The Jawz of Rock & Rap
By Donna Letterese
Dennis "Jawz" Pitts is a musician whose work uses elements of white and black rock and rap. While he knows there is a divide between what ethnicities listen to certain genres, he believes that music does not have to be so divided. As a bi-racial American and performer, he strives to create songs that are unifying, compelling, controversial and engaging.
How did you get started in the music industry?
I had a metal band in the nineties, where I played guitar and sang. I joined two other bands after that. During that time, I was listening to a lot of New York based hip-hop, particularly an artist called Big L. Around 1999, I began to write my first raps. At the time, my older sister was a reggae dance hall artist. She told me that my rhymes sounded good, which motivated me to keep going.
It sounds like you have been inspired by music for a long time. Has it been since childhood?
Yes, I grew up on hip-hop and rock and roll. As a teen, I wrote rock guitar songs. When it later came time for me to write raps, I initially was creating rhymes. But as I kept at it, I began to come up with more complex lyrics, something I am now known for. Many artists have influenced me: Big L, as I mentioned, and the Notorious B.I.G. are two of my favorites in hip-hop. As for rock, I'm very inspired by Kiss. That said, Megadeth is my biggest metal influence, along with Slayer, which I listen to almost every day.
How has your music changed over the years?
I believe that when you're writing, you don't know who you are. But you write your way back to yourself. Growing up half-white and half-black often made me feel stuck in-between. So when I put down the guitar to focus on writing hip-hop, I felt out of my element. People liked my lyrical raps, but didn't understand why I wasn't using slang. And as I wrote those lyrics, I realized I was still that guitarist from before. With my CD "Audio Dope," released in 2005 and re-released in 2010, I put in rock and roll vocals with the raps.
Can you talk a bit more about how growing up mixed-race in America has influenced your music?
Rock and roll was black in origin, but ultimately became music for a mostly white audience. Hip-hop was black in origin, and it maintained that following. I am a black man and a white man, and I've always been torn between both worlds. Yet, I believe that these two historically separated genres of music can be anchored together. I want that experience of melding two worlds together to become more of a normality.
Would you say that you blend together hip-hop and rock in your music?
I don't perform what people call "rap-rock." Some rappers who perform rock and roll think it's only about growling and heavy guitars, which it isn't. I've been likened to both Billy Idol and Eminem. The album I'm currently working on is an album with some strictly hip-hop songs, and others that are strictly rock and roll. There are also songs that have elements of both genres, the mixture of which meld the record together.
Along with your music, you are also known for your costumes. How did you come up with them, and which do you wear onstage?
I have more of a solid image, the way Kiss did. My costume centerpiece is a gauntlet, which I had custom-made when I lived in New York City. It's a spiked, seven-piece arm kit that takes ten minutes to put on. My signature vinyl pants are created by a New York based designer. On top, I wear a collared vest, which I sketched the initial design for. Finally, I wear Adidas "shell-toe" sneakers, which round out the ensemble with a hip-hop element. When in costume, I become a new character who nobody has ever seen rap before.
What do you hope to get across with your music?
I am very pro-America, patriotic, and passionate about racial politics. I want to push racial equality forward using my music. I do not think America will properly progress without a true understanding that it is okay for black people and white people to be together. That's what drives my work. My fans can see this, and I know that both my rock and roll and my hip-hop audiences see that I'm authentic in what I do. I've never been in the military, but creating this art is my contributing to the free world and to this country.
What have been some recent projects, and what plans do you have in the future?
I just recently performed on July 16th at a fundraiser in Hollywood, at the Pig and Whistle Bar. I'm also going to be opening a concert for the New York City based rapper, Slick Rick. The date for that event is being set.
My next project is called "White or Black, Rock or Rap." It will be an EP, set for release on September 20th, 2013. The single "White or Black" is currently available for free on my new website. While I am currently a self-produced musician, my current goal is to be working with an established booking agent by 2014. From there, we'll see where things go."
To learn more about Dennis "Jawz" Pitts, his upcoming performances, and for the free download of "White or Black," visit: JawzMuzik.com.
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