Champagne Jerry
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Champagne Jerry

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Hip Hop R&B


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Though Neal Medlyn began rapping in high school, it took a 12-year hiatus and the pseudonym Champagne Jerry to ignite his passion for dropping rhymes again. Rather than rehashing the genre's well-trod subjects, sex and money, Champagne Jerry (assisted by his entourage, "The Champagne Club") possesses a unique swagger that could be attributed to his oversized neck piece, the giant bottles of champagne on stage, or just his ability to rap a crude love song to CNN anchorwoman Erin Burnett. Although most of the songs were written in one night while on tour, they are established, playful, and catchy—and headed for an album release later this year. We met up with Medlyn in the East Village over glasses of rosé to chat about pop culture, career goals, and high-school memories.

AGE: I don't really like to say anymore. I just decided recently I'm embarrassed about my age.

HOMETOWN: Palestine, Texas

CURRENT LOCATION: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

HIGH SCHOOL RHYMES: I started rapping in high school with my friend Chris. We decided we were going to start this rap group and do all this super-political hip-hop. We did a halftime show at some high school basketball game in some nearby town, but it was kind of a disaster. It was so echo-y we couldn't hear what was happening. We were totally off the beat. We didn't get a lot of other gigs.

BECOMING CHAMPAGNE JERRY: My parents couldn't think of a name to come between Neal and Medlyn, and so they just put Jerry in the front. Some of my friends found out Jerry is my first name, and we were at a party one night, and there was a cooler of beer, except everybody had drank everything except this giant bottle of Champagne. And so I opened it and I was just walking around drinking that all night, and then the next day they were like, "Oh, you were Champagne Jerry last night, that's who you became."

SELF-AWARENESS: I'm sort of obsessed with this concept I call Tampa Realness. Tampa Realness is just America: sinkholes, murders, neon underpants, Four Loko, 808 bass, and dreams. Champagne Jerry is all those same things, plus Champagne.

EARLY IMPRESSIONS: When I was growing up, the two bands that changed my whole life were Public Enemy and Bikini Kill. Neither one's message was necessarily intended for me, but I really believed and really loved everything they were saying. I felt it, it was real for me.

THE SHOW: To me, the name, Champagne Jerry, says most of what people need to know. It's like something that's super-awesome and seems super-fancy, but the closer you get to it, it's not really all that fancy, but it's still awesome.

POP CULTURAL ABSTRACTION: An underlying premise for all of my work is that growing up, I saw all this pop-culture stuff as way weirder than it seems. Ke$ha, you know, with paint all over coming out wearing a Native American headdress—what the fuck is happening there? But when it's in a music video, we all accept that abstraction, but something at the MOMA is like, "Oh, I dunno, that's very weird." I feel like people are processing that information on some level, yet sometimes people making things think, "Oh, it has to have some narrative thread," and I'm like, [laughs] "No, I don't think so!"

ON THE SPECIAL EFFECTS TO-DO LIST: I don't know what song this would go to, but I definitely want to show a whole bunch of blood to come rushing out from somewhere. Like, to come pouring across the stage, just tons of it. This could happen, too—I'm doing the whole show behind Plexiglas, but you can't tell on the TV, and all of a sudden blood starts to pour down the Plexiglas to obscure me, and I'm writing things in the blood. That would be good.

KEVIN'S SONG: I often call people "Kevin" as a generalized nickname, especially when I'm mad. Once, on my softball team, the guy playing left field was giving me a really hard time, and it annoyed me and I turned around and yelled at him in the middle of the game, "Quit fucking yelling at me, Kev!," and then that became a whole thing. Adam [Ad-Rock Horovitz] had given me a beat and then suggested I name the song "Yo Kev," and then now it's a real thing that exists in the world.

DREAM VENUE: I would really like to do MTV Music Awards because I feel like that's where people whip out the really crazy shit. Like, several years ago when Eminem had 500 people that looked like him walk through the aisle, or when OutKast had the teepee in the middle of the stage that took off into outer space at the end. The amount of money and facilities they were able to throw at that to make it happen, I was like, "That would be amazing." Just really be able to make something insane. - Interview magazine

I have no idea what this song is all about, but I really like it. I like that it’s hilarious, which it is. I like the stoopid nerdy self-confidence. I like the nifty appropriation of Prancercise lady Joanna Rohrback. I even approve of the triumphant use of Comic Sans. No one can touch Jerry’s “Tampa realness.”

