Shakin' tha Foundation

A pair of South Florida rappers takes on Cheney, Ashcroft, and Taco Bell

Haviken Hayes unloops dozens of cords and cables as he reassembles and reconnects his turntables and one-man sound system. He and his musical partner, JG, the sole members of Over the Counter Intelligence, are still riding high this recent Wednesday evening after performing during antiwar and antiglobalization protests in Washington, D.C., on April 12 and 13. The two 25-year-olds and their equipment are crowded into Hayes' bedroom, which is in a Hollywood duplex he shares with his mother and little sister. One wall is covered with an oversized flag of Puerto Rico, the birthplace of Hayes, who sports lengthy chin whiskers, wire-rimmed glasses, and a knit hat.

Sitting straight-backed on the bed and trying to give his collaborator ample room, JG talks with the stamina of a college professor. The son of Haitian immigrants, he wears a camouflage jacket, white T-shirt, khaki pants, and a black cap. He rushes breathlessly through a jag about South Florida apathy, telling the story of how a couple of career-minded Gen-Y'ers from South Florida became the scourge of American corporate greed while assuming high-profile roles as the electrifying rapping stars of a burgeoning civil rights movement:

"It's almost appalling to the populace of Miami for anyone to deliver some type of knowledge or criticism or truth in music -- and, yes, I know that my truth might not be someone else's." He adopts the stance of an ordinary ignoramus: "'No, we want to go to South Beach and get ridiculously intoxicated. We want to get high and take X.'"

No Rx required: Over the Counter Intelligence's Haviken Hayes handles the turntables as JG fumes over injustice and avarice
Colby Katz
No Rx required: Over the Counter Intelligence's Haviken Hayes handles the turntables as JG fumes over injustice and avarice

To underscore the assertion, Hayes interrupts, pretending that a few of JG's words have hit home. "'Raving? X?'" he queries in mock enthusiasm.

Undeterred, JG continues his mimicking. "'We don't want to hear about the Zapatistas, the Sandinistas, the new Black Panther Party, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal. We don't want to hear about opposition to the death penalty, the Haitians, the INS. And we definitely don't want to hear about antiwar. That is bad.' Because you've got the stereotypical hate clones -- Rush Limbaugh, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney -- preaching to the American public that if you are opposed to the war, not only are you not patriotic, you are a traitor."

JG's face possesses the sharp features of a young and lean Muhammad Ali. As Hayes prompts the mix for "Ode to a Champagne Toast," a sardonic skoal to the status quo, the likeness between MC and boxer becomes more striking. JG jabs and pokes the air in front of him, his mouth snarling through rhymes. At times, he seems to spar with Hayes, who intermittently spits out a word or two to emphasize certain lyrics. "When my swollen visage was deep in tha sod/And twitched like hooked cod," JG raps, then shoots his arm into the air and yelps, "Where tha fuck was God?"

The music of Over the Counter Intelligence has been brewing for several years, but only recently have JG (Joel Gay) and Hayes (Edwin Guerra) found an audience for their rage against the political machine. (Commercial success for socially conscious bands, however, is far more elusive, though the likes of Dead Kennedys, System of a Down, and Dead Prez have managed to achieve it.) In late February, they traveled to California under the auspices of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to perform during a ten-day hunger strike by farm workers at the headquarters of Taco Bell. The coalition began a boycott against the corporation more than two years ago. Immokalee workers earn 40 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained unchanged since 1978. The workers have asked Taco Bell for a one-cent increase per pound, which would double the average picker's annual pay from $7,500.

The duo composed "Hunger Days" for the event, in which JG's lyrics ask, "One fundamental question/For tha Taco Hounds/1 more penny per pound/Won't shake tha foundation down." The song offers the straight-to-the-point and catchy hook, "We'll all boycott Taco Bell."

"We hadn't had a song written for the boycott before," coalition spokesman Greg Asbed says. "The song became a real rallying force. It got people excited. They're excellent performers, and the song captures the feeling of the boycott, of the community of people standing up to corporations, that human rights must be respected. We just think this is what music should be. In this day and age, music should not be separated from our political lives. There shouldn't be an escape from real life through music."

"Basically our music deals with indigenous causes, like Zapatistas and the Chiapans' plight in Mexico," JG explains. "Our music is definitely antiglobalization. We vehemently oppose NAFTA, the INS, World Bank -- or at least, how they've come to affect the Third World. One of the biggest issues of our music is the Haitians who are detained, unconstitutionally and indefinitely, at Krome Detention Center [in Miami-Dade County]. It's discouraging to see the wealth of young Haitians, kids like myself who have been educated in the United States, who are so apathetic." The Haitian-American community in Miami hasn't mobilized during rallies sponsored by the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center, he contends. "So you have 30 or 35 people at these rallies," he grouses. "It's horrible, embarrassing."

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