Recollections of a Former Scene Kid: brokeNCYDE

Something that I bring up to more people than I probably should is that I had a very long “scene kid” phase. I was subscribed to Alternative Press for six years, went to five consecutive Warped Tours and dozens of other shows for bands in the “scene,” owned way too many pieces of multicolored cartoon monster shirts, and dreamed of working in a Hot Topic. I eventually drifted away from that kind of thing, especially as I got more into movies than music, but recently I’ve found myself going back to the well of scene kid highlights, and found that in many cases, I still very much enjoyed these bands. And as I dug deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, I found that while some of these bands, such as Of Mice & Men, All Time Low, Asking Alexandria and A Day To Remember are still trucking along and doing very well, not every band whose merch I agonized over buying on the Hot Topic racks have followed in their footsteps. Some broke up, some were divisive with audiences to the point where it negatively impacted their careers, and others are still going, just with nowhere near the amount of attention or hype they got back in the day. Since most of these bands are now well over ten years old, I figured it was time to do the dirty work and start researching, relistening, and reevaluating. This is Recollections of a Former Scene Kid, where I plumb the depths of my middle-school nostalgia and figure out why these bands ended up falling off, and figure out if they’re worth another look.

And where better to start than with one of the MySpace-era’s most despised successes, the founders of crunkcore, the one, the only: brokeNCYDE.

brokeNCYDE at their peak were composed of rappers/screamers Se7en (yes, spelled like the David Fincher movie of the same name) and Phat J, clean vocalist Mikl, and programmer/producer/fog machine player Antz. Formed by Se7en and Mikl in 2006, Phat J and Antz joined the group soon after. In 2008, their music video for the song “FreaXXX” went viral. By 2009 they had released multiple mixtapes, an EP, and their debut full-length album, as well as having a slot on Warped Tour and a headlining nationwide tour in the works. Their mix of scene kid fashion, hip-hop production and half-screamed raps about hoes and weed delighted some and repulsed many more. Also, they had a pig mascot named Bree Bree. I have to mention that because if I didn’t I’d regret it. Reviews from major music sources were incredibly negative, and reaction from the music listening community at large was even more so. Back in the day, YouTube was full of single-take rants of varying quality about how brokeNCYDE was the worst band to ever exist, the band’s early music videos garnered thousands of dislikes, and major players in the AP/Warped Tour scene at the time, from Thursday’s Geoff Rickly to Senses Fail’s Buddy Nielsen to even Paramore’s Hayley Williams bashed the group and the genre they spawned. The members of brokeNCYDE were definitely aware of this, making negative reviews/statements about their band a huge part of their marketing and reacting to them in their lyrics. It’s definitely an effective marketing strategy, especially for a band on an indie label that blew up through relatively-early social media buzz. But buzz doesn’t last forever, and a band needs to have the tunes to back it up, no matter how good they market themselves. So, going into their first album, “I’m Not A Fan, But The Kids Like It!”,  there’s a question here that we kind of have to ask: were brokeNCYDE ever any good?

In short: not on their first album. “I’m Not A Fan, But The Kids Like It!” is flat-out terrible, overlong, obnoxious, repetitive, and low-key embarrassing in every aspect except the sometimes-strong production. In a pre-streaming environment where album sales were still a major part of the music industry, there is absolutely no reason for this album to be sixty-two minutes long. The band combines short verses with overly long choruses that they seemingly rely on because they want the hooks to overshadow everything else, but it just makes listening to the entire album an absolute chore. The album features guest appearances by legendary Bay Area rapper E-40 and Daddy X of then-labelmates Kottonmouth Kings, and while their verses on the album aren’t the best work they’ve ever done, they are easily better than anything Se7en and Phat J come up with on the record.

If I had to pick a highlight, it would probably be “40 Oz.”, which isn’t great or even particularly good, but has probably the best hook on the album and the best non-guest verse, courtesy of Phat J, who has the best line on the album with a C-minus level joke about being “herbally impaired.” The worst song, by far, is “I’m Sorry,” an attempt at a serious song that is just as mind-numbingly repetitive as the rest of the record, but it runs at a truly unforgivable six-plus minutes, with a hidden track at the end framed as everyone from their manager to their record label head trashing the band, which is the only moment on the album where they seem to be self-aware. A lot of it just ends up blending together, numbing one to the point of extreme relief when the record is over. As much as I disliked this album, I was happy that I listened to it if only for the visceral “I can’t believe this exists” reaction I had when I was about five or so tracks deep.

