10 p.m. Friday, March 15 | Jessie's Lounge, 118 Third St. SW, Winter Haven | 863-298-9815 | $15-$20
What happened to Afroman, the Chinese-eyed author of "Because I Got High," the world's first Internet viral hit? He received a six-record deal from Universal and was nominated for a Grammy, then parted ways with the label after one record, slipping into an obscurity similar to other pop-culture oddities like the Macarena.
So where in the world is Afroman?
The answer comes in a lilting croon from the receiver of my phone: "If you ever wondered whatever became of me," sings Afroman to the theme of the popular '80s sitcom. "I'm smoking up some weed in Cincinnati, Cincinnati WKRP."
Though familiar to most for his humorous, sometimes profane raps, Afroman (born Joseph Foreman), is actually a fine singer. (His mother's a high-school music teacher.) He's also a pretty good guitarist. He'd given it up during his teens when he got into rap, then rediscovered it after he started recording and releasing his own music. Now, he accompanies himself live on a double-neck guitar along with pre-recorded music beds.
Consigned to the one-hit wonder bin, he struggled with others' unwillingness to give him a fair listen. In time, he came to appreciate that he'd even had one hit. It opened the door for him to make a career on the road, and his fun-loving party performances (which first found a home on college campuses, natch) have afforded him a strong grass-roots following here and abroad.
"I'll be an old man somewhere with a corncob pipe going, 'Because I got high.' I wouldn't care," he says from his Ohio tour stop. "I'd smile. If I was Arnold, I'd put on a bunch of diamond rings. I'd have two blondes next to me, and I'd say, hang on ladies, 'Whatchu talking 'bout, Willis?'"
Musical success is often like the lottery – you can get it all at once, or spread it out in small payments across a lifetime. Though Afroman would probably have preferred attention hadn't come in one lump payment, he's forged on like any true musician, bowing to the grind of the road. And like any true performer, it wasn't really a choice. "It's like sex to me," he says. "I can't stop now."
Overall, he has 15 releases showcasing underappreciated versatility and musicality. There's no denying his prodigious catalog is spotty. But then, so is Saturday Night Live [Editor's note: Justin Timberlake-hosted episodes excluded, obviously]. Similarly, there are a variety of gems mixed in, like his spoof of the Black Eyed Peas, "My Chunk"; the skillful narrative about his old L.A. community, "Palmdale"; or comically downtrodden odes like "I Live in a Van."
He's not a highbrow delight; more like Biz Markie, 2 Live Crew and Dolemite rolled into one. But beneath the dirty limerick lyrics, self-effacing slackerdom and silly slapstick is goofy, life-affirming charm that cries, "We're just here to have a good time, right?"
"At the end of the day I'm a good person. I just need some pussy, that's all," he clowns. "One day someone is going to fuck me, and it's all going to be OK."
Somehow you know that's not going to happen.
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