I don’t know diddly squat about “alternative hip-hop” but to me it sounds a little like Das Racist, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Champagne Jerry did the lyrics, Ad-Rock did the music, so technically you might say it’s a Beastie Boys side project. Sell your friends on it that way, I don’t care. I just want to listen to it again: - Dangerous Minds

Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz of the Beastie Boys put in a guest appearance last night at Joe's Pub in New York City to perk up a performance by his latest creative cohort, Champagne Jerry. Stepping onto the stage at the intimate venue, Ad-Rock and the spoof rapper ran through a rendition of a new softball-themed song, "Yo Kev!" to which Rock contributes a guest verse and production. The night also saw Champagne Jerry, who bills himself as "the greatest rapper in the world," strutting around while brazenly showing off his genitals.

Where Do the Beastie Boys Rank on Our 100 Greatest Artists List?

The Champagne Jerry story began when Max Tannone, the New York City-based DJ behind 2009's Jay Z and Radiohead mash-up exercise Jaydiohead, encouraged his performance artist friend Neal Medlyn to pen some raps. The challenge led Medlyn to forge the character of Champagne Jerry, so named when the lead singer of Bridget Everett and The Tender Moments spotted him enthusiastically working through an entire bottle of bubbly on his own. Ad-Rock got in on the game and offered production on Jerry's break-through Internet moment, a song titled "Tampa Realness" that features the rapper bragging about his "medium-sized" appendage and "sperm-covered hotel sheets" over a bass-heavy 808 drum-machine production.

Since then, Champagne Jerry has been building up to his debut album, titled For Real You Guys and scheduled for release next July, by dropping singles and beginning a series of monthly shows themed around each song. Last night's shindig ran with a non-competitive softball setup as Ad-Rock emerged from the audience to the sounds of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" and tossed a baseball back and forth with Jerry while they engaged in pre-song banter on stage. ("Yo Kev!" is pitched as having an aspirational back-story, which sees Jerry and Ad-Rock starting off as small town kids with big sports dreams before becoming rappers who quaff champagne on the field.)

As the cavernous bass tones and rugged drums of "Yo Kev!" kicked in, Champagne Jerry and Ad-Rock traded rhymes onstage, with the latter clad in a baseball cap and t-shirt baring the slogan "Referee." While Jerry's rhymes included the boast "all of Taylor Swift's songs are about me," the Beastie Boy dropped scattershot lyrics that featured him bragging how he "pop bottles so hard got carpel-tunnel" and included references to all-day brunch and the chicken-tastic Brooklyn food spot Pies 'n' Thighs. The video to the song, which has the characters playing ball in a rough and tumble environment, also had its world premiere.

As Ad-Rock departed the spotlight to re-take his place in the audience, the rest of Champagne Jerry's show unfurled like a peculiar mix of performance art and rap spoofery. He was accompanied on stage by two girls (one dressed like a Robert Palmer girl mixed with an office worker, the other with a permanently nonplussed expression on her face), along with Max Tannone and a hype man. Bottles of bubbly – "Adam bought us some Ferrari champagne," quipped Jerry at one point – were permanent props as Jerry interspersed his songs with ambitious banter like, "This is my year, I own it – I bought the URL." "Tampa Realness" was greeted uproariously by the crowd, as was the sight of Jerry taking to the stage clad only in a bomber jacket and a wooden polar bear medallion as he revealed the schtick of rapping while naked from the waist down. The stunt resonated like some sort of warped rap burlesque. Champagne Jerry then closed out the night by diving into a pool of (presumably fake) money on stage as one of his Champagne Club girls doused him with a bottle of his signature tipple.

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It’s two weeks to the day until Christmas, and the self-described “greatest rapper in the world” is living up to his name but in an entirely different context (and with an extra W thrown in for good measure). Today he’s wrapping presents for his son. “It’s a big afternoon at the Champagne Quarters,” he says, offering the first of various quips that decorate his sparkling persona.

Born Jerry Neal Medlin and raised in Brushy Creek, Texas, the performance artist – who also goes by Neal Medlyn – made his debut as Champagne Jerry in January 2013 at Joe’s Pub, and for the past two years he’s been refining the character. He dropped his debut album, For Real, You Guys, in 2013, released ridiculous music videos to accompany nearly each track, and then toured up and down the East Coast. On December 16, Champagne Jerry will headline Synth Nights at the storied nonprofit space the Kitchen. It was here back in 2012 when producer and beatmaker Max Tannone caught one of Medlin’s performance pieces and suggested they collaborate.

