Straight up, I’ve been covering BLKHRTS since back when the group name was still spelled with vowels. It was back in 2009 and I was summoned to Yonnas’ apartment where the entire living room was basically a recording studio. F.O.E was uber excited about a new project they were working on and he wanted me to hear it immediately. Yonnas and I were still new to each other so we were cordial but nothing overly warm. In fact, he was aloof, in that bizarre genius sort of way. I sat down and they began to explain the project.
“It’s going to be the three of us, F.O.E., Karma, myself. It’s like atonal vocalism, but we’re rapping,” Yonnas explained. I understood, but not entirely. It wasn’t until the track began to thump through the speakers that it all became clear. They were creating a triad of three of the hottest rappers in the city. At the time, F.O.E. was still a few years out from his “Fuck Foe” movement, The Pirate Signal was still Yonnas’ baby and Karma was off doing whatever gangster rap fiends with crazy distinguishable voices were doing in 2009.
Like three perfectly tenured rap Pavoratti’s, atonal vocalism was achieved, indeed. The song, “Bloodlines of that Gangster Shit” showed so much potential, the fan in me wanted them to drop all their solo projects and take to the streets wielding black hearts like pitchforks through the night. Thank goodness the guys are more patient than their fans though, because the music only got better, the movement stronger and their live stage show wilder.
The Pirate Signal slowly evolved into Yonnas on vocals, a brief stint with DJ Soup and Chez Cheree Strong on MPC, guitar and a myriad of other instruments. F.O.E.’s individual projects were gaining momentum (and controversy), namely the “Fuck Foe” mixtape, while the MC seemed to grow larger than life on stage. Often acting as supporting vocals for The Pirate Signal, one can’t help but think all the time F.O.E. and Yonnas spent together on stage was simply practice for this BLKHRTS endeavor.
The crew spent the next few months quietly rebranding itself. Yonnas was building beats with such crash, bang, rare-sample-colliding ferocity, it wasn’t surprising that the writing coming out of the BLKHRTS camp was new and refreshing. Also new was the spelling of the band’s name. Perhaps there was too much nearness to the Joan Jett brand, perhaps they just wanted to go grammatically rogue; no matter the reason, all at once the vowels were gone. And not just from the band name, from virtually all of the songs they would put out.
BLKHRTS was billed as a rap/goth/rock band and nothing could be closer to the truth. When they came together, there was mayhem, fallen speakers, potential hospital visits and screaming audience members. The press ate it up, of course. They got several coveted nods from Westword Newspaper, Pitchfork Magazine, The Denver Post, you name it. Everyone wanted a piece of this triangle of controversy. In return, BLKHRTS gave the people what they wanted; incredibly progressive music.
By the time BLK S BTFL was released the band had shattered the hip-hop glass ceiling in Denver, successfully crossing over into a lane specifically carved for their controlled chaos. The mixtape received rave reviews but it was their live show that continued to lead the news. They reportedly pissed off Tech N9NE’s crew after breaking an expensive stage light during an exuberant show at The Fillmore.
The raps got more succinct, the beats more brash, and BLKHRTS themselves, more colorful. Yonnas, now going by Yo, released Sextape a solo project chock full of dark and emotive tales about love, drugs, and other things at the end of 2011. Karma released Karmarado and F.O.E would release an album, Junkie, about his one true love: drugs. All three releases were viciously honest and descriptive. On stage the trio was seriously wilder than ever before. They sacrificed an “angel,” at one of their shows, there was the imagery of the woman being injected with “heroin,” until she died in the lead video for Junkie, just wild, avant garde, ghetto goth shit.
BLKHRTS were on the run. In 2012 they released CHRCH, and Beast with DJ Ktone which proved not only were the three contentious but they could run rap circles around anyone who dared to challenge them. It was beautiful, believable, and damn good rap. The momentum propelled the guys further and farther. Late summer in 2012 the band began talks with the label ORG Records to solidify a deal for BLKHRTS.
The details were kept under wraps until the turn of 2013 while in the meantime the guys were wrecking stages all over the country, namely Los Angeles and New York City. JZBL JNKNS is the full-length album set to drop on ORG and news recently broke that the band will work with TV On the Radio’s Dave Sitek for the project’s completion.
Tons of press, the label signing and the potential for the release of the dopest music BLKHRTS has ever created with JZBL JNKNS, the rap game as we’ve known it before is, in a word: OVR.
“Jezebel Jenkins is like a muse for the album. The ghetto goth shit, the aesthetic that we are going for, she is that in a person. I met her on twitter and I thought she was beautiful. The things she would say would just blow me away. Sometimes it’d be hilarious, sometimes it’d be sad. She loves art and loves real life, too. I reached out to her, ended up meeting her,” Yonnas explains.
F.O.E interjects with, “then he got her tattooed on her neck and life goes on.” With a laugh Yonnas continues, “We were working on all these themes for the album and that’s when it occurred to me, holy shit. She’s like a brilliant artist that doesn’t make art. She’s a real life dominatrix.”
After becoming really good friends with Jenkins and meeting her in person, it was clear she was the ideal image to express the stories based around romance, death and darkness BLKHRTS wanted to tell. Each track is not about her, necessarily, but Jezebel Jenkins is the inspiration.
“Every time there is a female protagonist in a song, that’s not necessarily about her, it just translates well with who she is,” Yonnas, now going by Yorrissey as a throw to one of his main influences Morrissey, explains.
We still have hearts though, even if they’re black.
The album will tackle the thematic concepts of love, romance and street sagas. F.O.E says she was the perfect name for it because of how the real Jezebel Jenkins lives her life, “this album is kind of like showing how we don’t give a fuck. We still have hearts though, even if they’re black. It’s a culmination of the street, poetry and art. She embodies that,” he says.
Authenticity is important to BLKHRTS. They say they’re geniuses, they do genius shit. They say they’ll punch your face in, they’ll punch your face in. They say they carry guns everywhere they go; they most definitely are always carrying a pistol. “Everywhere,” Karma says quietly when the discussion of violence is raised, “I carry a pistol everywhere.”
As talented individually as they may be, when F.O.E, Yonnas and Karma come together as BLKHRTS, the energy in the room is palpable. The three are much stronger together than they are apart and the camaraderie between them is real and true.
“Once I quit my job and decided this is what I wanted to do, the transformation came. BLKHRTS is either gonna make it or break it. This is my expression, who I am, and who I’m going to be,” F.O.E says.