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Oct 25, 2011
San Jose rapper Kung Fu Vampire sinks his teeth into success

San Jose rapper Kung Fu Vampire sinks his teeth into success - San Jose Mercury News

Kung Fu Vampire is photographed moments before hitting the stage at the Catalyst nightclub in Santa Cruz, Calif. on Friday, July 13, 2012. He's a local, San Jose, "gothic rapper," a hip-hop artist that puts one a theatrical horror-movie-like concert. (Dan Honda/Staff)

A vampire walks among us.

And you'd better beware, because although he doesn't want to suck your blood, he does know kung fu.

Meet Kung Fu Vampire, San Jose's answer to Alice Cooper, KISS and Marilyn Manson -- only with a hip-hop twist. He uses martial arts, dark theatrics, gothic garb, biting off-color humor and one of the best stage names in the business to help entice listeners to his musical lair.

It seems to be working. The rapper -- who will not give his real name -- is a solid draw at local clubs and appears on his way to becoming the latest Bay Area musical export. He's about to embark on a 40-city tour to support his new album, "Love Bites," that's slated to be released on -- when else? -- Halloween. The tour kicks off at Oakland's Metro Opera House club on Friday and is scheduled to close Dec. 8 with a gig at the Blank Club in his hometown San Jose.

All this comes just a few months after Kung Fu Vampire finished his last tour.

"The tour was grueling," Kung Fu Vampire said in interview after the tour. "We did 41 shows in 46 days."

Big plans

The tour found the Vampire sharing the stage with such artists as the Insane Clown Posse and Potluck, often in front of crowds of 2,000 or more. And while he's happy that he seems to draw packed houses at such Bay Area clubs as the Blank and the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, he wants more.

"I should be playing the (5,000-seat) San
Jose Event Center," he says.

Perhaps that's to come for the hip-hop antihero and his band (currently featuring bassist Jeremy Pollett and drummer Chris Paxton), which also goes by the handle Kung Fu Vampire.

"KFV is one of the most professional bands we've worked with," says Corey O'Brien, owner of the Blank Club. "Sure they should be bigger, but I don't think KFV is willing to sacrifice the integrity of the band for stardom."

The thing is, he wants both. Don't let the garish
Kung Fu Vampire is photographed moments before hitting the stage at the Catalyst nightclub in Santa Cruz, Calif. on Friday, July 13, 2012. He's a local, San Jose, "gothic rapper," a hip-hop artist that puts on a theatrical horror-movie-like concert. (Dan Honda/Staff) ( Dan Honda )
costume, cartoonish image and over-the-top violent lyrics fool you, this is a Vampire with a serious work ethic.

King Fu Vampire has worked hard to build a buzz for the "Love Bites" album, which he recorded in Oakland. He was also featured on the E-40 cut, "Zombie," which has collected more than half a million views on YouTube alone.

The Vampire thinks his time is now, which is why he's willing to go back on the road after only a few months at home.

"It's all on my shoulders," he says. "If I stop now, nobody is going to hand me anything."

Family Vampire

The downside is the feverish touring schedule cuts into his No. 1 job -- proud papa of Violet, his 1 1/2-year-old daughter.

"I'm a dad first and a rapper second," he says. "I like to go on walks with my child."

No, he doesn't don vampire garb or blood-covered fangs for these walks. But if he did, he says, Violet wouldn't mind. She doesn't find her father's alter-ego frightening at all.

"She likes it," he says. "Fear is taught. She's just like, 'That's daddy!'"

Violet might be Kung Fu Vampire's youngest fan. But she's certainly not the only admirer not old enough to drive herself to Kung Fu Vampire shows. Teens and preteens have bought into this vampire's world -- which is a far more macabre place than hunky bloodsucker Edward and his true love, Bella, share in the "Twilight" saga.

"I think I'm his biggest fan," says 13-year-old Burgandy Acosta, of Stockton. "I have his autograph and his T-shirts and his tank tops and everything."

Burgandy, an eighth-grader, says she prefers Kung Fu Vampire to Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne or any of the other acts that her friends go for. She even attended one of the Vampire's "awesome" shows, with the blessing of her parents.

"My parents listen to him, too," she says.

The horror

Kung Fu Vampire is most frequently linked to the hip-hop subgenre known as horrorcore, which has drawn a cultlike following -- as well as quite a bit of controversy -- with its graphic usage of horrific imagery and themes in its lyrics.

Detractors blast horrorcore for its subject matter -- songs often deal in such matters as murder, rape, Satanism or cannibalism -- while proponents counter that it's all just fiction and no more dangerous than a Wes Craven film or a Stephen King novel.

Kung Fu Vampire understands why he's lumped in with that crowd. He works and tours with a number of horrorcore acts, and -- for Count Dracula's sake -- certainly dresses the part. Yet, he refuses to label himself as a horrorcore artist, offering up the term "gothic hip-hop" as a better fit.

"My lyrical content is not shocking," says Kung Fu Vampire, separating himself from horrorcore artists. "My shock factor is in the music and the visual -- not the lyric. I want my music to bring you to that dark level -- (to meet) whatever your demons are."

What he's shooting in his music is a "Tim Burton-style scare" in which "you know you are about to get your head cut off," even if the lyrics don't necessarily say that you are. The Vampire says he doesn't have to tell listeners that there's danger lurking just around the corner -- they can feel it in the ominous music.

It's no wonder Kung Fu Vampire puts at least as much emphasis on the sound as he does the lyrics, given that he grew up playing music (bass and other instruments) in school bands. His early influences included the Talking Heads, the Doors, N.W.A. and old-school hip-hop artists like Whodini and Eric B. & Rakim.

Like most of those acts, Kung Fu Vampire opted to do things his way from the start -- even if others thought he was headed in the wrong direction. Early in his career, he certainly could have jumped on the rap-rock bandwagon -- which was rolling large at local clubs in the '90s -- but chose instead to create the Kung Fu Vampire persona.

"That was my vision and I went for it," he says.

All the tools

He put out the first Kung Fu Vampire disc in 1999 and spent the next 10 years seeing little return on his investment. Yet many who saw his act or heard his records felt he had what it takes to make it big.

"I knew he had the full package," says Pittsburg horrorcore rapper Mars, who has worked with Kung Fu Vampire. "He has the look, the sound, the stage presence, the drive, and his live performances can match if not surpass any mainstream artist out there."

Kung Fu Vampire's fortunes began to change in 2009, after he landed a coveted opening slot on a tour with Twiztid, one of the top acts on the international horrorcore scene. From that moment on, Kung Fu Vampire was golden in the eyes of horrorcore fans.

"They embrace their artists more than in any other genre," he says.

Now, Kung Fu Vampire may finally sink his fangs into the kind of success that has so far eluded him. It's taken him a long time -- some would say too long, actually -- yet he's never lost sight of the goal.

"I just never stopped making music," he says. "I knew we were going to blow up. I knew it was going to get heavy. I was going to make it work. I was going to figure out a way."