It's tough at first, anyway to think of the rap-electronica duo 3oh!3 as anything more than a joke.
Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte are just a couple of white twentysomethings raised in Boulder and educated at their hometown University of Colorado. And they just happen to be heavily into hip-hop. So when they met in a physics class in 2003, they decided to make music together.
"We wanted to do something hip-hop-motivated with more energy behind it," Foreman says, following a discussion of the lackluster hip-hop shows he's attended in the past. "There's a lot that are pretty bad. It's the same with rock shows."
So it's no wonder then, that 3oh!3 (the name's taken from the duo's hometown area code) performances come off as a little jokey, if not over-the-top: The two rap over Lil' Jon-inspired beats, prance about the stage engaged in swordfights and spit rhymes like they're coming straight outta Compton. Take this gem from their song "Holler Till You Pass Out": "You's a punk bitch if you don't know 'bout Boulder! / Your girl's a freak, 'cause that's what I told her!" (Note the exclamation points in there they're not accidental. These lyrics are spewed with a legit vigor.)
"Some people don't think about the showmanship," Foreman says.
But it's an important part of 3oh!3's act. The two will do anything to entertain a crowd like, during the group's last trip to The Black Sheep, when they opened with a country song, just to throw the audience off.
"The kids were probably like, "What the fuck?'" Foreman says. "But that's our goal to have fun."
"I mean... we have fun. Maybe it's one-sided."
Not likely. The band's kind of like the class clown the goofball you used to always keep an eye on during recess, the slapstick-inspired fiend that would run face-first into a wall for a chuckle, the one about whom you used to wonder, "Is this kid for real?"
Not surprisingly, it's a question Foreman's been asked before.
"The kids have questions," he admits. "And I don't even know if we have all the answers. We love this kind of music it's not about patronizing hip-hop. But it's supposed to be humorous."
And it is. The duo's music video for "Holler Till You Pass Out" (available on their MySpace page, myspace.com/3oh3) looks like it could've inspired the now-infamous "Saturday Night Live" digital short "Lazy Sunday," which became an overnight YouTube sensation by featuring cast members rapping about The Chronicles of Narnia.
That video was a joke, though. And Foreman's not about to openly admit that his group is, too.
Because, he says, maybe they're not.
"We want hip-hop fans to enjoy the music," he says, "and to not be discouraged because they're not a gang-banger."
He says it with enough of a sincerity that you want to believe him.
And then the conversation turns to the fact that the members 3oh!3 and their growing legion of fans have their own gang sign.
Maybe it is a joke, after all.
But, really, does it matter? 3oh!3 and their fans are having a good time either way.
3oh!3 with The Life There Is and Death to a Hero
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Friday, Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $8 in advance, $10 day of show; visit ticketweb.com.