By Amy Atkins
Canadian-born Josh Martinez may be best known for his work as half of hip-hop duo The Chicharones, sharing duties with Sleep (of Oldominion). The Chicharones' music could be considered straightforward hip-hop. It's old-school and contains big chewy chunks of rapid-fire lyrics, call-and-response delivery and record scratching, but is liberally peppered with Latin musica, ethereal vocal harmonies and a tangy sense of humor. One song is titled "Pork Rind Discotheque" and the track "Bully Bully" opens with a discussion about Mexi-fries. Martinez still works with Sleep, who will join him for his Boise show this month and the two are releasing a new Chicharones album in January 2009.
Martinez, who calls Portland, Ore., home, doesn't leave the Chicharones' influence behind in his solo work; he wraps it up and takes it subsurface where he expands and expounds on it. But even though he is a part of the underground hip-hop culture himself, he became bored with that kind of music, something that is supposed to be a subversive protest against empty, vacant major-label rap.
The 28-year-old Martinez ("I like to say I'm 23 for life; it sounds so much more intriguing.") balled up his apathy for underground hip-hop, chewed it up, swallowed it down and used it as fuel to create what he calls his magnum opus. He released the full-length World Famous Sex Buffet in October on his own label, Camobear Records (which he started in 2001).
Martinez spent nearly six years working on Sex Buffet. "It morphed in a lot of ways. I even feigned quitting several different times. It's been an exhausting process," he said.
A number of failed hard-drives—including one that fell off a chair causing a massive loss of information—and a quick start-to-finish CD was not to be.
"It was really hard to bounce back from that," Martinez said. "I spent so much time doing it right the first time, and then to have to go back and re-find that special place that a bunch of songs were in at the time was debilitating."
While touring, Martinez built a lot of buzz around Sex Buffet, his break-out album. He set the bar high and put pressure on himself for this to be the big one. And the longer it took, the further he got from his original ideas. But things happen for a reason, and during those six years, every time Martinez started over on something, new concepts and sounds could be explored.
"Music kept changing and my tastes in music kept changing and I kept wanting to keep it current. Finally, I was happy enough with it to let it go and let people hear it," he said.
The influences and sounds on Sex Buffet run a wide gamut. Dark Southern rock bubbles up in one track; another brings visions of a '60s go-go booted flag girl signaling a race for pink slips; pre-unhinged Michael Jackson with a dollop of Jay-Z pops in elsewhere; and Martinez blisters through borrowed Violent Femmes' lyrics: "When I'm a walkin' I strut my stuff / I'm high as a kite / I just might / stop to check you out."
He uses sirens, hand claps, explosions, gun shots, vocal choirs, scratchy blues records, video game sound-effects, trash percussion and simple guitar to back and boost lyrics that range from the mundane to the sublime. The tracks are stuffed with doo-wop harmonies, classic pop bridges and sing-along choruses ... and plenty of rap. The verses are all delivered in a form that anyone who has turned the channel to MTV in the last 20 years would call hip-hop, but Martinez's ennui with what was surfacing from beneath mainstream hip-hop pushed him to stop calling his own music underground hip-hop and call it "underground pop."
"I like to think underground hip-hop is a limiting title at this point," Martinez said. "My music is so much more harmony based. It follows the more traditional tenets of songwriting as an art. I'm trying to dissuade people from thinking that [underground] is this limited statement of college raps over listenable beats. I want to make music that is more musical. [Underground pop] is as much of a hybrid as anything," he said. "It's the lessons, the morals and songwriting integrity that comes from the underground ... while using the tools and mores and structures of pop music, like a catchy chorus."
Those catchy choruses abound on Sex Buffet, so named after a "group of fellows" Martinez hangs out with.
"I hire my friends to join me when I do tours because if this life has taught me anything, being a touring musician, you want to share those experiences. I just love my friends so much I want to bring them along in whatever capacity," Martinez said. "We were traveling around doing festivals in Europe and making jokes about how sexy we were."
When it came time to name the album, Martinez said he looked at underground hip-hop which is not, in general, very sexy music.
"[Underground hip-hop] is esoteric and plodding," Martinez said with a groan. "The idea of [my] music is that it would be more sexy, have more melodies, more dancing, more driving of a beat reflecting my interest in doo-wop, rock and roll, electro ... all over the map."
"It's a sexy buffet of different items. That imagery worked really well for me. On top of that, the World Famous part adds a declarative sense of awesomeness to the whole thing that really brings it into focus," he laughed.
Saturday, Dec. 20, with special guest Sleep, 9 p.m., $6. The Bouquet, 1010 W. Main St., 208-345-6605.
Find more information, more mustaches and hear why World Famous Sex Buffet is the No. 1 rap record in Canada at joshmartinez.ca.