You know, for the previous two installments of the Annual Terrible Artist Spotlight Challenge, I had a little bit of fun. Soulja Boy and Dogstar made for interesting targets of lampoonery and cultural criticism, and even if I’m not a fan of their output or their personae, I could at least engage with them as a consumer of music and a person with a functioning brain. I could listen to their songs, watch their videos, read some interviews, and have some thoughts.
I am sorry to say that doing this for BrokeNCYDE was much, much harder than before.
This band is so bad that wherever they are mentioned on the Internet, people will go out of their way to talk about how bad they are. The lyric annotations on genius.com call them idiots. A Warsaw tech journalist saw fit to slam them in his 2010 write-up about a now-defunct iPod replacement. Comic book writer Warren Ellis called them shit on his blog after his kid showed him this video. Even their entry on discogs.com has two comments about how much they stink. Most recording artists have zero comments at all.
I am told by the Internet that this band is a “crunkcore” act. I am not surprised to learn that there is such a thing as crunkcore, but I do think it is stupid, at least from an etymological perspective. That is, somewhere in recent decades, we collectively decided the suffix -core meant “hard, loud, aggressive,” which is reflected in the names of subgenres like grindcore, metalcore, deathcore, etc. The reality is that “core” just means “on the inside,” and the term this all comes from, “hardcore,” means something that is so hard it is hard all the way through. Using -core to mean “hard” is one of many inaccurate neologisms of our modern life, like saying “ATM machine” or “I could care less.”
You can see I am trying to talk about anything other than the band BrokeNCYDE. The important thing to keep in mind is that everything about this band is a pale imitation of something far better. Let’s start with their name. It’s meant to be a portmanteau of “Broke Inside” (perhaps because they cut their lives into pieces?) while also aping the all-caps and misspelling of a certain Justin Timberlake-affiliated boy band. Regardless of your opinions on “Bye Bye Bye,” N*SYNC is a better band name than BrokeNCYDE.
The two central members of this band are called Se7en and Mikl (his real name is Michael). Past members have included dudes named Phat J and Antz. Their hit single is the first video above, “FreaXXX.” The band performed this song on TRL in July 2008; two months later, the show was canceled. Coincidence? Other songs they have recorded include “I’m Da Shizzit,” “Schitzo,” and “Broken Mikrofonez.” Also, “Teach Me How To Scream,” which, yes, is exactly like “Teach Me How To Dougie” but far, far worse. I will not post the video of that song, due to its transphobic content.
The boys are so creative! Did you see how they spell words with the wrong letter? That just shows how original their personalities are. They just think different, you know?
— Michael “Mikl” Shea’s mom, in the backyard of her suburban Albuquerque home, sipping rosé from a red Solo cup while sitting in a hot pink folding captain’s chair.*
* This really** happened.
** OK fine, not really, but I bet it could have.
There is not much to say about this band’s aesthetic. Just go into any Hot Topic circa 2007 and you’ll find enough scene kids to shoot a BrokeNCYDE video. As far as their music, I honestly don’t know where to begin. Maybe some bullet points will suffice for now.
• Content-neutral statement: BrokeNCYDE’s music is a combination of crunk and screamo, which is basically emo with screamed vocals.
• Value judgment: their music is shit.
• The lyrics are beyond juvenile. They’re either school-shooter diary entries or middle school jack-off fantasies rendered in Speak-n-Spell prose. For instance: “You got me feeling so alive/I will fuck you/in the sky.” “Intoxicated, I’m faded in my dreams/motivated on defeating these haters in everything/it’s the only thing that keeps me alive/it keeps me away from all of your motherfucking lies.”
• I will give them credit at least for writing a few songs about suffering from depression/ADHD/other modern ailments and how medications make them feel worse. The overuse of prescription drugs for American youth remains an important issue. Whatever is the opposite of “nuance,” that’s how BrokeNCYDe handled it.
• The beats suck. They are just Casio keyboard ripoffs of crunk tracks from the same era, like “Get Low” or “Salt Shaker.”
• Even the screamo half of the crunkcore amalgam fails to generate what it should. BrokeNCYDE‘s producer(s) have overcompressed Se7en’s screaming vocals and removed any edge from his voice during the mixing process. He’s completely neutered. Isn’t the point of screaming to show how angry you are? Epic Fail! (I’m told this is how the kids say something sucks.)
Overall, their music sounds like the Rebecca Black “Friday” equivalent of that “Shots Shots Shots” song, with a bad Chester Bennington impersonation thrown into the blender.
Holy shit, E-40? You’re a legit recording artist and Bay Area hip hop legend. You shouldn’t be here. How much did Se7en’s mom offer you for this appearance?
Anyway, here are some details. The band was founded in 2007 and released two mixtapes. Presumably they were getting some attention on MySpace in order to make it onto MTV. After that TRL shot, they were signed to the appropriately named Suburban Noize Records and released an EP, BC13 in late 2008. Their LP I’m Not A Fan, But The Kids Like It followed, debuting at No. 86 on the charts. Excuse me, I have to go weep for humanity.
They toured with a bunch of other acts I never heard of but probably would hate, and put out some more albums: Will Never Die in 2010 and Guilty Pleasure in 2011. In 2012, Phat J left the band to go solo (someone let me know how that worked out) and BrokeNCYDE’s luster began to fade. Curse the disloyal fans of the screamo hip hop scene! In 2014, they launched an Indiegogo to fund the recording of their next album. Goal: $30,000. Pledges received: $1,241.
They self-released the album regardless and called it All Grown Up. The songs are full of lyrics about haters who don’t realize how great they are, and about record labels trying to censor their ideas, but now they’re keeping it real. OK dude.
I was all set to end the Spotlight here, but apparently they released a new record last week, called 0 to BrokeNCYDE. Still relevant? Well … It’s been 11 years since Se7en and Mikl cut their first album on GarageBand and uploaded an MP3 to the Interwebs; if they still sounded the same as in those days, something would be off. Hip hop, the genre they’re imitating, has gone through at least three new iterations since then, and it’s pretty hard to pull off the frustrated-suburban-emo-kid thing when you’re 28. So now the screaming is gone, and BrokeNCYDE is just another mediocre trap outfit, with crummy lyrics over forgettable beats. C’est la vie.
All told, the success of BrokeNCYDE (not that they’ve had much) is similar to Donald Trump’s. Stay with me here: we’re talking about a pop culture moment driven by lowbrow white people feeling like outsiders, choosing to express their discontent in a way that disgusts the educated, the critical thinkers, the gatekeepers of this part of our society. Despite the condescension of the elites and the objectively bad quality of the product in question, it finds thousands of fans. Critical consensus is exposed as meaningless; populism reigns while culture burns.
At the same time, I can’t write this shit off entirely. We should see this as a canary in our national coal mine. Sure, BrokeNCYDE by itself isn’t anything we need to pay attention to, but this band didn’t happen in a vacuum. There are millions of mostly white teenagers in America listening to this shit or something similar, who hear lyrics about wanting to kill yourself, about being overmedicated on SSRIs, about how women should exist for men’s sexual pleasure, alongside some casual homophobia, and they find that these ideas resonate. That’s what’s really scary. Bad crunk beats are only secondary.