FROM SOUTH BROOKLYN TO SXSW
Brooklyn rockers Shinobi Ninja are by no means typical—their idiosyncratic sound meshes hip-hop, electronic, and rock influences into a chaotic hodge-podge of sound.
You would think this would make their music discordant, but it’s connected by a powerful, underlying force: their undying love of Brooklyn, New York. The increasingly-gentrified borough and what it used to represent resonates deep with Shinobi Ninja: bassist Alien Lex and lead singer Duke Sims born and raised in Bensonhurst, and they prize getting a rock education the Brooklyn way.
The rest of the band—rapper and female lead Baby G, twin brothers Terminator Dave and Kid Shreddi, and DJ Axis Powers—quickly accustomed to the vibes of the true Brooklyn and the hustle that comes with it.
A band that still sleeps on the floor of their tour van and do what they must to bring the party is rare these days, something the band prides themselves on. Attending their 6th SXSW this year to promote new album Bless Up, the band couldn’t be riding higher (in more ways then one; they closed their SXSW performance on the Cheers Rooftop Bar outdoor stage with “ILL ISH,” a song they recorded back in 2012 that features the refrain “Drinking, smoking weed / And all types of ill shit!”
We sat down with bassist Alien Lex and lead singers Baby G and Duke Sims after their energetic set to talk about their new album, being a true Brooklyn band, and being iconoclast ninjas artists in a world where most wouldn’t make the effort.
SHINOBI NINJA INTERVIEW
E.R. (HIGHLARK): You said this wasn’t your first SXSW.
DUKE SIMS (GUITAR + VOCALS): It’s like our 6th.
E.R.: I wanna ask you about the Brooklyn rock scene, because you identify very strongly as a Brooklyn band but I didn’t hear a lot of that in your sound. I’m wondering how you see the current scene and if it affects your sound at all.
BABY G (VOCALS): The Brooklyn rock scene?
E.R.: The indie rock scene that’s thriving in Bushwick, specifically.
DUKE: The Brooklyn rock scene is interesting because it was very, very strong a long time ago, when Adam and me were growing up in Brooklyn. L’Amour and all that. As we were making our way thru the Brooklyn rock scene, we began to notice many things about it that were very interesting; it just kind of started to disappear, and I feel that increased our fire.
We wanna do this for all the people we hung out with growing up, out of a desire to spread the love and spread the music because you have a great place like L’Amour close down, and it began a slow decline of that scene. We just wanna make it fucking burn—we just wanna fucking rock out, and we don’t wanna see anything like that happen ever again.
ALIEN LEX (BASS): I wanna add that the Brooklyn rock scene has a lot of bands we don’t know about. As OG Brooklyn people, we don’t know about the imports people that go there and say they from Brooklyn but they really not from Brooklyn. They make up part of the scene, so I don’t know if we can really speak on that because of where we’re coming from.
DUKE: The metal scene, the hardcore scene, that kinda shit is what we’re talking about. Big ups to Brooklyn, especially everyone who’s tryna rock. All the people in northern Brooklyn who we don’t know bout because we’re not from there, we love you too.
E.R.: You guys mix genres; would you strictly identify as a hardcore rock band?
BABY G: Some people have said we sound like 311, Sublime, Rage Against the Machine… people have never said to us we sound like Metallica or Megadeth, you know what I’m saying? We feel, with our music being so broad, we can play shows with those bands and play shows with other bands, so we say if we had to boil it down to two words, it’s very easy: rock hip-hop, you know? We’re a rock hip-hop band, and we have some metal in us and some pop and some funk, but we wouldn’t say we’re a hardcore band.
DUKE: We’re hardcore in our essence though; we don’t fuck around, it’s not a joke, and that’s hardcore. It doesn’t matter if you’re fucking…making wool sweaters. You can wool sweater hardcore, you know what I mean?
E.R.: And what makes you guys hardcore?
DUKE: It’s just that you gotta make it happen in this life; it’s just a matter of doing it, because life really happens really fast, especially because there’s people you know that pass away in life, and when those people pass away, you can see how thin life is. Life is like thin as a fucking hair, man, so you gotta make that shit happen. Just fucking do it, and that energy of “fucking doing it” is hardcore. And that’s what makes us hardcore, because we’re fucking doing it. It’s not a game; it’s fucking real life for us, and we do it with love and compassion. You can be hardcore loving motherfuckers, and we hardcore love you, you know what I mean?
ALIEN: You gonna play? You do it hardcore. You gonna fucking rock? You do it hardcore. You gonna work? You do it hardcore, know what I mean?
BABY G: We do a lot of things that people don’t do anymore because they’re trying to look for the easy way to get in, you know what I’m saying? On that sense too, we’re pretty hardcore. I’ve slept on the floor; how many girl artists you know now can tell you “yeah, I’ve slept on the floor before a gig,” you know what I’m saying?
DUKE: There’s people that buy sneakers at Foot Locker when their sneakers get dirty, and there are other people that fucking stay up and sleep on the line to get the new Jordans, and that’s us.
E.R.: Tell me about Bless Up.
DUKE: Our new album Bless Up is our fourth album, and it’s a really positive album. It’s about energy, positive energy, you know, and upward energy. It was originally called Chi, and chi is just energy in Eastern culture. Chi is energy, but energy can be negative and positive. Bless Up is just positive. Only about going up and being positive, and that’s what our album’s about. It has many different styles of music, the Shinobi way. It’s not just one style.
E.R.: I watched a lot of Naruto growing up, so I gotta ask if that’s where you got “Shinobi Ninja” from.
DUKE: It’s from the video game Shinobi. it’s a classic video game, just like Mario Bros. is a classic. They’ve had it for every system: Playstation 1, 2, 3…it’s a classic. They’re actually making a movie right now on Shinobi. The twin’s [guitarist Kid Shreddi and drummer Terminator Dave] mom is an architect, and when we first started the band, we were rehearsing in a house that looked extremely Oriental. The combo of me loving Shinobi growing up and this ninja house…Shinobi Ninja.
E.R.: Are y’all ninjas?
BABY G: We’re ninjas—they don’t see us coming.
DUKE: Yeah, man! You know we’re ninjas. You hear our voice, but you can’t see us. [Holding his hand up]. What am I doing? How many fingers am I holding up right now? You can’t see.
ALIEN: Nobody in the band has learned new ninjutsu; however, I am an orange belt in taekwondo, so I am the only one with actual martial arts experience. [Laugh] We’re ninjas in spirit, I will say that for sure as the martial arts “expert” in the band. [Laugh]. I had some stripes, I broke the board a couple times. You gotta do it. You can’t get the orange belt if you don’t break the board!
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