"I'm the doctor of ching," raps Portland's wackest MC, Roger Nusic, who'll be performing at Sound Exchange this Friday. The relationship between ching and bling in Nusic's private universe seems to be something like a Northwestern equivalent to the Far Eastern yin and yang. For those out of the Nusic loop, ching is money (as in the cash register sound effect ka-ching), and bling is, well, bling: flashy, expensive accoutrements. "You're waving your bling-bling and you're burning your ching-ching," Nusic continues, eventually arriving at the pointed question "How many times in your life will you double your ching-ching?"
The theme of high finance looms large over Nusic's new 23-song CD, Burn or Save, starting with the title, which the self-professed Christian claims has nothing to do with heaven and hell. "You can either save your ching or you can burn it," explains Nusic during a recent phone call from Oregon. "I've noticed recently that a lot of rappers are into investing their money, like LL Cool J, for instance, and I think that's great."
A religious element informs Nusic's outlook, but he doesn't want to be too pushy about it. "I think a third of the songs on the CD have a Christian angle. But I don't want people to get the wrong idea. Today many people associate being Christian with being right-wing, and I'm definitely not right-wing," he says. "Far from it. I believe in God and I go to church and sometimes I rap about my beliefs, but I'm not trying to tell anybody what to think. Not at all." In fact, Nusic is about twice as likely to rap salaciously about sex as to praise God. "Those are just two parts of life -- religion and sex. They shouldn't contradict each other, especially because none of us would be able to worship God if nobody had sex, because nobody would be born." Touché.
Nusic has only recently turned to hip-hop for inspiration, after several years of playing alternative rock. "It seemed like all the alternative rock I was hearing sounded like something old and tired, but hip-hop just seemed much more fresh to me." Still, Nusic's music ain't your pimp daddy's hip-hop. Turntable scratching and 808 beats are all over the songs on Burn or Save, but the songwriting is all guitar-based, and there are frequent violin solos. (Yes, violin.) Then there's Nusic's voice, abrasive and adenoidal, with no discernible flow but plenty of enthusiasm. Even by white-boy rap standards, it's far from smooth. And unlike the cockney urban tone of the Streets, there's no way to chill to this stuff.
"I feel a little inferior to a lot of the rappers out there," admits Nusic, possibly understating the case. "My favorite is Jay-Z. It's amazing the way he takes something simple and just drives it."
The way that Nusic naively takes disparate elements and forces them together under his distinctly shameless personality makes it tempting to lump him in with homespun semiprofessional "outsider" artists like the Shaggs, Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis. But Nusic describes himself best on the song "Alternative Punky Day." To wit: "punky, funky, monkey, honky, wonky dinky, binky, kinky, stinky..." What more could we possibly add? Bring it on, doc.