By: Pen Slaya
As the old saying goes, one should never judge a book by its cover. That is definitely true in the case of rapper/producer Erk Tha Jerk. Hailing out of California’s Bay Area, Erk does not look the part of hip-hop star but one listen to his music proves otherwise.
Debunking the stereotype of what a West Coast rapper should be is what got a very fickle hip-hop audience to initially notice Erk. His streetwear heavy fashion sense, trademark black eyeglasses and hood nerd persona all work in his favor. Being from a “bad place” yet knowing that there are non-hood things out there is what has shaped Erk’s approach to life and music. “I went to college for a couple years, I’ve worked 9 to 5 jobs and I’ve sold weed and none of those things quite worked out so I’m kinda like a hood nerd.”
The place Erk calls home, Richmond, CA is not known nationally for hip-hop but it is the birthplace of one of the Rap industry’s biggest empires in Percy “Master P” Miller’s No Limit Records. Before blowing up out of New Orleans, Miller ran a label and record store out of Richmond proving that just because you come from the hood doesn’t mean you have to stick to script.
“I didn’t know it was a ghetto until I got older,” says Erk speaking of Richmond. “It shaped me to believe that just because you are from here it does not mean that you have to be stuck on one sound. I didn’t want to be a hood rapper. I was always against the grain.”
Erk fully embraced what some would consider a contradiction with The Hood Nerd mixtape series. The original, released in 2008 created a buzz in the streets and on the net. Next up Erk dropped the song and video for “Don’t Need Em” which completed his introduction to fans and garnered some local radio play.
Over the next couple years Erk would go on to release various songs that would define him as an artist including “Plane in the Air” featuring Too $hort and the satirical anti-hyphy anthem “I’m So Dumb,” but it was 2009’s “Right Here” that would put him firmly on the map. The raunchy exhibitionist anthem recorded in the summer of 2009 was a dramatic change from what fans had come to expect from Erk. The autotuned hook and sexually driven lyrics immediately resonated with the streets of Cali and beyond. “It was so dirty, it was like Ying Yang Twins ‘Wait’ or Akon’s ‘I Wanna Love You,’ one of those songs that are completely filthy but people still played it,” explains Erk about the song’s appeal. The song’s popularity eventually translated to the airwaves where the censored version of “Right Here” became one of the most played songs on 106 KMEL. “All you do is change the F word to love and you got a hit song.” The single also broke onto Billboard magazine’s top 100 Hip-Hop/R&B charts.
Capitalizing off of the buzz of “Right Here” Erk released the Hood Nerd EP through his Red Planet Music Group independent label. Featuring more melodious hooks and commercially palatable Erk songs, the EP outsold many established acts in Northern California stores and continues to do brisk business via digital outlets.
In addition to producing and directing videos for other artists, Erk has recently partnered with SMC Recordings and recently released his first full-length album titled Nerd’s Eye View.
We tackled Erk down to see if we could get inside the mind of this Bay area phenom.
Heard the new album.. it’s dope! You got some serious joints on there. This album was a 2 year process, correct? why so long?
it took so long because of the demand. I didnt feel the demand for an “ERK” album was there. I’m not a fan of force feeding the listeners. Had to make sure everything was lined up correctly first.
You gonna be doing any tours, shows to promote the album?
Yes. I’m always Doing club dates and shows. And have plans on doing some tour dates coming this spring.
Collabin’ with bay legends Too short and B-legit, how did that go down? Any funny stories that stick out working with either of them (studio time, etc..)?
I had an office upstairs from $hort’s studio a few years back and we jut linked up. I remember Watchin him lay his “favorite word” over one of my beats and thinkin “yes” I made it. Haha I had met B-legit a few times and he was always a solid dude. He linked me with Richie Rich and we all did a song. It was crazy growing up listening to them and then to b producing a song was a good learning experience.
You’ve been building your buzz for a few years now out in the bay.. How has the process been so far developing and building outside of theBay?
The game is almost all Internet now. So it’s as hard, but I guess the key is making sure the “fans, bloggers” see your face and know that you have something worth listening too. Being on MTV doesn’t hurt either.
At what point did you know that rap was what you wanted to do fulltime? what drew you to it, etc..?
I still don’t know. Haha I love it and people have always said “it was my calling”. I ran from it for years. Didn’t think it was for me, but the more it chased me the slower I ran. Here I am.
You have alot of lanes you’re working in (rap, production, singing, producing/directing videos). Which one takes the most of your time? Which one is your passion?
All of them. I love it all. Making music takes all my time. It might take a week to do a song. The directing is fun though. The art is never ending. Something I hope to be able to do after rap is over.
What’s the driving force behind you and your music?
My life. Everything i rap is real. No filler. I talk about what I know. No fairytales. So the words come easy. The music tells me what chapter I need to be on and I go from there. It writes itself.
What artist(s) do you want to work with? What artists are you listening to right now?
I’ve always been a Cee-Lo fan. Devin the dude. I like Currency. A few cats. If If it’s inspiring i wanna work. Right now I got me in the deck though, haha. I want to work until people say “I need ERK on my songs”.
Hip Hop is kinda in a weird slot right now.. What do you think needs to happen to to get it moving in a positive direction?
We need better music and for fans to support. If the music is timeless it can’t go wrong. As far as business goes, we just have to bring value back to it. Quality over quanity.
Any last words?
Nerd’s eye view is in stores and Erkthajerk.com is up and Running. Rpmg Imprm and s.o.w. Is all I know