Revolver has teamed with Ho99o9 for an exclusive violet vinyl colorway of their new album, SKIN, limited to 200. Order it — along with our Spring 2022 issue featuring Ho99o9 with Travis Barker on the cover — at our shop.
Ho99o9's slinky, sinister new song "Devil at the Crossroads" is based around one of music history's most famous deals with the devil.
"[It's] a song about the old [blues] musician, Robert Johnson. It's just about his whole story, [how] he sold his soul," the duo's Yeti Bones explains. The L.A.-based rapper reveals that he was drawn to the legend after watching a documentary on Johnson, whose fevered playing across a run of singles in the late 1930s had many wondering whether the Mississippi musician had mastered his instrument through supernatural means. "Like, he didn't know how to play, he disappeared for a few years, and when he came back, he was the greatest player ever to do it. It's just this huge folklore of this dude being possessed by the devil — he practiced in a graveyard!"
Beyond "Devil at the Crossroads," Satan's presence is inescapable across Ho99o9's new, Travis Barker-produced album, SKIN — whether Yeti Bones and his partner theOGM are picturing themselves licked by hellfire and staring down "faceless demons" ("Speak of the Devil"), or fully inhabited by the dark lord ("Lower Than Scum"). Like Johnson, Ho99o9 make it sound as if they've got hellhounds on their trail. Yet, as Yeti Bones tells us, it's clear that they're "on the right path right now," more so than ever.
Since forming in Newark, New Jersey, in 2012, Ho99o9 have built up a mighty legend of their own via bone-breaking beats, raw-throated raps and a body-flinging stage show. The twosome's last LP, 2017's hip-hop-and-hardcore-referencing United States of Horror, put the high-energy hybridists on a path that's led to tours with Alice in Chains, Korn and, later this year, Slipknot; they've modeled for Dr. Martens; you can count Metallica's Kirk Hammett among the band's ever-growing legion, lovingly dubbed the Death Kult.
When it comes to working with Barker, there was no Faustian bargain made between the rappers and the world's most famous pop-punk drummer, whose current renaissance as a behind-the-boards producer has yielded massive, Billboard-topping hits from artists like Machine Gun Kelly. Instead, Ho99o9's collabo-ration with Barker came together organically — they connected with him after two trusted friends brought up that the blink-182 drummer was a huge fan — and it's proven surprisingly fruitful. Even Ho99o9, who were initially skeptical before meeting Barker, are impressed by the results.
TheOGM explains: "At first we were like, 'Damn, what are our fans going to think?' because Travis is known for more of a pop-punk aesthetic, right? So are they going to be looking at us like, 'Oh shit, Ho99o9, they losin' it. What's that going to sound like?'"
There's no need for fans to worry. SKIN — which Barker released through his DTA Records imprint — is hardly mainstream. It contains multitudes, but to paraphrase one sample from the new album, it also features the most "hardcore, psychopathic material" of Ho99o9's career. Take its opening track "Nuge Snight," a song where Yeti Bones draws parallels between Suge Knight — the infamously cut-throat music industry mogul — and U.K. grindcore pioneers Napalm Death. A terror-fried expulsion of distorted bass and panicked drum breaks, "Nuge Snight" was the first piece of music Barker brought the band. Funnily enough, it's that aural anarchy that put Ho99o9's mind at ease about working with the producer.
"I made that beat at my house one day, and I thought to myself, 'There is not one artist that could get on this, outside of Ho99o9.' I don't think I even played it for anyone else," Barker explains to Revolver of tailoring the piece for the duo. "I don't even like preparing anything for anyone before they get in [the studio, but] I had just made this masterpiece of noise, chaos and destruction, and it made so much sense for [Ho99o9]."
Yeti Bones agrees. "When we first heard that instrumental track, it just sounded like full-on brutality. Like, 'Damn, this shit sounds like your house is about to get blown down,'" he recalls with a laugh of Barker's introductory beat, while adding of his lyrics, "If you know Suge Knight, and you're familiar with Death Row Records in the Nineties, you know that he was an individual that was not to be fucked with: He put fear in people's hearts. I was using the Napalm Death reference because they are an extreme band. With that first album, Scum, my brain is still rattling from the first time I pressed play. It's cool that we can [play with] that duality." To this point, theOGM sums up Ho99o9's overall aesthetic: "Our goal is to always elevate and not just stay in one lane."
