By Dan Barry
4:43 PM EDT, September 2, 2011
He's foul-mouthed and intelligent, arrogant and charismatic. Joey Batts is pretty unmistakable. And if you've checked out the live hip-hop scene in Hartford any time in the past five or six years, you've probably crossed paths with him. The rapper started out at the open mic at Sully's; soon he was joining local rap legends the Silent Groove onstage. That collaboration led to the formation of the Zigs and Batts Circus, a sprawling supergroup that featured every instrument imaginable.
Nowadays, Batts spearheads a three-piece band that plays all original music. Throughout his career, he's strongly preferred working with a band over the more traditional DJ-plus-MC stage setup. "As much as people want to say it's art, we're a business," says Batts in a phone interview. "We don't want you to walk by us. We want you to stay and be enthralled. And 50 percent of the people who walk into a bar don't wanna see some kid rapping over a beat, yelling at them. And plus, man," he adds, "it gets lonely as hell up on that stage! You get up there and it's like 'Fuck, man, everybody's judging me!'"
That mix of marketing insight and good humor is classic Batts. It's also evident in his latest promotional push. "Right now the big move is stickerbombing. Really trying to fucking vandalize property like crazy," says Batts. He's referring to his circular stickers that say "Joey Batts is your best friend."
"I think that's where the punk-rock infusion comes into my work. I want people putting stickers on shit, fucking with authority." The sticker features an Obey Giant-style caricature of his face. He's giving a sly, goofy smile. "In this new smartphone age, people can be like, 'Who's Joey Batts?' and bam, Google, and everything comes up." He says his current goal is to get a sticker on every single town-incorporated boundary line in CT. "I've got a tally. I want a sticker and a picture of it."
Content-wise, Batts' raps are loaded with literary references and image-laden nonsequiturs. "I'm an English teacher. I got a book in my hand every day. If you're making songs about stuff you don't know about, eventually you will fall apart, implode, disintegrate, fall away. I can't even keep a straight face if I had to rap about having a huge gun and mad bitches. I would laugh in the middle of the song. But I'll write a song any time about how much I write, how much I read." Listeners are likely to encounter references ranging from Bartleby, the Scrivener to Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Batts is currently four albums deep in his "manifesto," an album cycle based on the seven deadly sins. "Gluttony's definitely next," he says. "I already have a bunch of songs where I touch upon overindulgence. Food is just the shallow definition, but there will be songs that poke fun at food, at the media definition of gluttony. I just spoke to Brash, and I'm gonna put Gluttony out on [Brash's label] Aeon Audio. It's gonna be one of Aeon's first actual mixtapes."
Links to his current releases are available on his website. If you miss Batts and crew at their Up or On The Rocks gig, you can catch them on Friday, Sept. 23, when they'll open for the band Live at downtown Hartford's September Block Party.
w/ Brash, Crooked Mindz
$7, 21+, 9:30 p.m.,Sept. 10, Up or On The Rocks, 50 Union St., Hartford, (860) 247-6257, uporontherocks.com
Copyright © 2014, WTXX-TV