MC Chris Comes to Hi Tone Sunday 

Rapper of Aqua Teen Hunger Force fame plays Hi Tone.

When MC Chris calls me, he's sitting in his van in a Denny's parking lot, a stop on his way to this particular evening's gig in Seattle. After a bumpy year financially and personally, he's recently fired his booking agent. "I found out in mid-September that I had no tour dates," he says. "And I booked 40 dates [on my own] in three weeks. I'm still booking shows. I love being in control."

On this tour, he's driving himself from his home in California, across the country (with a stop in Memphis this week), and back — and, to save money, sleeping in his van in Walmart parking lots along the way, a sort of throwback to the 44-year-old's "punk rock days."

"It can't get any more DIY. I literally have to do everything by myself, even rap on stage!" he says, with his distinctive boyish voice and a laugh. "And I'm not half bad."

click to enlarge MC Chris - ELEANOR STILLS
  • Eleanor Stills
  • MC Chris

MC Chris (Illinois-born rapper Christopher Ward) — also a voice actor, comedian, writer, and animator — came into the public eye while working on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, most notably as the voice of Sealab 2021's Hesh Hepplewhite and Aqua Teen Hunger Force's MC Pee Pants, a rapping, diaper-clad spider.

After college, with a degree in writing for film and television from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and before being "discovered," he shuffled between production assistant jobs in New York. ("I worked for Michael Moore as a PA," he says. "I would get him his McDonald's and his Starbucks, which I thought was ironic.")

During that time, the first glimmers of his future in music sparked. "I lived in a brownstone in Jersey City with two college buddies," he recalls. "They had a punk band and put on shows all the time. When they'd break a string, I'd get to go on stage, the drummer would start drumming, and I would rap. That was such a thrill for me. I didn't know MC Chris was happening, it was always like a college joke ... a nickname. I did it at parties because I loved rap and hip-hop.

"In the late '90s, I wrote a song about Boba Fett, and I had been writing a lot of raps and experimenting because we were all musicians, we were all experimenting, we were always recording."

By happenstance, working as an intern in the box office at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, he met Adult Swim pioneers Dave Willis and Adam Reed and worked with Cartoon Network until 2004 when he left to focus on his music career. Since 2001, he's self-produced more than a dozen albums, with songs about video games, smoking weed, Dungeons and Dragons, and Star Wars — music that's often classified as "nerdcore hip-hop."

click to enlarge MARA ROBINSON
  • Mara Robinson

"I was taught by Public Enemy to keep it real and represent," he says, "and that means I have to rap about Star Wars." Another part of keeping it real is being vocal with his fans on social media about his personal life, depression, and debt.

"I grew up in a Catholic household with a very repressed vibe," he says. "So I look for opportunities to express myself. It helps me, and it also helps the people listening to me. Let's say you're feeling trapped, and you need to hear a voice. Sometimes music is the one voice a person will hear. I want my fans to have less stress in their lives, and if you can connect on issues that you feel are a source of pain, I think that helps everybody."

His shows are a place to connect and be free. Attendees are encouraged to wear costumes, and the grand-prize winner — selected at the tour's end — gets an MC Chris song written for, and about, them. Podcasts are recorded at the beginning of each set, with Chris interviewing fans on stage. Likely on the set list: "Pizza Butt," "Wiid," and "I Want Candy." A definite, and a personal favorite for MC: "Fett's Vette."

"It's something we're all singing together," he says. "Camaraderie feels good."

MC Chris performs at Hi Tone with Lex the Lexicon Artist and Schaffer the Darklord on Sunday, October 27th, at 9 p.m. $20/advance. $25/door.

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