When Ho99o9 began working with Barker in 2019, they hadn't gone to the producer in search of an album. A bond was forged early on, though. After gelling on respective, wide-range influences like Outkast and Cannibal Corpse, the three musicians slowly pieced together the just-as-eclectic SKIN in-tandem. "I knew I wouldn't have to tippy-toe around anything," Barker recalls of the "zero-boundaries" in-studio experimentalism.
As the album was taking shape behind the scenes, Ho99o9 and Barker made their official debut together in the summer of 2020 via a three-song livestream performance as part of the Black Power Live benefit concert. Barker bashed his kit through "Christopher Dorner," Ho99o9's d-beat original named after a former California cop who went on a shooting spree in 2013, as well as a cover of Bad Brains' classic "Big Takeover."
Hardcore and hip-hop have long been the tent poles to Ho99o9's thrillingly abrasive sound, but as theOGM suggests, they've brought themselves to new sonic heights on SKIN. To be sure, the duo are more often than not screaming through their bars with livewire ferocity, while the album's nastiest breakdowns will no doubt have the pair sling-shotting themselves into the crowd while they're out on the road with Slipknot this spring. Still, Ho99o9 are comfortable enough with their SKIN to cross-pollinate neon glowstick electronica with Ministry-grade industrial guitar, or slow-dive into chopped-and-screwed cruising music.
For proof, the band and Barker bring a strong, Nineties-gleaming electronic edge to tracks like "Battery Not Included" — despite beginning the piece with a tongue-in-cheek sample of Iggy Pop complaining about "techno shit" during a European festival appearance. Ho99o9 had previously hinted at the electronic direction when they'd teamed up with U.K. icons the Prodigy on the latter's "Fight Fire With Fire" single in 2018; fittingly, SKIN's drum-and-bass-rattled "Protect My Bitch, Pt. 2" is an homage to the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up." While they're having fun folding raved-out beats into SKIN, the rappers admit those kinds of sounds weren't as foundational to them as hip-hop or punk. All the same, Yeti Bones recalls getting gassed-up the first time theOGM spun him Slayer and Atari Teenage Riot's 1997 "No Remorse" collaboration for the Spawn soundtrack ("It made me want to jump off a bridge"), while theOGM remembers absorbing the energy of electronic music while going to parties in New York at the dawn of the '00s.
On top of Barker's varied beatmaking, Ho99o9 brought out some other notable heavy hitters for SKIN. Back in 2019, the pair sampled a shiver of feedback from Slipknot deep cut "Tattered & Torn" for their equally eerie single "Mega City Nine." The Easter egg eventually made its way to Corey Taylor.
"You know, word got around about our music to Corey, and he just dove into our whole discography. He loved it, man," Yeti Bones explains. "He shot me a text one day and was like, 'This shit is fuckin' crazy!' Ever since then, we've just built a strong relationship." Proof of the bond comes through Taylor, Yeti Bones and theOGM roaring together on SKIN's flesh-rending "Bite My Face" — not to mention Ho99o9 getting invited out on this year's Knotfest Roadshow.
Representing the other side of the group's rap/rock split personality is Texas hip-hop great Bun B. He contributed a confidently drawled guest verse to "Slo Bread," an eye-of-the-hurricane boom tune that serves as a necessary vibe check in light of the rest of Ho99o9's in-the-red aggression. Yeti Bones likens the tune to "flying through the clouds," while theOGM suggests it could serve as a "break from rebellion, turning up and smashing," both onstage and off.
"If you've been to a Ho99o9 show, you know that you're getting cracked in the head for an hour. That shit is just up. It just keeps going, like, 'Damn, I don't got a second to catch my breath, bro.' But with the record, we definitely wanted to have a song in there that was a cruiser," he says of "Slo Bread," before noting, "Even the hardest motherfuckers ain't hard 24/7."
