Black Punks. It almost feels oxymoronic. When many hear the word punk, their idea is still rooted in the skinny, screaming, white teenager, (British or American, probably male) but that has never been an accurate representation of the genre. Punk rock has always been a coalition of diverse voices striking at authority wherever they found it, but for many of its early years, the voices of poc/female/LGBTQIA punks were marginalized. Currently, as pop-punk, emo and indie rock cohabitate with punk, more diverse voices emerge, but the question remains every time a ‘best of’ list comes out: why no black punks?
Sure, Death has been rediscovered in the past decade. Sure, Bad Brains are awesome. And sure, the terribly-named, Cerebral Ballzy are doing just fine, but the relationship between blacks and punk has always been a distant one. Is it because hip-hop fills the same role in black communities that punk did in white ones? Is it a matter of influence, punk rock emerging too far from the R&B roots of rock and roll to receive play on black radio stations? Did potential black punks not see anyone like them making music and get discouraged? I don’t know the answer to that, but as a black punk myself, I was (and am) always on the lookout for any kindred spirits.
In 2010, I found some: Whole Wheat Bread. The band- from Jacksonville, Florida- had recently collaborated with Lil John on his album Crunk Rock, and had received a minor bump from the algorithm god that controlled the Zune Marketplace. I listened to their Punk Life EP and fell in love. The opening track “206” is still one of the best punk rock songs I’ve heard to date. I immediately downloaded the EP and the band’s other two releases, Minority Rules and Hearts of Hoodlums, neither of which failed to live up to Punk Life.
I followed Whole Wheat Bread for the next few years. I watched them slowly stop touring nationally and almost completely halt their musical output. I feared that the band would never release another album again, especially after a rumor that they were recording independently in a solar-powered studio. Thank god I was wrong.
This past year marked the release of Punk Life 2, a sequel to the EP that began my love for the band, and I worried that it might go the way of many a long-awaited follow-up, but Punk Life 2 not only surpassed my expectations, it may have surpassed its predecessor. While the first album starts off incredibly strong with the aforementioned “206” segueing into “Grass,” a song with one of the best punk rock bass solos (by former bassist Nick Largen) of all time, followed by “Symbol of Hope,” the back half of the album is a trio of rap covers by Lil’s Scrappy and John and Bone Crusher. While these songs are still great in their own right, they simply don’t deliver on the promise set up by the album’s first three tracks. Punk Life 2, however, has six original songs, that work together to make an altogether more balanced release.
The EP’s first pair of songs tell a story, the opener “Eye for an Eye (Revenge)” presents the first act of a brief tragedy, and it’s counterpart “Murder Rah Ha (Regret)” the unraveling, as well as a new ska influence. The next two songs “Lonely” and “My First Time” deals with singer Aaron Abraham’s romantic life, with the former serving as the most radio-ready release the group’s ever produced. The final two tracks, “Quit Your Job” and “Pigs” speak for themselves, the latter utilizing Whole Wheat Bread’s rapping skill to great effect. While I have yet to love any of these songs quite as much as “206,” this is a creative, well-produced record, worthy of multiple replays.
I googled write-ups of the record, because I wanted to see what the music press thought of Whole Wheat Bread’s return to form, but I couldn’t find a thing. The band has nearly fifteen thousand Facebook likes, but not one of them was a journalist? This is why. This is exactly the reason there aren’t enough black punks. They need to be supported, especially when they put out an EP this special- and independently no less! If a white band with Whole Wheat Bread’s pedigree (collaborations with Lil John and Murs, tours with Pennywise, Yellowcard, Streetlight Manifesto and the Bouncing Souls) released this record, they would be rewarded with a tour and a Tiny Desk concert.
The contemporary guitar music landscape has finally begun to recognize marginalized voices, and I think it’s time for Whole Wheat Bread to have their time in the sun. I’ve been to a thousand shows in Brooklyn and Connecticut and Texas where bands with half the lyrical relevance, half the amazing story Whole Wheat Bread has (let alone talent) sell the place out and everyone goes home feeling like they listened to something real and revolutionary. Whole Wheat Bread is a revelation. Whole Wheat Bread is an inspiration. Whole Wheat Bread is punk rock. So, now a different question remains: why the hell aren’t you listening to Whole Wheat Bread?
Whole Wheat Bread’s latest EP Punk Life 2 is available here.