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Cover Story: Local Rapper Kung Fu Vampire Sheds Costume to Focus on Music

In Music

“I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at,” Kung Fu Vampire says.

He has made fans out of people with very diverse musical tastes—horrorcore, heavy metal, electronic music, techno—but not many hardcore hip-hop fans have embraced him over the years. “I hear the word ‘gimmick’ sometimes,” he admits. “Why? ‘Cause I don’t have a rap costume?” He means the familiar baggy pants, grills and bling, and adds, “To me, that’s the ultimate gimmick, because it’s been done over and over again. There’s a percentage of me that goes, ‘OK, now what’s your excuse for not liking me? I just came out with nothing gimmicky—I just came out with a live band and killed it. Where’s your excuse now?'”

This tour marks the release of Kung Fu Vampire’s third LP, Love Bites, his first album in four years. He feels like the album needs to be heard without any distractions. It’s an album he made for serious rap fans.

“Up until now, I don’t think I had that knock-out, ‘Holy fuck’ album. Love Bites is that album. It’s the first one in 22 years that I love,” Kung Fu Vampire says. “Traditional hip-hop fans that have seen the 2010 Kung Fu Vampire, there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to be deterred.”

Lyrically, Love Bites covers a lot of bases, including for the first time, several political songs. The last number, “The Dreamer,” epitomizes his fascination with love and death. It is a song, he says, about how love can kill. It tells the true story of a close friend who was killed this year for getting mixed up in the wrong love triangle.

Some of his raps are very personal, while others are not at all, like on “Go Away,” which takes the perspective of an alcoholic. Kung Fu Vampire has never been an alcoholic. “I don’t want to have any boundaries. I want to be able to write about real stuff, but also perspectives that aren’t mine. I want all those lines to be blurred,” he says.

In the past, he would occasionally write songs that alluded to being a vampire—though he typically steered clear of writing graphically violent lyrics. “I prefer the darkness to be in the music, more than in the lyrics,” he says. But on Love Bites, no such allusions to vampires exist. Even the song “Knockturnal,” which talks about a character that stays up all night, is really an anti-meth song.

iCount

Kung Fu Vampire was born and raised in San Jose, and still lives here. Now in his mid-30s, he has been rapping since 1991, beginning with LSP. He started Kung Fu Vampire in 2000 and has kept his real name separate from his stage name ever since.

The name “Kung Fu Vampire” came up when he and some friends were hanging out talking about how they should, for fun, film a movie. They were throwing out different genres—kung fu and vampire movies were two of them. The name “Kung Fu Vampire” just resonated. Not only did it strike him as a powerful rap name, but he also liked the symbolism. It was the melding of light and darkness; of Zen spirituality and ambition. It fit his personality.

Even from the beginning, when Kung Fu Vampire had a very distinct look, the character was never a specific entity. The symbolism and vibe of Kung Fu Vampire serve as his jumping-off point artistically, which allows him to be flexible lyrically but also gives him room to change the physical image as he sees fit and still be “Kung Fu Vampire.”

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