Published on January 8th, 2014 | by Daniel Rahe


The Breaklites Learned the Rules and Know How to Bend Them

The Breaklites “I ♥ America” Album Release Party – Saturday, January 11, 9pm, Jazzbones (with Mr. Melanin, Perry Porter, and The Fame Riot)

The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased. There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media–none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.” – Howard Zinn

“I will fuck hella pandas.” – John McRae


No one could ask for more from a hip-hop ensemble than what The Breaklites offer. With two MCs, a DJ, and a multi-instrumentalist producer, they kick out thrilling live shows and records. They’re young, fashionable, and eager, but they have the professionalism and discipline of veterans. Their productivity is undeniable, having completed five record projects and three tours since 2010.

They released their sixth record, I  America, this week. It’s an adroit, well-assembled record — polished and physical, doused with sarcasm and lit to blaze with raucous, move-thyself rhythm. And, in keeping with the precedent set by the previous two records, it contains no sampled musical material.


The Breaklites (L-R: John McRae, Alex Schelhammer, The Mayor, Cruel) Photos by Kali Raisl

“We make different music than we used to now that we don’t use samples,” said MC Cruel. “I mean, this record doesn’t sound like hip-hop to me, really, other than the rapping. It’s not the boom-bap shit I used to like. To me, it sounds electronic.”

Producer John McRae added, “Well, it’s not just party music, though. A lot of it is darker.”

Indeed, there is something darker going on, something not so easily categorizable. There is weary social consciousness in the lyrics, and a broad range of musical influences in the beats, from funk to rock to R&B.

The Breaklites do not present themselves as a complex, self-serious act. They emanate a let-loose, good-times vibe that belies their musicianship and the host of tricks in their playbook. McRae’s opening guitar lead on the title track, for example, is downright poignant, and wouldn’t sound out of place on a Death Cab for Cutie song. Then, before the reverb is quite fully faded, MC’s Cruel and Alex Schelhammer start lobbing dirtbombs of mockery at American consumerist culture, as if they came in on the heels of War Pigs.


Photo by Kali Raisl

The dynamic structures of the songs are not accidents. “The way we structure our songs is driven by our live performances,” said The Mayor, the group’s DJ. For The Breaklites, concerts are crucial. On stage, their charisma and versatility are on full display.

In keeping with their commitment to live performance, The Breaklites have learned the value of presenting heady ideas in clever, engaging ways, taking time to hone arrangements that eschew traditional hip-hop song formats. They wanted to put out a record that riffs on regrettable elements of U.S. culture (“I wanted to offend every idiot who can’t read between the lines,” said McRae), while keeping their audience entertained.

The album release concert for I  America is this Saturday, at Jazzbones on 6th Avenue (ticket details here), with Mr. Melanin* (100% Post Defiance-approved DJ), Perry Porter (the damn-fucking-good MC behind the new record “Kings Only”), and The Fame Riot.

The decision to play Tacoma, rather than Seattle, was deliberate. The Breaklites want to participate in a supportive Tacoma musical community, though it has been difficult to make connections. “We want to play shows with other people,” The Mayor said, “We want to share audiences and get different kinds of people together.” They even played a stint of shows with hardcore punk and metal bands at the now-defunct Redroom.


The Breaklites in their studio (Photo by Kali Raisl)

As Alex Schelhammer put it, “Tacoma is a city full of hardworking motherfuckers who work their asses off all day, and when they get home, they just want to kick back and have a beer. It’s hard to convince them to go out to a show, to go do something with art — unless it’s nice outside. But people need to get out, otherwise, they’re starving themselves in a way. Like a panda that won’t fuck to save its species.”

“But all that to say, we’re doing fine here,” said Cruel. “We’re finding our way. We fuck with pandas.”

From across the room, McRae echoed, “I will fuck hella pandas.”


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About the Author

Founder of Post Defiance, Dan is a father, surveyor, writer, and runner.

One Response to The Breaklites Learned the Rules and Know How to Bend Them

  1. SIC ILL says:

    “This is nice. Great write-up on Tacoma Hip-Hop” – SIC ILL

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