Chris Rockwell is an influential Jersey Shore-based rapper, poet, spoken word artist, event promoter and visual artist who has several events (including a national tour with his longtime collaborator, fellow rapper Chill Smith) coming up that he chats about with Makin Waves. PHOTO BY JOSH CABRERA
Asbury Park is a majority black town that has played majority white music in its venues for decades.
That’s about to change.
More and more rock acts are collaborating with rap acts in the studios and on the stages in and around Asbury Park. Bulletproof Belv continues to work with rootsy punk-rocker Matty Carlock, who’s now making a career of writing and singing with rap acts. Drew the Recluse is featured on The Cold Seas’ new single, “Bloodstain,” which they celebrated the release of together at The Saint. Drew, aka Barkley, is a part of Black Suburbia Music Group, which is presenting mixed bills the first Friday of every month at Asbury Park Music Foundation.
And all of this healthy musical and racial mingling has been done for years by Chris Rockwell, a Brick Township-raised rapper, poet, spoken word artist, published author, event promoter and now a visual artist. In addition to frequently performing with bands, including his current backing unit, the Ballroom Riot, Rockwell has been putting together mixed bills for years whether in concerts, open mics, poetry slams or multi-art events, which combine all three with visual works.
Those mixed bills didn’t take off, however, until the success of Bulletproof’s colab with Carlock, alongside Rockwell’s well-stated dis of the Asbury Park Music Awards when they nominated him as an R&B performer, having never had a rap or hip-hop category throughout the awards’ 25-year history. Rockwell’s statement subsequently was published in New Jersey Stage and inspired an article in the Asbury Park Press about the longstanding segregation of the Asbury Park music scene. The situation broke down barriers that since have led to many more mixed bills, including Nov. 16 and 17 when Rockwell will participate in a weekend-long benefit for Food for Thought, the folks who offer annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the hungry and the homeless at Langosta Lounge in Asbury. The mix of rap ‘n’ rock at the Second Annual Makin Waves Hunger Benefit for Food for Thought at Langosta, as well as Asbury Park Yacht Club, also will include Evangelia, Cook Thugless, Black Suburbia Music Group, Sonic Blume, Wetbrain, The Cold Seas feat. Drew the Recluse, Tara Dente, Pamela Flores, Des & the Swagmatics, Nalani & Sarina, Experiment 34, and Chill Smith, Rockwell’s frequent collaborator.
But Rockwell doesn’t just mix things up musically. The self-published poet’s latest book will released next month and celebrated on Oct. 20 at the Barnes & Noble in Eatontown. In addition to Rockwell, poets Mwkali Words and Ink and singer-songwriter Arlan Feiles will perform and Maggie Danger Brown will host an open poetry reading. The book release will be followed by a national tour with Chill Smith. Their most recent work together is the new single, a remake of their 2017 charity colab “Bail Money” (streaming below).
On the poetry tip, Rockwell also will host the Barron Arts Center’s Woodbridge Poetry Festival on Sept. 29 at St. James School with Greg Glory, Deborah LaVeglia, Maria, Carrie Hudak, Peter Murphy, Eloise Bruce, Amos Koffa and Jenifer Stahl Brown. He also hosts an open mic and art night every Tuesday at Café Enigma in Toms River.
In the following chat, the Jersey Shore Renaissance man shares all that he has going on, his take on hip-hop’s live takeover of AP, and much more. Enjoy!
Question: How do you feel about the growing live hip-hop scene in Asbury Park and what impact do you think your comments about the lack of a hip-hop category at the AP Music Awards had on that growth?
Answer: I'm psyched that hip-hop is blowing up the Asbury Park area right now. I think I said what a handful of people have been saying for years, I was just really dramatic about it. Plus, I'm white, so now white people are listening.
Q: Another factor in the growth are collabs between rap and rock acts, such as Bulletproof Belv with Matty Carlock and The Cold Seas with Drew the Recluse. What do you think of those collaborations, and comment on how and why you've been collaborating with rock bands for a while with Rap Vs. Punk, backing bands and other things.
A: Those colabs are dope and should only be the beginning. But the truth is, there are no proper outlets for hip-hop music regarding media or local radio play. Those colabs help expand to new listeners. That's what it's been about, cross pollinating audiences. Not to mention the fact that rap and punk music grew up in the same neighborhoods in New York City in the ’70s and ’80s. They both had stigmas to overcome. The beginnings were so alike, it only made sense to put them together.
Q: Would you describe your current band, Ballroom Riot, as a rock band? If not, how would you describe them, who's in the band, and how did they come together?
A: The Ballroom Riot is not a rock band. It's bauxite, my backing band, playing all my solo songs. We've had Andrew Oliva on drums, Clint Newman on bass, Matthew Raspanti on guitar, and we've collaborated on stage with Chill Smith, Avery Rose Puryear, and Jimmy Mura too. We've all been playing the circuit for years, and I just love sharing the stage with them.
Q: You've also had a big influence on the local music scene by hosting open mics and poetry slams throughout the state. What do you enjoy most about that and do you have any coming up that folks can perform at or just attend?
A: I love the unpredictability of it all. You never know who's gonna get on stage and blow everyone away. I love the way they cultivate talent, but also community. You can ask anyone in my crowd why they do it, and they'll say. ‘We do it for the culture.’
Every Tuesday I'm at Cafe Enigma in downtown Toms River, and we've got slams and even a poetry festival sponsored by the Barron Arts Center coming up throughout September. Visit their site for info.
Q: Tell me about the book that's coming out next month, how is it a departure for you, who will be publishing and when?
A: My book is a poetry manuscript of poems I've put together in the last few years. I put out a book and a record last year, and I'm doing the same this year, so I don't feel like it's much of a departure. The details will be announced soon, but the book launch reception will be Oct. 20 at Barnes and Noble in Eatontown, and Arlan Feiles will be the musical guest of the evening.
Q: When the book drops, you will be going on a national tour with longtime collaborator Chill Smith. When and where will you be heading?
A: We're playing a few shows in the Tri State area before heading west to hit Phoenix, Las Vegas, L.A., and a few more cities.
Q: How many albums have you released and how many books of poetry have you published?
A: There have been three EPs and three LPs of music, two full length records of spoken word, and seven chap books of poetry, all self-released.
Q: Out of them, which is you favorite album and why, and which is your favorite book and why?
A: Oh, this is a rough question, dude! I guess the album ‘Buildings Will Collapse’ in 2013 changed my life the most. My favorite book so far may be ‘Cure for the Common Cold Side of the Bed’ in 2007, but I don't even print that anymore.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn