Jonathan Davis of Korn is Hip-Hop

Rock stars are known to have a reputation for not having the best hygiene, but that doesn’t apply to Jonathan Davis, the vocalist of Korn. It’s midnight and the long-haired singer just finished putting on a vigorous performance with his metal outfit in Portland, Maine. Once the sweaty dynamo leaves the stage, he heads backstage […]

Rock stars are known to have a reputation for not having the best hygiene, but that doesn’t apply to Jonathan Davis, the vocalist of Korn. It’s midnight and the long-haired singer just finished putting on a vigorous performance with his metal outfit in Portland, Maine. Once the sweaty dynamo leaves the stage, he heads backstage to take a shower.While he gets fresh, it’s worth noting that the eccentric front man helped re-mold the commercial market in the late ‘90s with a brand of counter-culture music that urged teenage rockers and suburban misfits to tune into the Hip-Hop culture. As the mouthpiece of Korn, Davis became the figurehead of the rap-metal movement once their third studio album, Follow The Leader, dropped in 1998. Though the multi-platinum selling collection featured edgy singles like “Got The Life” and “Freak On A Leash,” it also featured several collaborations with respected MCs like Ice Cube and Tre Hardson from The Pharcyde. The Bakersfield-bred quintet (then comprised of Davis, bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, drummer David Silveria, and guitarists Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer) wasn’t done yet. The metal juggernauts strengthened their musical prowess by launching The Family Values Tour, which showcased promising rock acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, as well as MCs like Method Man, Redman and Xzibit. While that was happening, the California revolutionaries were also running a successful imprint, Elementree Records, which produced acts like the platinum-selling goth-rockers, Orgy.Although the Hip-Hop vibe may have waned from their signature style, Korn’s roots resurfaced in 2005 when they recruited David Banner, Lil’ Jon, Snoop Dogg and Xzibit to portray the band in heir video, “Twisted Transistor.” Months later, they did a mash-up with Virgin label mates, Dem Franchize Boyz, entitled “Coming Undone Wit It.”     Korn is down to a trio right now (Head left the band to further pursue his Christian beliefs and Silveria is on an indefinite hiatus), but the rock stars continue pushing forward with their eighth studio release, Untitled.Back in Portland fifteen minutes later, Davis is out of the shower (and dressed), and ready to engage in a full-fledged Hip-Hop Alternatives: Over the years, it has been well documented that you are a huge Hip-Hop head. When were you first influenced by the culture?Jonathan Davis: I’d say with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. To me, when those cats came up, they were dressed like rock dudes. They had the leather jackets, spiked bracelets and sh*t. It was crazy at that time, because I used to DJ right when Hip-Hop started. I was moved by it.AHHA: Back in the late ‘90s, Korn was tagged as rap-metal. But honestly, it didn’t seem like you rapped too often. So how do you actually feel about the rap-metal tag?Jonathan Davis: I hated it, honestly. I never f**king rapped. [laughs] I’m not a rapper, but I think they laid that because there were some definite Hip-Hop influences [in our music] like Hip-Hop style bass lines and sh*t like that. We took subtle influences from Hip-Hop. We didn’t take a turntable all the way over the top like Limp Bizkit or that type of sh*t. It was more of a tasty flavor. Because so many bands came out after this and were like what we did, [critics] kinda created a name for the genre. But I think we’re more than that. It’s something that’s always going to follow us, but I always thought it was corny.AHHA: Well, you rhymed on a few songs, but you seemed more like a vocalist than a rapper.Jonathan Davis: Yeah, I was always labeled that and was I was like, “I don’t get it. When the f### did I become a rapper?” [laughs] Ya know? I can rap if I wanted to, but it’s not my thing.AHHA: On Korn’s third studio album, 1997’s Follow The Leader, there were some stellar crossover collaborations like with Ice Cube for “Children of the Korn” and Tre Hardson from the Pharcyde for “Cameltosis.” What inspired that?Jonathan Davis: We were always fans of Ice Cube, and we were flabbergasted when he came to the studio. I remember when NWA first came out and when I started spinning that. I remember when all that sh*t started and that was the hardest sh*t. Just to be able to do something with him was amazing. And the Pharcyde is one of my favorite bands. We brought them out on tours with us. They were a blast, so there are lots of things. We were in that state of mind.AHHA: Were you guys trying to bridge the gap between rap and rock, or were you more concerned about making good, creative music?Jonathan Davis: I think we were worried about making good, creative music and there are so many influences in our band. At the time, Fieldy was really into Hip-Hop. Head and Munky listened to different sh*t, and it was something that naturally came out. We never really discussed it like, “We’re going to go in this direction.” It’s just something that comes out naturally with what we were influenced by.AHHA: Still, rap-metal was huge in the mainstream towards the late ‘90s. Bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and Adema blew up, but lately, that whole rap-metal presence faded away. Jonathan Davis: So many people started doing it and it just got old. It wasn’t done right. When the first collaborations happened when Anthrax and Public Enemy did “Bring The Noise,” the sh*t they were doing back then was so innovative. Now, it’s just kinda hokey. It’s kinda cheesy. I thought white boys rapping behind guitars didn’t work.AHHA: Despite having that lyrical element and innovative bass notes, the Hip-Hop media never truly embraced these bands. Why don’t you think these groups were embraced?Jonathan Davis: ‘Cause we weren’t Hip-Hop. It was more about subtle influences. We weren’t trying to be Hip-Hop. For a while, people were saying that’s what we’re