Holy Shit! Somebody Actually Remembers PM Dawn!: An Interview with MC Chris of Adult Swim By Denise

You have all been in school of some sort, so you know what it’s like toward the end of the semester when the sun is shining and you just can’t wait to be free. Well, this particular day was April 20. 4/20. The very holiest of all stoner high holidays. Unfortunately, I am not much of a stoner. I decided that just because I wasn’t going to light up a fatty in the parking lot and piss my day away listening to Widespread Panic with my catatonic friends, didn’t mean that I had to go to all of my classes. Really, how fair is that? So instead of sticking around for the end of Intro to Lit and Art Appreciation, I went to The Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science where my friend Jayson was promoting a show for MC Chris.

I knew MC Chris best from his work on television. He’s been involved with several shows on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. He does voices for characters like Hesh on Sealab 2021, and rapper MC Pee Pants on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

It turns out that he’s quite entertaining in real life as well. He puts on an energetic show full of hilarious profanity-laden rants that sometimes last longer than the songs themselves. After the show, he signed merch for a huge line of fans, most of whom were younger than the Adult Swim disclaimer’s suggested viewing age, then he sat down with me and answered a few questions.

Interview by Denise Orton

Denise: You grew up in Illinois?
MC Chris: Shermer, Illinois. No. Just kidding. It was Libertyville, Illinois, which is about half an hour north of Chicago. I had every G.I. Joe you could imagine. I wasn’t the kid who had the aircraft carrier, but I had pretty much everything else. I was never in want of anything. I lived a very idyllic life. If there was anything that wasn’t perfect about it, it was just that I got made fun of a lot. I got pretty much rejected in every social circle that was presented to me, so school was very difficult. I just kind of went into my imagination and drew a lot, did a lot of little shows, played a lot of G.I. Joe, watched a lot of movies. Found ways to escape, you know, suburban hell.
Denise: So with your G.I. Joes, would you place them in elaborate scenarios?
MC Chris: The entire basement. Every single square inch of my basement was filled with… everybody had their own base – the Dreaknoks, Cobra, G.I. Joe. They all had their own bases. There’d be Springfield, the town that was owned by Cobra. It was all set up and it never moved. Well, my brother would get drunk and him and his buddies would go through like Godzilla and ruin everything, but mostly no one touched it. The whole room was ours. This was an entire world that we created – very intricate. I know how kids play now and I haven’t seen anything like it since. My brother and I wouldn’t always play with each other, but it was very intricate. Everyone would have their own living quarters. Like we’d get a shoebox and immediately start cutting it up and drawing everything on top of it. Just very imaginative kids.
Denise: When your brother got drunk and came home and destroyed your G.I. Joe universe, would you play that into the scenario? Would there be a period of Reconstruction?
MC Chris: Yeah. You couldn’t stop us. Sometimes we’d even change it ourselves. We’d get bored with it after like a month. We’d design the entire layout of the place. I think the deal with my brothers and I was that our brains were very, very active. We always needed something to challenge us, whether it be reading, writing, drawing, anything.
Denise: Were you the kids that thought, “This may not be very cool right now, but someday they’re going to be in jail and I’m going to be rich?”
MC Chris: I never made a conscious choice about what was cool and what wasn’t cool, but I just loved G.I. Joe. It was what I was into, the cartoon and having every single one of the toys, every single figure. My brother and I would never cross over; we each had dibs on different figures and stuff like that. But no, I would never have called it in a million years that what I’m doing now, using all this information that I picked up from being an outcast or being a nerd and using it to my advantage would pay off. I just was who I was. It was very involuntary. I would have loved to have been popular and liked and invited to parties and sleepover birthday parties and stuff like that. I just got repeatedly dissed and shit on every step of the way. I joke to my friends that this tour is all about revenge. It’s all about getting a day in the sun and laughing at the people who gave me a hard time growing up and now it’s all about, “I was cool. I wasn’t that lame and you guys were mean to me.” It’s cool, though. It’s a good feeling to have.
