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Kung Fu Vampire’s New Album: ‘Look Alive’

In Music
RISEN STAR: San Jose emcee Kung Fu Vampire is back with a new album and a new look.

RISEN STAR: San Jose emcee Kung Fu Vampire is back with a new album and a new look.

Ahead of his 24-date U.S.-Canada tour, Kung Fu Vampire is thinking about his hometown.

“There’s all this talent here,” the local horrorcore rapper says. “There are so many great emcees, but no one’s stepping up and saying ‘I’m gonna be that guy.’”

That guy is whoever will stay in San Jose after breaking big, in order to draw national attention to the largest city in Silicon Valley. It’s a concern many local creatives are voicing: who can rise to the top and succeed—in music, or the arts—in this increasingly tech-centric city.

If you haven’t heard of Kung Fu Vampire, you’re probably new to the South Bay. Welcome. The San Jose rapper and producer has been releasing solo records since 2001. Along the way, he’s landed prominent features on tracks by Bay Area legend E-40, horrorcore pioneer Brotha Lynch Hung and underground sensation Tech N9ne. He is currently touring behind his latest effort, Look Alive, and is scheduled to play The Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Saturday.

Over the past decade and a half, Kung Fu Vampire has often seemed to be on the verge of breaking through to the mainstream—inasmuch as horrorcore rappers can be “mainstream,” that is. With 90,000 likes on Facebook, and nearly 23,000 Twitter followers, he stands head and shoulders above most other musicians in San Jose in terms of fanbase and visibility. And, as an independent artist, he’s done it all by himself, on his own terms.

Stylistically, Kung Fu Vampire is San Jose’s one real contribution to “chopper” rap, a fast spitting style that has its origins in the Midwest. And due to his lyrical content and gloomy aesthetic, his music falls loosely into the category of horrorcore—a subgenre hip-hop that favors the cinematic imagery of horror movies and the macabre.

His latest single, “Fire,” features Ubiquitous from Ces Cru, as well as Locksmith—a pair of buzzed-about, up-and-coming rappers—who trade nimble verses with Kung Fu over an ominous beat of strings, swirling synth pads, choirs, and a female vocal hook that lands somewhere between club and trip-hop.

Although he champions a style that originated in the Midwest—and despite his ties to one of the Midwest’s most notorious exports, horrorcore kingpins, the Insane Clown Posse—those familiar with Kung Fu Vampire’s work know that he is fiercely loyal to his hometown. With his new record, Look Alive, the emcee says he aims to shout his allegiance to the South Bay from the rooftops.

“A lot of what I’ve done in the past is mysterious and withdrawn,” says Kung Fu. “I’m kinda coming clean on this album.”

True to his word, the emcee seems eager to lay most of his cards on the table. He still declines to reveal the name on his birth certificate, but he is more than willing to discuss just about everything else. He talks about his family and shares details about his numerous bodily ailments. While he used to maintain an image that might best be described as “club-goth chic”—ghoulish white face paint, red and white contacts, a shaved head and flowing cloak—Kung Fu Vampire has recently adopted a different look. In recent press photos and music videos, he sports a ball cap or beanie, wayfarer sunglasses, a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. He is dressed similarly when we meet at a Korean barbeque joint in Japantown to chat.

“There’s always a side of me that’s been super goth, and then super cholo—super San Jose,” he says. “I was in a lowrider car club for over a decade.”

In a way, the title of Kung Fu Vampire’s latest album—Look Alive—openly draws attention to this dichotomy.

“What’s a vampire trying to do?” the emcee asks, semi-rhetorically. “He’s trying to look alive. Look Alive is a testament to where I’m at. I do have a crazy life, a crazy upbringing and how I got to this. And I’m showing people a whole other side of the music industry and how it can be done independently. I’m gonna do it for my city.”\

Kung Fu Vampire
Jul 9, 9pm, $12-$15
The Catalyst, Santa Cruz

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