trying to be. It just had those influences like the jumpsuits, like Run-DMC. I loved those jumpsuits! Just the way we dress and the style of music we do, I think people grabbed a hold of it and it’s like, “These guys are cool.” It was more about life and culture-type of thing. The other bands were taking it too f**king far. That’s when it’s hard to get respect like, “God, they’re wannabes” or stuff like that.AHHA: Would you consider any of those bands Hip-Hop?Jonathan Davis: [long pause] No. None of those bands were true Hip-Hop bands. I mean, Hip-Hop bands like The Roots or real bands, but at that time, no. Maybe Limp Bizkit a little bit. They had those influences, but it became such a “Frat Boy, Rocky” type of thing; it turned into something else.AHHA: When Korn debuted the Family Values Tour back in ‘99, you guys brought out several promising nu-metal bands and even an MCs like Ice Cube. Then, during the next two outings, Ja Rule, Method Man, Redman, and Xzibit joined the ranks. Even Mobb Deep and DMX showed up. What made you decide to showcase both rock groups and rappers?Jonathan Davis: I just wanted to bring a show that was cool and everybody knew we were influenced by Hip-Hop, so we were just giving something back to them. We wanted to give [rappers] a forum to be able to play in front of people they normally wouldn’t be in front of, and a lot of kids were big into it. It was a whole new audience for them. It just worked out for everybody. Let’s have something cool. Let’s have some new rock bands and a Hip-Hop act and make it cool, because rock kids listen to Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop kids listen to some rock. So it all just worked together.AHHA: After the 2001 tour, Family Values went on the backburner. Why did the tour take a leave of absence?Jonathan Davis: We weren’t finding the bands we wanted to go on it and we decided to put it to sleep for a while. We decided to bring it back when we did See you On The Other Side [Korn’s seventh studio album]. It was a different time period. We turned it more into a more rock-oriented tour and a mixture of different styles of rock bands.AHHA: Since reviving it in 2006, there hasn’t been much Hip-Hop representation on Family Values.Jonathan Davis: Yeah, we haven’t really been able to do it. I mean, people I look up and like for it is Lil’ Jon, or any kind of crunk artist. I love crunk because it’s badass beats and motherf**kers screaming over the top. I really dig that. Or the snap sh*t, the Paul Wall, Mike Jones Swishahouse sh*t was f**king dope. But it’s a different time right now.AHHA: If you found the right rappers, would you consider bringing them on the tour?Jonathan Davis: Oh yeah. In the future I’d love to do that stuff.AHHA: While we’re talking about it, who are some of your favorite rappers nowadays?Jonathan Davis: Right now, Lil’ Jon definitely. He’s my boy. Ice Cube. Young Joc. My son loves “It’s Goin’ Down.”AHHA: Do you like Soulja Boy?Jonathan Davis: I haven’t heard Soulja Boy. It’s so hard to keep up. So much stuff is coming out. When I listen to Hip-Hop, I listen to Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. That’s the sh*t I love! Rakim is the best MC ever. I loved his rhymes, the way he flowed, his voice; everything about him. I listen to it before I go on stage. “Microphone Fiend” is so killer. It’s a DJ with a beat and a mic, and that’s all it was. Just give me a f**king kick drum, a snare and some jingle bells. It was cool. Jingle bells in the background is really cool sh*t.AHHA: Nice. Back to Korn, most heads took notice once the video for “Twisted Transistor” was unveiled because it featured David Banner, Lil’ Jon, Snoop Dogg and Xzibit portraying Korn during a performance. Where did the concept derive from?Jonathan Davis: It just seemed like all they were playing on MTV at the time were rap videos and we thought, “How f**king cool would it be if we took our homeys – because all those guys are our friends – have them play us and see what we could make?” We got with David Meyers , and he thought it was great. It just came out killer. It was awesome seeing Snoop and everybody, and it worked out good. And a lot of Hip-Hop fans love that video too.AHHA: Shortly thereafter, you guys mashed-up your follow-up single, “Coming Undone,” with Dem Franchize Boyz’ hit “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It,” for “ Coming Undone Wit It.” How did the collaboration come about?Jonathan That idea came from our label because they were on Virgin and they were like, “You should do a mash-up together.” And I was like, “F**k, I haven’t done any sh*t with any Hip-Hop artists in so long, hell yeah.” So I hooked up with them, did some vocals in the studio, just f**ked around with it and came out as cool.AHHA: Are you guys interested in following Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s lead by doing a mash-up?Jonathan Davis: Yeah, but it’s done. We could do something like that, but I don’t know how big it would be.AHHA: So, are there any rappers you’d like to work with?Jonathan Davis: Well, if the opportunity comes up. I’m not really thinking about it that much because we just got done with this record, but I’d love to do sh*t with Snoop or Lil’ Jon. AHHA: Sounds tight. Hey, I see you sporting the grills.Jonathan Davis: Yeah, I got a couple of them. Those are f**king awesome. I freak people out.AHHA: Who made your grills by the way?Jonathan Davis: Paul Wall.AHHA: Oh, he did? Jonathan Davis: Yep, I asked Lil’ Jon, “Hey dude, where the f**k do you get your sh*t?” And he was like, “Oh, I get it from Paul Wall.” I got his number, hit his email and called him up. He was all like, “I’ll hook you up.” I sent him my impressions and he hooked me up. I got a crazy rolls-gold, ruby grill, and I got the invisible set –  the Paul Wall special with all diamonds in it. It’s cool. That’s how we roll!AHHA: You say it so gangsta.Jonathan Davis: It’s how we roll. That’s just how we roll. I’m not a gangsta in the slightest, by the way. [laughs]AHHA: Don’t lie.Jonathan Davis: [laughs] I’m a little gangster.Watch Korn’s video for “Twisted Transistor” featuring Lil’ Jon, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, and David Banner