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Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008

House of M

Saves the World, One Rap Song At a Time

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Gambit is summarizing the namesake for his 12-member rap group, the Marvel Comics crossover epic House of M. “Basically, there’s this character, the Scarlet Witch, who can change realities and probabilities,” he explains. “She has this big mental breakdown, and she ends up changing the whole Marvel world. It’s up to all the superheroes in the Marvel universe to band together and get the world back to normal.

As his X-Men-derived alias suggests, Gambit has a passion for comics in general, but this particular story line has special relevance for him. “It symbolizes our group,” he says. “We’re coming together because the whole atmosphere of hip-hop has changed. We’re trying to save hiphop from the negative image that it’s picked up.”

Bonded by their shared disillusionment with how modern rap prizes materialism over individualism, House of M—Milwaukee’s, not Marvel’s—formed last year, after Gambit pitched the idea of a Wu-Tang Clanstyled super group to his rapper friends.

Like the Wu-Tang Clan, the dozen, mostly fledgling members of House of M—A.P.R.I.M.E., Dana Coppafeel, Deadbeat, Dylan Thomas, D’Matikk, Gambit, Haz Solo, Lou-Tang, Professor Ecks, The S. Dork, Trellmatic and Young Focus—united in hopes of making a greater name for themselves. And much as the Wu-Tang Clan spun their love of martial arts films into a sprawling mythology, House of M flaunt their own idiosyncratic interests.

“We’re all just a bunch of geeks, basically,” Gambit says. “Some of us are more into comic books than others, but we all have a passion for creativity. Haz Solo, for instance, isn’t a big comics fan, but he’s really into Star Wars. And Young Focus is the youngest of the group. He’s only 21, so he doesn’t even get a lot of the stuff we reference, but he’s really into all these old-school, ’80s cartoons.

“And me? I’m addicted to action figures, all kinds of them,” Gambit boasts. “I even have a little wrestling ring for them. I still play with them. I honestly think they’ve helped me become as creative as I am. Playing with toys, you have to create your own story lines; just like you do in rap music.”

So far House of M’s marketing strategy seems to be paying off. Audiences have taken notice, if only because it’s difficult not to notice when a herd of emcees with large Ms inked on their palms bounds onto a stage and begins rapping about mutants.

“You should see the faces at some of the places we play,” Gambit says. “Last fall, some of us did a show at Nostalgia, a bar that usually hosts music like the stuff you hear on BET and the radio; booty-shaking, trap music. So when we got there and started talking about reading comic books and having super-powers, the audience was taken off guard for the first song or two. But just because of our enthusiasm, I think we won them over. We’re not self-conscious about who we are, and for the most part people respect that.”

House of M is in the early stages of planning a debut album, but in the meantime, individual members have been prolific. Haz Solo alone has released more than a half-dozen albums and mix-tapes, and promises plenty more. “In the next year, I’ll be completing 16 albums of new material,” he says.

“I’ve already dropped one on New Year’s Day, called Hazzy New Year, and then a new one on Valentine’s Day, called She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not.” Between the main group, their side projects and their individual members’ sets, House of M-affiliated artists now play at least three or four shows a week. For Gambit, that success is bittersweet. The House of M brand name is solidifying nicely, but between all the members’ outside commitments—not least of which, of course, are their day jobs—assembling the entire crew has become a daunting task. “That’s the hardest thing about a group like this,” Gambit says, “getting everybody in the same place at the same time.”