‘Headbangers’

Headbangers’ hip-hop band Midwest Avengers celebrates 29 years of music. Members left to right: Cholo Joe, Moses, Zo Prophet, Kourtwithakay, Mace the Kid, So'N'So, and John Harrington.

Nov. 17th marked 29 years the punk rock-rap band Midwest Avengers has professionally been making music, mainly performing and doing shows.

John Harrington, one of the group’s co-founding members, said in the 1990s, he and the other original members went to many house parties, beatboxed, breakdanced and rapped. They decided on the name Midwest Avengers because they represent the midwest and come with a vengeance. He said at the time, St. Louis wasn’t receiving a lot of attention, especially nationally, for its hip-hop, as this was years before Nelly appeared on the scene and put the city on the map. Since then, they have been touring, playing shows, and releasing new music.

One might wonder why the band chose to combine the genres of punk rock and hip-hop together, Harrington said the decision was very much intentional and reminiscent of Harrington’s upbringing.

While living in University City and attending its school district, he said he was exposed to diversity, where his love for skateboarding and heavy metal hardcore music stems. His appreciation for all things rock was always there, as his love for hip-hop was also.

“I always stayed connected and rooted in hip-hop because that’s my culture. That’s what I grew up on,” he said. “My cousins always had mixtapes or the latest albums that came out.”

The group was once just a rap group consisting of about 30 members on stage. Harrington said they aspired to be the “St. Louis Wu-Tang,” but it didn’t go as planned. He said the group’s sound suffered from chords getting mixed up and technical malfunctions from their cd skipping.

He said no one was really taking the work behind the group seriously. He also said everyone was worried about having fun rather than getting a record deal and trying to be famous. That all changed when one day Harrington said the group needed to step its game up, with that came paying for studio sessions and properly structuring songs together.

In that moment, he said he saw who was serious about the craft and who wasn’t as different members began dropping out since now they were investing money for better results.

He said local musician Andrew Franklin suggested starting a live band meshing funk, metal, punk, hip-hop, and rock together. Harrington said this came before the genre became popular with music from Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit.

“We even coined a term calling it ‘head banger’ hip-hop because the white boys back in the day listened to metal, and we called them headbangers,” he said. “Our music is that and hip-hop, so we mixed it together, and that’s what we call our style of music.”

Midwest Avengers has maintained moderate success locally, but Harrington said they’ve always received more love in bigger cities such as Los Angeles and New York. A lot of what it comes from is they’ve never desired going mainstream because they’ve always wanted to be authentic to their persona and style of music.

“Midwest Avengers have been around forever. We never really cracked that international, national record deal type thing because we never wanted one,” he said. “Before everybody was independent, we were independent back in the 1990s. We were selling 1,000 tapes out the trunk for $5 a pop. We were making good money. We thought at least we were putting in five, six, seven, hundred dollars and after costs, we were making $4,500.”

He said pursuit of a deal was never in the plan for them but they did however score a radio hit back in 2000 on 105.7 The Point. The song attracted a lot of record labels calling Harrington’s house. He said it was a great feeling to have but he didn’t want what came with it which meant a lot of changes would have to happen.

“They wanted to change us completely, change our style, get rid of some members, have other people write for us and have us dress differently, but we weren’t into that because that’s not what we do,” he said. “We speak about real life and about what’s going on here in the streets of St. Louis. We can’t be out here rapping about something we are not living.”

He also said he’s serious about loyalty since some of the members were people he grew up with and came up with while trying to tap into the local scene.

He said the group prides itself on diversity and is accepting and inclusive of people from all backgrounds and walks of life. For the first time ever in its almost 29-year history, the group has a woman member, Kourtney “KourtwitaKay,” a singer and vocal arranger who grew up singing in church.

“It's good to have a woman’s point of view since we haven’t had it in close to 30 years because it hasn’t presented itself the way it did with her,” he said.

This is also the first time the band is 100% people of color. The original six members had three white members and three Black. Now the group is one-third Latino with two Hispanic/Native American members and four Black members.

“It's an exciting time to see where this is gonna lead us,” he said.

Midwest Avengers’ music is available on all digital streaming platforms.

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