The Jokerr blurs reality and fantasy, in life and music
Published: Thursday, October 27, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 31, 2011 11:10
For The Jokerr, a rapper whose new album Mayhem Night drops on Halloween, where the maestro ends and the minstrel begins is a gray area. It's an area that's served as the subject of great debate by art critics of every generation: Does art imitate life or is life art?
The man who portrays the Jokerr is a performer whose very existence embodies the art-life paradox, much like Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga or Elvis.
He's a retentive recluse whose personal life is his art – art that is at once humble and egocentric, with both traits necessary to breathe life into a complicated story that has been developing since The Jokerr was 13. It was then he first used "The Joker," as a username for a youth phone chat network.
This is a story of the man behind The Jokerr, a man who himself goes only by the single-name, Aithen. He is the protagonist of The Jokerr's legacy.
"[The Jokerr's legacy] was really just childhood fantasy escapism because I had a lot of really messed up stuff going on in that time of my life," he said. "Both my parents were on drugs, my house was like a crack house, my favorite uncle had just died, he'd killed himself, which was horrible because he was my only male positive father figure, my dad was in and out of prison. It was really a stereotypical black and white relationship where the mom is a single mom and the dad is screwing up being a druggie. Fortunately, my grandparents, after my house turned to shit for about a year, adopted me and my sister for a couple years until my mom got her shit together."
Just as Aithen spent his life honing his artistic craft to become the best jester in the courts, The Jokerr started his musical career behind the drums when he was 7. His "you have a gift" speech came in 8th grade after he composed a song on his Yamaha Clavinova and showed it to an encouraging jazz band teacher.
While most kids were saving up for a car when they were 15, The Jokerr scrounged for a BOSS BR8 8-track mixer.
After high school, he went to Arizona State University on an academic scholarship, where he studied musical composition and digital recording. He also received about $10,000 in Pell grants that he used to buy a computer, monitors, desk, keyboard and the necessities to build a studio, he said, that would become the first incarnation of The Jokerr's Lair, through which he makes a living mastering songs for artists.
The Jokerr formed his own company and started to make money as a recording engineer from his Lair, renting the humble studio out when he could, as well as giving drum lessons.
During college, The Jokerr continued to write rap songs, but with little direction.
"I wasn't sure where my music was going to fit in and the whole Jokerr thing was very, very cliché at the time and a very easy, cheesy rap name to have, but I couldn't bring myself to be anything else."
Throughout college and a little after, The Jokerr still searched for his sound. The songs he made during that time ended up on the Confirmation Collection, a compilation released in August.
"I took all the songs I made during that period of ambiguity when I didn't know what I was doing, but knew I was making good music and framed that with those beats being the songs that Aithen, the character, performed for his confirmation to start The Jokerr's legacy," he said.
It wasn't until a few years ago that The Jokerr realized the right maniacal key of his musicality.
"I went to the studio one night and was in the middle of a little identity crisis and I was like, ‘You know what? I'm just gonna make a really strong Jokerr song,'" he said. "I was always fascinated by the really joker-y, clown-y cadences, musically, and I could come up with that kind of stuff off the top of my head really clean and then add real big hip-hop beats. I love those little half-steps. It's mischievous almost. […] There's no rules, you don't have to stick to major or minor scales. It was kind of an embodiment of my mind and my interpretation of life."
The beat he wrote that night would appear on "The Jokerr's Pain," the second track on Welcome to the Show. It was at this point that he dug deeper into character studies for the novel and the back story that would carry his character through the music.
The first chapter of Aithen's story, or The Jokerr's Legacy, appears in the liner notes of Welcome to the Show. The narrative begins as such: Aithen, a court jester for King Moriah, is thrown into the palace dungeon by the king for seemingly no cause at all. He's imprisoned in a dungeon and can only hear the sounds of a war happening above ground. The betrayal and confusion about what's happening to his home while he's imprisoned sends Aithen over the edge of reason as he sets out on a mostly imagined journey to avenge his loss of innocence when he's released and find out what really happened to him, his kingdom and his family.
"That entire album is all about him trying to cope with the injustice he was dealing with," The Jokerr said. "[The album and novel] aren't rigid or super fixed in any particular way ‘cause that's how life is. It's all a parallelism with life. [In] life there's no basic rules. Sometimes it's chaotic."