ABOVE: CHAMPAGNE JERRY. IMAGE COURTESY OF MAX TANNONE
Though Neal Medlyn began rapping in high school, it took a 12-year hiatus and the pseudonym Champagne Jerry to ignite his passion for dropping rhymes again. Rather than rehashing the genre’s well-trod subjects, sex and money, Champagne Jerry (assisted by his entourage, “The Champagne Club”) possesses a unique swagger that could be attributed to his oversized neck piece, the giant bottles of champagne on stage, or just his ability to rap a crude love song to CNN anchorwoman Erin Burnett. Although most of the songs were written in one night while on tour, they are established, playful, and catchy—and headed for an album release later this year. We met up with Medlyn in the East Village over glasses of rosé to chat about pop culture, career goals, and high-school memories.
AGE: I don’t really like to say anymore. I just decided recently I’m embarrassed about my age.
HOMETOWN: Palestine, Texas
CURRENT LOCATION: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
HIGH SCHOOL RHYMES: I started rapping in high school with my friend Chris. We decided we were going to start this rap group and do all this super-political hip-hop. We did a halftime show at some high school basketball game in some nearby town, but it was kind of a disaster. It was so echo-y we couldn’t hear what was happening. We were totally off the beat. We didn’t get a lot of other gigs.
BECOMING CHAMPAGNE JERRY: My parents couldn’t think of a name to come between Neal and Medlyn, and so they just put Jerry in the front. Some of my friends found out Jerry is my first name, and we were at a party one night, and there was a cooler of beer, except everybody had drank everything except this giant bottle of Champagne. And so I opened it and I was just walking around drinking that all night, and then the next day they were like, “Oh, you were Champagne Jerry last night, that’s who you became.”
SELF-AWARENESS: I’m sort of obsessed with this concept I call Tampa Realness. Tampa Realness is just America: sinkholes, murders, neon underpants, Four Loko, 808 bass, and dreams. Champagne Jerry is all those same things, plus Champagne.
EARLY IMPRESSIONS: When I was growing up, the two bands that changed my whole life were Public Enemy and Bikini Kill. Neither one’s message was necessarily intended for me, but I really believed and really loved everything they were saying. I felt it, it was real for me.
THE SHOW: To me, the name, Champagne Jerry, says most of what people need to know. It’s like something that’s super-awesome and seems super-fancy, but the closer you get to it, it’s not really all that fancy, but it’s still awesome.
POP CULTURAL ABSTRACTION: An underlying premise for all of my work is that growing up, I saw all this pop-culture stuff as way weirder than it seems. Ke$ha, you know, with paint all over coming out wearing a Native American headdress—what the fuck is happening there? But when it’s in a music video, we all accept that abstraction, but something at the MOMA is like, “Oh, I dunno, that’s very weird.” I feel like people are processing that information on some level, yet sometimes people making things think, “Oh, it has to have some narrative thread,” and I’m like, [laughs] “No, I don’t think so!”
ON THE SPECIAL EFFECTS TO-DO LIST: I don’t know what song this would go to, but I definitely want to show a whole bunch of blood to come rushing out from somewhere. Like, to come pouring across the stage, just tons of it. This could happen, too—I’m doing the whole show behind Plexiglas, but you can’t tell on the TV, and all of a sudden blood starts to pour down the Plexiglas to obscure me, and I’m writing things in the blood. That would be good.
KEVIN’S SONG: I often call people “Kevin” as a generalized nickname, especially when I’m mad. Once, on my softball team, the guy playing left field was giving me a really hard time, and it annoyed me and I turned around and yelled at him in the middle of the game, “Quit fucking yelling at me, Kev!,” and then that became a whole thing. Adam [Ad-Rock Horovitz] had given me a beat and then suggested I name the song “Yo Kev,” and then now it’s a real thing that exists in the world.
DREAM VENUE: I would really like to do MTV Music Awards because I feel like that’s where people whip out the really crazy shit. Like, several years ago when Eminem had 500 people that looked like him walk through the aisle, or when OutKast had the teepee in the middle of the stage that took off into outer space at the end. The amount of money and facilities they were able to throw at that to make it happen, I was like, “That would be amazing.” Just really be able to make something insane.