Though Ho99o9 primarily go for the throat on SKIN, it's noteworthy that keeping calm was just as integral to the band's growth. The group concluded their tour cycle behind United States of Horror in February of 2020, just ahead of COVID-19 lockdowns. After being on the road for the better part of five years, gaining acclaim as they screamed and crawled over their fanbase, the global slowdown came as somewhat of a relief for the extreme performers.
"It was refreshing. Yes, we are in your face [in concert] — and people miss that — but as human beings? Yo, I needed a break. I'm not a fucking machine," theOGM adds of the reset button offered by the pandemic. "I got to catch up with life, make beautiful music, and hang out with people I hadn't seen in a minute."
One of SKIN's many measures in extremes finds theOGM getting extra guttural with his grunts on grindcore stomp-out "Lower Than Scum," but immediately following this up by bounding into a melodic, self-care-focused hook of "Brace yourself, pace yourself, protect yourself, love yourself" on "Devil at the Crossroads." The latter was a message that resonated with both members of Ho99o9 during the COVID times making of SKIN. Back at home with time to spare, theOGM upped his culinary skills, experimenting with all-texture combos like a mac-and-cheese and fried shrimp sandwich, or prepping comfort food dishes introduced to him by his Haitian mother in his youth ("There's this bean puree sauce that you would put over white rice, and I perfected that shit — tastes like my-momma-made-it-type shit, you know?").
Yeti Bones, meanwhile, fed his mind. The musician admits that he hadn't been much of a reader when he was growing up, but the outsized days of pandemic life led him to sharpen himself by reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. "You've got to keep your knowledge up and educate yourself," he says, adding that he finds certain parallels between Malcolm X's politics and Ho99o9's unapologetic self-determination. "We're willing to fight and do anything for what we believe in," he explains.
Though Ho99o9 were refueling through the pandemic, they were never tuned out. The past couple years of civic protest have not gone unnoticed. They helped raise money through Black Power Live. Last summer, they released a mixtape, Ho99o9 Presents Territory: Turf Talk Vol. 1, featuring a motley crew of collaborators including Russian feminist punk activists Pussy Riot. On SKIN's "Dead or Asleep," Ho99o9 lash out at MAGA hat-types, who remain somewhat on the periphery despite the change in administration.
"Just because fuckin' Joe Biden is in office right now and everybody's got their feet up, it doesn't mean that we're not at war. Shit is going on right now — it's fucked right now," theOGM explains.
He adds of how this manifests throughout SKIN: "All the things that have happened in the last two years [have] obviously given us ammunition to put this wonderful masterpiece together. I mean, SKIN is just being unapologetic about who we are — I'm a black man, and I'm unapologetic about that shit, you feel me? Whether I'm loud about it or whispering that shit, whether I'm blowing smoke or having a regular conversation with you, I love me. I love who I am."
For Yeti Bones, a path to sobriety he began four years ago has also made an impact on his growing sense of self. While he explains that his confrontational in-concert presence — known to sometimes include moshing naked in the crowd — has led some to wonder whether he's on drugs, Ho99o9's pre-show routine these days is pretty much just drinking water and stretching. Part of this stems from the duo's desire to be longtime players in the game, with both rappers pontificating on how vices have cut down "a lot of the greats."
"I used to be a wild child, man. I used to be the kid at the punk shows [that was] wasted, jumping off everything. I used to want to rage," Yeti Bones admits, "I used to get wasted before the shows so I could go out and not be scared. Now that I don't drink, and I've got the proper fuckin pre-game, I'm fully focused, and that makes the show even better."
Ho99o9's new album found the pair gleefully painting outside of their already genre-challenging parameters. Five years on from their first record, they've not only leveled up their sound, but their bodies and their minds. As they prepare to attack stages for the first time in two years, it's clear Yeti Bones and theOGM are ready to show us some SKIN.
"You know, musically, physically, spiritually, and mentally we are in a place where we're locked in. We are ready to just freight-train through everything that's coming up," Yeti Bones says with determination. "There's really no stopping us."