Originally posted in Jump Magazine (cover story for the 2012 Fall issue).
Neon paint spills on the floor creating a pink, blue and green path for the crowd. The ultra-hipster kids have arrived with their dreads, ripped T-shirts and drugged out dance moves, but they’re not alone. A swarm of hip-hop fanatics makes their presence known, swaying to the beats of the DJ while prepping for the main event. Girls with barely-there outfits and skintight jeans smear body paint on one another, struggling to strap on as many glow bracelets as their wrists will allow.
Blunts are passed around like candy, forming a cloud of smoke that overpowers the effects of the fog machine. Behind dark shades, a man with a red streak in his hair holds a Bud Ice in one hand, a bottle of cheap liquor in the other and balances a cigarette on the edges of his lips while still managing to bust out some dance moves. He’s glowing under the blue rays of the black light, and he makes one thing very clear – he doesn’t give a damn what you think of him.
This is the party before the main event. This is the pregame that lasts all night. This is the home of the social misfits, the individuals, the kids who give a middle finger to anything or anyone who tries to tell them no.
“Welcome to Blonde Gang,” laughs Jamiil Hankins.
Hankins oversees the music video shoot for 2nd Child, a group branched off of Philadelphia’s very own do-it-yourself music collective, Blonde Gang. For him, this isn’t a chance to party and bullshit – it’s his opportunity to make sure everything runs smoothly, to make sure that the members of the group branded in 2011 are all where they need to be, when they need to be there.
Hankins, Bok Nero, Kidd Sweeny, Lyve, Plane Walker, Sik, Reese and Shy The Social Misfit are the foundation of the movement which was born through a spur of the moment meeting. They each take on their fair share of jobs. From performing and writing to promoting and marketing, Blonde Gang makes it all happen within their own trusted circle. And this eclectic group of guys, well known for their fabulously freaky hairstyles, does not discriminate when it comes to music.
Dubstep, pop, rock, punk, rap – they experiment with it all. And when added to their guiding message that it’s okay to be yourself, you have a Philadelphia force of musical innovation that cannot and will not back down.
“I always try to reinvent myself,” says Nero, who started with battle rap and hip-hop before evolving to beats influenced by pop and punk. “Everyone can relate to emotions but not everyone can relate to a genre.”
Changing up his sound, he says, helps him relate to Blonde Gang’s very diverse crowd.
Finally, the cameras start rolling and the crowd starts moving their way to the background. It’s Sik and Shy’s turn to shine and they quietly convert from faces in the crowd to the stars of the show. Silly string is shot into the air, and the girls fight over who can get the closest to the main attraction. Suddenly, Shy breaks his way out of the crowd to make his debut.
The lyrics to “Girls Like to Party” start blasting through the speakers and Shy, impossible to miss with a perfected hot pink Mohawk, stares down the camera, focusing on each word, in sync with the catchy hip-hop melody. His partner, Sik, isn’t far behind, his sunglasses unable to hide his intensity. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t break the beat and they manage to turn this beat-down warehouse into a private concert, brimming with energy.
The rest of Blonde Gang soon follows – pink, red and blue hair standing out on the sidelines. They’re there for support. They’re making sure that together or separately, everything is flawless. It’s not always easy for the members of Blonde Gang to prove themselves as individual entities.
“Everybody always wants Blonde Gang as a whole,” Nero stresses, “and they don’t understand that if you get someone from Blonde Gang, it’s a good alternative.”
“We don’t want to see our brother fail, no matter what,” Kidd Sweeny says, hiding behind his sunglasses. “We are a brand, so if my brother fails, I fail.”
But despite their fight to be recognized as separate artists, you can be sure to recognize these guys on the streets of Philly. With outrageous hair styles that are quickly becoming popular among celebrities like Wiz Khalifa, Chris Brown and Pharrell, Blonde Gang maintains a look that truly highlights their belief in individualism.
Nero, who sports streaks on the sides of his head, first dyed his hair while living in Los Angeles, hoping others would be roused to showcase their own uniqueness. Marilyn Monroe, who Nero describes as “the ultimate rebel” inspired his vibrant style.
“It was amazing to be able to express how I feel on the inside,” Nero says, smiling.
But, he remains cautious of letting his hair outshine his talents.
“I don’t want my hair to define me as an artist,” he says. “I don’t want to be known as the blue hair dude. I want to be known as Bok Nero. He’s an entertainer. He does everything. I don’t want to live in the shadow of my hair.”
Nero shouldn’t worry about fans loosing focus on his music – it’s just as unconventional as his hair. Inspired by a wide range of free-spirited artists such as Freddy Mercury, Bruce Springsteen, 2 Cocky 2 Care and Dosage, as well as historic rebels like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, he ensures his shows are outlandishly engaging.
Jumping into the crowd, wearing a cape during his performances and riding a bike on stage are just a few of Nero’s past performance tactics.
“As Blonde Gang, we do a lot of creative, outrageous stuff to bring people out of their comfort zones,” he says. “If I embarrass myself, you’ll feel more comfortable doing something outgoing.”
Blonde Gang doesn’t just want people to embrace their own sound; they strive for Philadelphia as a whole to start accepting and appreciating all that the city has to offer in music.
“I think Philadelphia invests too much in one person at a time,” Nero says. “You have Chiddy Bang over here. You have Meek Mill over here. Show the world that we have variety, you know?”
Plane Walker, who credits Blonde Gang’s sound to the influence of the city, wishes Philly would be more “accepting” to music.
“The crazy thing about it is the one thing people hate about the music in this city is there’s no versatility,” he explains. “But then they’re not supporting anything different.”
But despite the fact that both Walker and Nero think living in Los Angeles or New York would up their odds of making it into the big-time, neither plan to leave the city their style developed in.
“It’s one thing to go somewhere else and blow up and make an impact, which I wouldn’t mind doing,” Nero says, “but it’s like, you can’t bring everyone you grew up with to L.A. or another city. Being in Philadelphia, people get a chance to see you grow. They see that you changed things. They see it happen before their eyes.”
And it’s not the money that matters to Blonde Gang – they’re just aiming for the continued health and happiness of each member of the collective.
“As long as they report their taxes and they’re happy at the end of the day, I like that,” Sweeny says, letting his emotions cut through his composure. “That’s what I want.”
It’s a Saturday morning, and the members of Blonde Gang manage to squeeze in an extra event for the day – a 5K walk for sickle cell disease, something Walker has struggled with since a young age. They’re not fulfilling any duties or promoting their group; they’re simply supporting a friend. With their dark glasses, expensive shoes and beyond bright hair, Nero, Walker, Hankins and Sweeny show off their custom “Team Plane” T-shirts, gathering for a group picture.
“Okay, take one with your ice grill,” Sweeny shouts.
But everyone’s too busy laughing and talking to get it right.
“Yo, we got to be serious,” he jokingly yells, initiating attempt number two.
“Say ‘Blonde Gang,’” someone shouts from the back.
Everyone manages to get in sync for the one-two-three click of the camera, modeling their best straight-faced stares.
The truth is, Blonde Gang is anything from intimidating. They’re their city’s biggest advocators, their bandmates’ leading enthusiasts and their fans’ number one source of encouragement.
“I want it to be like, ‘If he could do it, I can do it,’” Nero stresses. “Sometimes that’s what people need as opposed to looking up to someone great.”