highs, it really functions better as a primer for their stage show. With three white MCs and a DJ, the Beastie Boy comparisons are inevitable, as are the strange looks. But they claim they've yet to meet someone who wasn't "surprised and impressed."
Or perhaps they just realized that-as Talls spits on their song "Whatcha' Doin'"-this is "no stereotypical white-rapper invasion." The Kneehighs play at Tio Leo's, 9 p.m. on July 15. $8-$10. 619-542-1462. www.thekneehighs.com.