Denise: Do you think that growing up in such an idyllic, sheltered atmosphere has affected your music?
MC Chris: It’s definitely influenced the music, because the music is all about me and I am where I come from, you know?
Denise: It’s autobiographical.
MC Chris: Yeah. All of the pop references and all cartoons and toys and all the stuff I talk about in the songs, it’s like everyone gets it, because a lot of kids are from the same place. It just never gets talked about, because hip hop is always about the urban environment and how treacherous that is. I think suburban white kids get into it, but that’s not really their lives. When they hear my stuff, I’d like to think that they can think, “This guy’s talking about my life specifically. I know exactly what games he’s talking about, which toys, what he went through.” They can relate to it with more honesty. It can be something that they can live cathartically through, so then they can maybe get over whatever they went through. At least they can see that someone else made it and got out of it and didn’t let it take control of them. I became a cartoon character and made a bunch of records off of it, so it worked out pretty good.
Denise: How did you first take an interest in the whole rap and hip hop genre?
MC Chris: Well, my brother brought home 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul. A friend had given it to him and we all listened to it and we just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Then Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy showed up at my house and we thought that was the coolest thing in the world. That was 1989, so rap had been around, not including the disco stuff, but it had been around since like ’84 or ’85 when you started to hear Run DMC or Beastie Boys coming from other people’s yards and other people’s cars and stuff. As high school went on, I pretty much got caught up in everything that the Native Tongue released – A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Black Sheep, Public Enemy, and a lot of the hippie bands like Digable Planets, Dream Warriors, and PM Dawn and all of that crappy stuff that I wouldn’t even touch with a ten-foot pole now, but I consumed all of it. Like Arrested Development and stuff like that. I memorized it all and just rapped all the time. I never thought that I would become a rapper. It wasn’t until I got to New York and I lived with a punk band called Dirt Bike Annie and they’d record stuff on their 8-track and basically they’d make beats for me and they’d be like, “You rap all the time, why don’t you make up some stuff?” I don’t even remember how it happened, because we were drunk a lot of the time when we’d record – a lot of Colt 45 went through my body in that period of my life. That’s basically where it started from, the 8-track stuff. Now I work with a guy named John Fewell who was in the pop-punk circuit of New York City and he was on the same label as Dirt Bike Annie. He had this professional sound and worked in pop production. He was basically inventing a new flavor of drum and bass, dance, hip hop music with a lot of punk flavor to it. He just improved the sound tenfold. Then I got on cartoons and we got a little attention, so we were like, “Let’s put this out.” We couldn’t really get on a label, because we only had one label that we knew to approach and they never really called us back. So we just put it online to see what would happen. That was the first season of Sealab and everything’s kind of blown up since then.
Denise: When you started did you actually think that this cartoon would take off?
MC Chris: No. I worked on it a year before it aired. So there was a whole year there where I was like, “I don’t know if this is funny. I don’t know if people are going to like this.” Then Family Guy and Futurama came along and once those shows started blowing up and we started beating Letterman and Leno, that’s when everything went out of control and I could stop paying for beer. Basically, that’s what happened. It’s pretty great.
Denise: When you do voice work for the cartoons, is everything scripted, or is there a great deal of improvisation?
MC Chris: It starts out as a script and I read over the lines as they’re written, then in the final take I improvise a lot. Aqua Teen more so. With Aqua Teen I really get free reign. I write the songs after they’ve written the script. They let me improvise every single line. They let me riff. I have a lot of fun doing it. It’s a great time. Sealab, depending on who’s directing the voice actors that day, I’ll get to improvise or not. I love to come up with stuff. I love to fuck around and riff and I have an improv background. It’s basically whatever they need. You really want to help them get their vision across or whatever they want. You don’t want to be too self-indulgent, because they obviously have a plan involved. I think a good producer would be open to some suggestion and creativity.
