Underground and Happy That Way

Hip hop artists typically fall into one of two camps: mainstream MCs rapping about street life and its attendant perils, and underground MCs raising the bar with more positive, intellectually conscious rhymes. Good thing there are outliers like Atlantic City’s Jeff Richie, who performs under the nom de guerre JE double F. Richie’s experimental beat creations and left-field lyrical leanings slot him in nicely with Wu-Tang Clan associates like Killah Priest and Gravediggaz as well as oddball icons like DOOM and Aesop Rock. When Folio Weekly chatted with Richie, however, he emphasized his DIY punk ethics and his embrace of far-flung influences like comedian Bill Hicks and linguist Noam Chomsky.

Folio Weekly: How long have you been rapping under the name JE double F, and is that your only musical outlet?

Jeff Richie: I began performing as JE double F in 2006, but I’m still in Cut It Out, a hardcore punk band, and Graveyard State, a post-punk/rock band. From my perspective, they completely overlap. The aggressiveness of punk comes out in my hip hop quite a bit, which is probably why I’m more accepted in the punk scene than the hip hop scene.

F.W.: What is the scene like in your neck of the South Jersey woods?

J.R.: Small. It feels very isolated to me. Philadelphia is only 45 minutes away, so a lot of mid-tier touring acts skip Atlantic City, which is basically run by corporations. We have a few smaller bars and venues, but we have a hard time getting the word out about shows. That said, I’m still very optimistic about the area. A few key people are really putting the work in, and I think it’s really paying off.

F.W.: What first turned you on to hip hop?

J.R.: Hearing Wu-Tang and Nas when I was 16 or 17. Lyrically, hearing about a completely different America than the one I grew up in was very intriguing. I also liked the idea of sampling — taking a recorded sound and making it your own by switching it around.

F.W.: Are there any like-minded hip hop artists in the area you connect with?

J.R.: Most of the artists that I connect with are in bands. I find it really hard to relate to most rappers. There’s this pretentious vibe I get from most of them — weird macho rock-star energy. Not cool. Some of my “rap friends” are Ray Strife, Stillborn Identity and PT Burnem, but those are dudes who grew up in punk bands, so it’s a natural fit.

F.W.: You describe your music as “hip hop you can’t dance to.” Do you make a conscious effort to produce tunes that are outside the norm?

J.R.: [Laughs.] That was really just meant as a joke. I’ve noticed girls try to dance at my shows, and it just doesn’t work for whatever reason. I’ve always been more into artists that take chances. I find it to be more fun and provoking on multiple levels. I write beats and lyrics, and they come out how they come out. I don’t change anything for anyone — that disingenuous mentality really bothers me. Write and play from your heart and fuck anyone who gets in your way.

F.W.: How much touring have you done as JE double F?

J.R.: Since my first official record [the “Paganomics” EP] came out in 2011, I’ve done three full U.S. tours, five East Coast tours, a couple of Midwest and Southwest tours and a few European dates — probably something like 80 shows a year. I love to travel and play shows, so touring is a blast for me.

F.W.: How about Florida?

J.R.: I’ve played Florida quite a bit and always end up meeting awesome people. And Jacksonville is great. The last three times I came down, I played Burro Bar, which rules. [Co-owner] Jack [Twachtman] is a nice guy, and Chomp Chomp next door has awesome tofu, too.

F.W.: Do you work fulltime outside of music? Or does hip hop pay all the bills?

J.R.: I work in between tours, generally in the IT industry. I’m not avoiding [making money from music], but I won’t compromise when it comes to the jams. The music is the most important part here. I do pretty well on tour and online sales, but it’s certainly not paying the rent.

F.W.: What’s your take on the current state of hip hop?

J.R.: It could be a lot worse. There’s still a ton of good stuff out there — you just have to want to find it. I’ve always enjoyed Aesop Rock and DOOM as rappers and Madlib and RZA as producers. But the real artists that I look up to are bands like Black Flag for their tenacity and dedication, along with people like Jello Biafra, Bill Hicks and Noam Chomsky, for their intelligence, wit and bravery.