Well, by November 2010 the boys in neon shutter glasses dropped their sophomore effort, “Will Never Die.” With this second album came a few changes. The screaming was starting to be toned down, with the production also becoming a little less blaring. The album also ran at around ten minutes shorter than “I’m Not A Fan,” which is still a little longer than I’d like, but makes the album a lot more listenable. However, there’s also more skits present on this record, and they’re all absolutely interminable. Let’s just say that the band’s sense of humor is exactly what you’d expect from a band with songs titled things like “Dis Iz A Rager Dude” and “Goose Gogglez.”

The album also sounds exactly like you’d expect from an album with songs with those titles. It’s better than the previous record, but still generally mediocre to bad. “Da House Party” is probably the highlight, mostly thanks to an okay Phat J verse, a catchy hook and a poppy structure that ups the listenability to a solid six out of ten. “High Timez” is probably the second best song, with the faux-reggae stylings and basic raps about how cool weed is coming together for something hilarious. Phat J’s verse on the song is really good, though he (and Se7en) are definitely outshone by another appearance by Daddy X of the Kottonmouth Kings. The low point of the record (besides the skits) is “My Gurl”, which has Mikl and Phat J trying to do a mid-00’s R&B ballad about how they love ya, girl, and it is jaw-droppingly terrible–one of the most embarrassing things I have ever heard. That song aside, brokeNCYDE definitely showed improvement here, which paves the way for their future with their next album, “Guilty Pleasure.”

“Guilty Pleasure,” released barely a year after “Will Never Die,” is without a doubt their best record. It still contains the standard “weed and hoes” lyrics that other rappers have made better songs about, as well as some almost-embarrassing detours into full-on pop music, but the vocal performances and the production are better than they ever were up to that point, and with the screaming toned down to only two songs on the initial release of the record, it removes some of the pretext of trying to be crunk for Warped Tour kids and just trying to be more straight-up hip-hop. One could argue that this robs the band of their uniqueness, but at the same time it feels like the album they wish they could have made from the beginning. Add solid guest verses from Paul Wall, Tre Nyce, and an album-stealing guest verse by UnderRated from the underground duo Potluck on “Doin’ My Thang,” and you have a fairly competent hip-hop record that is pretty refreshing after the abrasive stylings of their previous records. It also helps that it’s a blissfully short 40 minutes long, which just makes me happy.

It’s not like the album doesn’t have low points, though. The lowest, by far, is the jaw-droppingly immature “U Mad Bro?” It’s just as childish and in bad taste as the title implies, beginning with a skit portraying their detractors as angry neckbeards mad that brokeNCYDE slept with their girlfriends, and containing some truly unfortunate homophobic bars courtesy of Se7en (I be on that straight shit/You be on that gay shit/Dick is always runnin’ through your head, Asics) that feel like they came from a 13-year old in 2001 instead of a fully grown man in 2011. However, the album’s best song, and probably the group’s best song as a whole, comes right after: the album closer, “Still The King!!!”, which is the band returning to the crunkcore stylings of their first two albums but applying a relative increase of skill and polish to it, as well as a healthy dose of braggadocio. I’m a sucker for a solid, confident brag rap and Se7en and Phat J (especially Phat J) definitely bring it. It is the artistic peak of crunkcore. It was never better than it was with this song. Also, the video for the song, posted above, is so hilariously “edgy” that I can’t help but have some lizard-brain affection for it.

And in 2012, brokeNCYDE opted to re-release the record with a few more tracks. This was actually a pretty common thing to do in the scene at that time. If you look through the Rise Records catalog in particular you’ll find a lot of album re-releases with a few extra tracks or a DVD with some bonus features. The additions to “Guilty Pleasure” are nothing to really write home about, it adds up to a mediocre Mickey Avalon feature on the song “Magnum”, a new track called “Never Back Down”, and a “screamix” of the song “Doin’ My Thang” that puts it more in line with their back catalog, and replacing the fantastic guest verse by UnderRated that was on the original release of the album with a still-solid guest verse by The Dirtball, another member of the Kottonmouth Kings. And later that year, despite being only three albums into their career, they released a “best of” album, which was composed of roughly half their output at that point. At this point, the label they were signed to, Suburban Noize, was well on their way to completely falling apart, which was seemingly why they appeared to be trying to squeeze as much money as they could out of the band while they were still something resembling solvent. 