Denise: How did you originally become involved with Cartoon Network?
MC Chris: I got discovered in a bar in New York. I was interning at the ticket booth in Upright Citizens Brigade Theater to pay for classes. I went out for drinks with a girl who I worked in the ticket booth with and she was friends with these two guys. I didn’t have any money, so I told them that I could drink a pint of beer in under five seconds. I asked them if they would pay for the beer if I could do it. They did that a bunch of times and I got drunk, just blatto wasted, hammered, and this guy was like, “We could use somebody like you down south. If you ever want a job, give me a call.” He gave me his business card and it had Space Ghost on it. The guy’s name was Dave Willis, who’s the voice of Carl and Meatwad and is now the executive producer of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I was like, “There’s no way in hell I’m moving down south.” He was with a guy who was working on a show called Sealab that was made in Manhattan, and he was like, “Can you draw?” I was like, “Yeah, I can draw really good! Please let me do this! I want to make cartoons!” Which was something I always wanted to do, but I never tried to do. I was always more involved in film production. I worked with Michael Moore on The Awful Truth. That was more my speed, because I’m really interested in film. I’m a screenwriting major from NYU, but I drew cartoons as a kid all the time. Once the Sealab thing happened, though, I decided that this is what I wanted to do and I wanted to hold onto this. So then when they moved to Atlanta, I begged them to take me with. Then when we got down to Atlanta, I decided that I wanted to try the other show, so I moved over to Aqua Teen, then I moved over to Brak, then I became a producer of on-air commercials and stuff like that. That was great, because I got to involve punk bands that I know, like Dirt Bike Annie, The Unlovables, and The Ergs. I got to put their music in the commercials and stuff like that. That’s basically how I got started though. I got discovered in a bar.
Denise: Who do you strive to not be influenced by?
MC Chris: I don’t know. I don’t take myself very seriously, so any rap that’s very serious. Any rap that’s like, “I’m as serious as a heart attack.” I’m more about making people laugh. I mean, it’s a pretty depressing day in age and I’m just into being an entertainer, trying to cheer people up. There are no specific names that I dislike. I think that the people who are rapping right now are geniuses, because they’re releasing the same song five times and it’s all over the radio and you can’t escape it. Somebody’s making money. When you’re making music, you’re doing one of two things – you’re either having fun or you’re trying to survive. I try to combine the two. Luckily I can have as much fun as I want and still make a pretty decent living at it. There’s nobody that I really think is disgusting. I love pop, I love pop-punk, I love all kinds of music. If anything, I don’t like people who are so serious. In fact, 2004 was kind of a lame year for music, because it was all about how much all of the artists hate George W. Bush. We had to miss out on all of our favorite artists putting out an album that year, like Le Tigre… or, I mean, American Idiot was great, but I think we want to hear entertainment come from entertainers, rather than people who are so serious. Like the Beastie Boys. That last album was great, but did we really want to hear an anti-war record from them? I’d rather hear some Licensed to Ill or something like that. But that’s just me.
Denise: Where do you see yourself in twenty years?
MC Chris: Oh god. I would be fifty years old. Hopefully I’ll have a couple films under my belt. Hopefully I’ll have a home, maybe a couple of homes. A couple kids. I’ll have some robots. I’ll probably make those robots fight. I’ll have robot competitions probably. Robot Olympics. I assume there’ll be flying cars. Maybe I’ll live on a different planet. Maybe a space station, but we’ll just have to see. It’s all up in the air.
Denise: If you had to fight a rabid grizzly bear and you could choose any of the following weapons – a baseball bat, a cattle prod, or a straight razor, which would you choose and why?
MC Chris: Definitely the straight razor, because I think the grizzly would know that it was the most hardcore. I would just threaten him with the razor, you see?
Denise: Even though he’s rabid?
MC Chris: I think it would calm him down. The glint of the razor in the sun would disorient him a little bit. I’d blind him a little bit, then I’d take out his Achilles heel. I’ve done it before. It’s not a big deal. It’s easy to do.
Denise: Is there anything you want to add?
MC Chris: Not really. I love me some punk and I feel honored that Razorcake took the time to talk to me. Peace.