For the past 12 years, Johnny Richter and partner-in-rhyme D-Loc have fronted the weed-centered underground phenomenon that is Kottonmouth Kings. Mixing rock, punk and hip-hop as a backdrop for politically charged records, the Kings have built a world wide following and stay rocking the cannabis cup. Out of their camp formed Suburban Noize Records, the label has been slowly building their hip-hop credentials and include acts such as X-Clan, Pot Luck, Sen Dog and the Kottonmouth King’s spin-off Kingspade.
Kingspade allows Richter and D-Loc to get back to their roots and make songs that reflect their Orange County upbringing. Cuts off the new record, P.T.B., deal with issues like drunken driving, prejudice and the war on terror. Following their self-titled debut, Kingspade stays on the party tip, but clearly allows room for introspection as well.
With a huge Kottonmouth/Suburban Noize tour lined up for the summer, Ballerstatus.com hooked up with Johnny Richter to discuss the album, the label, tattoos and hip-hop.
Ballerstatus.com: I want to start by talking about one specific song on the new record, “Inked Up.” What inspired it?
Richter: That song just came from a bunch of bong hits and a crazy beat. And, just being inked up from head to toe myself, pretty much. I got my chest done, my back done, my ribs, both my legs. My buddy D-Loc is pretty much the same, got tats on his back, his chest, his stomach. We got a lot tats and pretty much through life you go anywhere, the beach, the pool, the river, people are always tripped out on people having a lot of tattoos for some reason. It’s just interesting, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. If people are just interested or curious looking like “that’s neat,” or some people are like “he’s a hoodlum,” just because he got tattoos. Just ’cause you choose to put some art, I look at it as a skin art, you should be able to without having a prejudged opinion about yourself. Then we just made a song, I’d never heard a song about that before, you know, just strictly about getting tattooed.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you have any particular styles that you are drawn to, tattoo wise?
Richter: Not really. I like big bold lines. I got two main artists that worked, one guy did my whole chest and stomach and ribs, this guy Ben Corn at Epidemic Tattoo. Then one guy did my whole back, it’s more thin more thin line, but with color. He did the spade on my forearm and my back, this guy Mike Spasbo at Costa Mesa Tattoo. And then, I got a couple koi, dragon koi and white koi, on my leg, and on my other leg I got more Spasbo work, some album artwork stuff from us in the past. Then my buddy, Tre out of Pricks Tattoo in Vegas, did this whole demon scene up my right thigh all the way to my hip, that’s just pretty heavy. I click more with the artists. If they do good work, I appreciate good artwork. I’m not the best drawer myself, so when I see someone I think is dope, I get pumped. Then with certain people, there my buddies now, and if they get a cancellation, they’ll call and see if I want to come in and blast up. They keep growing and growing. I’m almost out of room.
Ballerstatus.com: Reading your bio, P.T.B. comes from basketball and I wondered if you would chat briefly about your career on the court.
Richter: It’s not really a basketball crew. When we started the Kottonmouth Kings, we called ourselves the P-Town Ballers, because me and D-Loc like to play basketball. Loc was more extent in his playing. We used to go play street ball in different places. Loc played high school and college. We played a lot, so when we started, we called ourselves the P-Town Ballers. Just from us playing ball, back from when we were little kids in the neighborhood playing on the six foot hoops, graduating to a rim on the garage, then the nine-foot dunk hoop at the local school. Or going down to the Cage, there was one spot we called the Cage down at the local church with adjustable rims. Just playing.
Ballerstatus.com: How does a Kingspade album differ from a Kottonmouth King album in the way you put it together?
Richter: It’s more kept on the hip-hop side of things. Like keeping banging, banging tracks. First and foremost, when we started making Kingspade records, we made it so we could have banging tracks for our rides. Just fun party music, with the first record we made a record of party music. For the second one, we took our time. But you won’t have the hip-hop of Kottonmouth Kings. It’s not so weed oriented as Kottonmouth Kings. Just, it’s not as political as Kottonmouth Kings. It’s more feel good music.