However, the band itself didn’t appear to seem like they themselves would be solvent for much longer. In 2012, Phat J left the group, and two years later, after some touring but no new record on the horizon, Antz followed suit. This left Se7en and Mikl back where they started, with brokeNCYDE as a duo. After a failed attempt at crowdfunding a new record, it was pretty safe to assume that despite what their most popular refrain at live shows would have one believe, brokeNCYDE, in fact, was dead.

Lewton Bus’ own Kevin Kuhlman with Phat J from brokeNCYDE.

And what led to the decline of brokeNCYDE? I feel like the most important reason why they ended up falling off is that when you market yourself as being “the band everyone loves to hate,” it comes with the assumption that hatred doesn’t run out. But the major thing about hatred, whether on the internet or in real life, is that eventually, you get tired of it and move on to something else. And when the once overwhelming hate for brokeNCYDE eventually dampened, a lot of their publicity disappeared as well. And while brokeNCYDE did have their fans, I feel like a good chunk of them eventually got over the band and moved on to other stuff, because while songs where young men scream about smoking joints and getting their fuck on are perfect fodder for one’s “edgy” period in middle and/or high school, it’s not exactly the kind of thing that leads to a die-hard fanbase. Kids weren’t putting brokeNCYDE lyrics in their social media profiles or doodling their logo on their notebooks. If anything they were a band one was into for a year or so, maybe buying a shirt from Hot Topic or going to a concert where they played, before becoming disenchanted with the lyrical content and moving on to heavier music or more mainstream rap. 

But speaking of mainstream rap, the incorporation of metalcore/emo elements into hip-hop has taken off quite a bit in recent years, with big names like Juice WRLD, Lil Uzi Vert, and the late Lil Peep, along with underground acts like Scarlxrd, Ghostemane and Lil Aaron. Various terms have been coined for this, with “emo-rap” and “trap-metal” being among the more popular descriptors. And when exploring these rappers and the subgenres they helped coin, one can conceivably trace it all back to crunkcore, a genre that only had one king: brokeNCYDE. And Se7en and Mikl definitely seem aware of this. I found an interview from last year where they mention this and some bitterness can definitely be sensed in their words. But at the same time, I get it. Doing a thing for over a decade and getting nothing but scorn for it, only to see something fairly similar start getting a lot of positive buzz in the press years later has to make its mark. And as much as Se7en and Mikl talk about brushing off haters, I bet it definitely has affected them, especially when you look at their lyrics and you see just how many of their songs had, and still have, lyrics directed towards haters. 

Yes, despite the earlier prognosis, brokeNCYDE is in fact still alive. Se7en and Mikl have dropped two albums under the name: 2016’s self-released “All Grown Up” and 2018’s “0 To brokeNCYDE,” released through Cleopatra Records. “All Grown Up” is an 85-minute, 23-track abomination that is only barely salvaged by the songs “Los Locos,” “Dance Off,” and “Geronimo”, which are fun for what they are. “0 To brokeNCYDE”, however, is easily their second-best album, featuring what might be the first sample I’ve heard of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story in a hip-hop song. The highlight is definitely the single “Marijuano$”, which is the best of their many weed anthems. The music video where they destroy a Donald Trump piñata helps, though.

Now, during this article, I’ve talked a lot of shit about brokeNCYDE. I don’t like most of their music, I’m not overly fond of their image and attitude, and I think that in interviews the members of the band come off like they’re trying a bit too hard to be cool. But during the process of researching and writing this piece, I couldn’t help but become a little fond of them. It’s not easy to try and keep a career going when your hatebase far exceeds your fanbase. But, bless their hearts, they just kept going, and even though they aren’t exactly as notorious as they once were, they still garner quite a bit of attention. Lil Aaron, one of the emo-rap artists I mentioned earlier, is a vocal fan of the group, having performed a show with them in 2017 and is featured on their 2018 song “D@ Good”. And a few days ago (as of this writing), they played the Gathering of the Juggalos, which is actually a pretty good fit for who they are sonically, sharing a bill with $uicideboy$, a cult favorite trap-metal outfit whom brokeNCYDE can be argued to have paved the way for. If brokeNCYDE can find a new wave of fans with the Lil Aaron cosign and in the Psychopathic Records camp, I’ll be happy for them. They’re still out here pursuing music when other acts would have thrown in the towel, and even though my playlist hasn’t become crunkcore central, I can’t help but respect them for that. To the point where, believe it or not, I bought a shirt. 

brokeNCYDE may never die… and you know what? That’s okay.