Ballerstatus.com: On the weed centric tip, what’s it been like working with High Times throughout your career?
Richter: High Times is great. Growing up reading the magazine, its just amazing being in it. I would never have thought back in the day, at 14-15 years old looking at those magazines, going thinking it’s a whole ‘nother culture just getting into it, that I would grace the cover. Have multiple articles in there, have them fly us out to the Cannabis Cup 3 years and play the cup. It’s cool. We’re psyched on it. When we go to New York, we always go up to the offices and get interviewed and stuff. They’ve given us High Times band of the year; we’ve been stoner band of the year. They just treat us good.
Ballerstatus.com: You’ve got Pot Luck on Suburban Noize, and with you, as Kingspade too, why do you think weed-centered music resonates so strongly with your audience, and not just the High Times reading audience?
Richter: Well, being that pot’s still illegal, I think, you know, if you listen to that type of music, it’s all pretty similar. With the artists on our label, we all get along as far as hanging out, we can talk and hang out, and we can share our bud on tour. It’s not like just in it for the certain fact of trying to be better than somebody else or anything like that. You know we all have smoking weed as a common ground. If you listen to our music and feel the same ideals, or vibe to the same type of stuff we vibe too, then you are pretty much going to like all the bands on our label. You’re pretty much going to dig the fans and meet friends at shows, and people that are like minded. It’s definitely a subculture.
Ballerstatus.com: With Suburban Noize and the label, and having a bunch of hip-hop acts, do you think there is something that could be described as a suburban hip-hop aesthetic?
Richter: Once you get to start describing stuff, music from the ghetto could be “gangsta.” It just categorizes things. We come from where we come from, we talk about what we talk about, and it’s just, you come from a suburban area, you’re probably going to talk about suburban things. If you come from a more rundown area, you’re probably going to talk about those things. If you come from a wealthy background, discuss things related to that.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you feel underappreciated from a hip-hop standpoint?
Richter: I wouldn’t say so because the people we’ve toured with, from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Tech N9ne, Cypress Hill (Sen Dogg’s on our label), you know these are all people we grew up listening to. D-12, touring with them, they’ve all given us respect. Getting love from them and sharing the mutual respect that we’ve held, it doesn’t really matter what the public thinks. The public is thinking what’s fed them, whatever they see or hear. When I get the recognition from the artists themselves in the hip-hop community, that come out and do what do and see what we do, and recognize it. I think that’s enough for me. I don’t need to sell a million records for someone to tell me I’m a dope artist. If people I think are dope tell me I’m dope, then that’s good enough for me.
Ballerstatus.com: When you tour with Kottonmouth and Kingspade, is it a split set or two separate sets?
Richter: Well, we’ve done it two ways. We’ve done it one way, where in the middle of Kottonmouth Kings, we would do a few Kingspade songs, but then the last time we did, we went out with Kottonmouth for an hour, then come back with Kingspade, and then Kottonmouth would do another 45 or so. So, we did about 2 ½ hours.
Ballerstatus.com: What are intentions with the current tour? Are you going to do it that same way?
Richter: No, Kingspade’s not on that tour. We are not performing on that tour. We got Kottonmouth Kings, Tech Nine, the sub noize soldiers, the tour’s pretty much already mapped out time wise, and it’s going to be a long show to begin with. Kingspade just finished a tour; we just played our last show at the House of Blues in Orange County. It was off the chain, probably like 900 kids. It was the best. Kingspade’s not going to be on the summer tour.
Ballerstatus.com: Will you perform a Kingspade song if the crowd requests it?
Richter: Probably not, because it’s probably going to be a set thing, where these people get this much time and will have the set pretty much put together. I don’t think Kingspade will get any songs in. I don’t think it will be a situation where the crowd is asking. I’m sure they’d love it, but I think they will be amped for Kottonmouth Kings. And after seeing four other bands before we go on, Kottonmouth will be enough to weight them out the rest of the way. We do two hour sets, so at the end, kids are pretty beat. I think we got plenty on the table.
Ballerstatus.com: I saw the first video; you got any other videos for the record?
Richter: For Kingspade? Not as far as I know. We did the “Who Runs This” video. We were talking about doing another one, but we’re not. We went to Las Vegas to film a video with Tech Nine, but as far as Kingspade, not at the moment. We are getting ready to go on the summer tour, and that is pretty much our main focus.
Ballerstatus.com: Is that a Youtube only video?
Richter: It’s for whoever wants to play it. Independent TV is playing it. Kids are seeing it.
Ballerstatus.com: I thought it was a dope, clean video.
Richter: We kept it simple; we’ve done a lot of videos with a lot of hoopla. For this we wanted to keep it clean, bring out a couple dope cars and a couple choppers, all owned by our friends. Brought ’em down and did the song. All pretty simple.
Ballerstatus.com: Is West Coast car culture a big influence on you?
Richter: I mean as far as going to car shows, nothing like that. I appreciate all those cars, I think they’re sick. It has influenced me, but as far as right now, I’m just so busy with music, I don’t have time to get into anything like that. Yeah, I got rims on my car, I tint the windows, got a system in it. I like to step my ride up a little bit whenever I get one.
Ballerstatus.com: From the point of view of making the hip-hop record, what music has given you a push or inspired you style?
Richter: Music has inspired me. When I’m going to write, I like to listen to the beats with a clear mind and let it play. And then, whatever that beat starts telling me to say or feel about it. If it’s hyphy, it’ll probably be a club song. If it’s a mellow beat, it will be more serious. I would the music inspires me to write the way I write, my life inspires the lyrics.
Ballerstatus.com: What’s your earliest hip-hop memory?
Richter: Wow. Just playing cassettes back, wow… hip-hop culture? I mean back in the day, when I was six or seven, I used to live in Fullerton. We used to take cardboard boxes out of my garage, line them up on the driveway, and have a couple kids in neighborhood come over and listen to music. We would break dance and spin on our backs, and heads. A little poppin’ and locking. We used to break that out when I was six years old. I think that’s pretty hip-hop and that’s my earliest memory.
Ballerstatus.com: Aside from the music, do you play apart in other things, like merchandising, related to the Kingspade and Kottonmouth records?
Richter: For Kingspade, my tattoo artist does all the art. We know what we like, and we go to him and tell him our ideas. He’ll draw it up, and if we like it, we’ll make a sample shirt. And then, if we like that, we’ll move forward with producing the merchandise.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you feel that being on Suburban Noize gives you a lot of space to do what you want?
Richter: It definitely does. Especially being the first band that started that, it’s our shit. We have say in all we do. If I want to work with someone, I can just make it happen; I don’t have to worry about asking. I do respect and ask my manger what he thinks, see if we can get any bread out of it, but pretty much if I want to do a track, I’ll do a track. As long as it’s not a big deal, or not so much with licensing issues.
Ballerstatus.com: Has it been cool to watch the label grow?
Richter: Yeah, it’s been amazing. When you look back and think it just started with us, and now, there are over 20 acts. Doing tours across the country. Signing bigger acts, we just signed Sen Dog; he’s going to do a solo record on our label. Their signing people all the time, and I’m like “Wow, we got them. That’s dope.”
Ballerstatus.com: What is it like being on a label with Sen Dog, who with Cypress Hill sort of blew up the rap scene on the crossover tip?
Richter: I was listening to Cypress Hill before I even thought of being in a band and doing music. They came out on the Kottonmouth tour with us and did a set, and to have them around and just to hear the stories, its just like you’ve reached a point where you’ve really done something. Living the day to day with it, it doesn’t seem like that big to me, but when I look back and go, “Wow, that was pretty amazing.” But, we are so busy that when I have time to contemplate and think it’s pretty amazing. To be able to just call up Sen Dog and be like “What up Sen?” it’s pretty dope.