“He sent me this Dropbox full of 40 different beats [while] I happened to be on a trip working on somebody else’s project in Minneapolis,” says Medlin. “I was bored in the hotel and I was like, ‘I’m going to listen to these,’ and then ended up staying up in the hotel until five o’clock in the morning and wrote eight of the songs that are on the first album. The next morning I was kind of like, 'What the fuck just happened?'”

Bewilderment isn’t an uncommon feeling when considering the rhymes of Champagne Jerry. His facetious manner is comparable to that of the Lonely Island but with deeper layers of vulgarity. One track that surfaced during his initial marathon writing session was an ode to CNN anchor Erin Burnett and asks her to "come out of the TV box and fuck the shit out of me.” He doesn’t always rely on bawdy material – you don’t call yourself the “greatest rapper in the world” without a little braggadocio – and his top track “Yo Kev” solidifies his fame with the line: “I got more pics of myself with celebrities than a pizza shop owner.” Over some rowdy drums and a brooding synth-heavy beat, “Yo Kev” sounds similar to later Beastie Boys – which makes sense since Ad-Rock produced and appears on it.

“To be able to do a song with him was sort of like, 'What the fuck – this is crazy,'” says Medlin who considers the Beastie Boys' debut License To Ill his first hip-hop record. “It was very transformative for me.”

The Brooklyn-based Medlin is currently strategizing the March release of his next album, The Champagne Room, where he predicts there will be between twelve and fifteen songs with three beats from Ad-Rock, two of his own, and the rest from Tannone. Medlin produced the beat for the song “More Wet” off his debut. After fourteen years of living in New York, he was able to insert an idiosyncratic aspect of his city life into a song.

“There’s a sample of my neighbor whistling [which] I looped a bunch of times. For a while it was weird for me to listen to because I live on the ground floor and he’s always whistling for somebody to throw him down the keys,” says Medlin, which quickly reminds him of another beloved lyric. “That’s my favorite thing on that A$AP Ferg album: ‘I’ve got to close the window because New Yorkers don’t know how to be quiet.’ I think about it everyday and it makes me laugh.”

He’s also preparing for how he’ll present The Champagne Room on stage next year. An avid performance artist who once hosted a show out of a Motel 6 room in Texas, Medlin designs his shows around absurdities like riding a Citi Bike through the crowd or playing a game of catch with Ad-Rock before launching into the softball-themed “Yo Kev.” In remaining true to his unpredictable nature, his concept for performing The Champagne Room has its roots in none other than a Hannah Montana concert.

“She did this tour where Miley Cyrus was the opening act,” he says. “Miley would come out with her regular hair and do a whole music set and then she’d be like, ‘Alright ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Hannah Montana!’ She would do a video and dancers would cover the switch and then she’d come back out. So basically she’s performing three hours but in two different characters and I kind of always wanted to do that – it’s kind of like one of my favorite ideas. That’s what we’re doing for the show: Neal Medlyn is opening for Champagne Jerry.”

Medlin designs his shows around absurdities like riding a Citi Bike through the crowd or playing a game of catch with Ad-Rock before launching into the softball-themed “Yo Kev.”
The first time Champagne Jerry tasted the bubbly beverage that inspired his name, he was crouched behind a couch with a group of people awaiting for a friend to return home for an unsuspecting surprise party. “I don’t remember my friend even getting there but all I remember is drinking champagne from behind the couch,” he adds.

He calls it “delicious” and the name Champagne Jerry was christened after another soiree when he got in a friendly squabble with comedian Bridget Everett. “I walked around the whole party drinking champagne and I think Bridget and I got into an argument about which snack is better: Goldfish or Pretzel Bites,” he says. “We had this whole thing and then the next day everybody said, ‘Whoa, you became Champagne Jerry.’”

If his raps are any indication, Medlin embraces the ludicrous side of his brimming creativity. Since childhood, he’s sought to express his weird, esoteric art via music, and pop in particular. His rhymes might not receive validation for their street credibility – he his, after all, a scrawny dad with glasses – but the commitment to his craft is proven. And when he hits that stage, Champagne Jerry knows that’s exactly where he’s meant to be.

“Originally, I wasn’t even sure what ‘performance art’ even meant, but in my mind I was like, ‘I guess it means that your art is just performing. Like performance is your art,’” he says. “And I was like, 'Yeah, that’s what I do.'” - The Village Voice


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Champagne Jerry, named one of the top ten best performers in New York by Time Out, profiled in Rolling Stone, Brooklyn Vegan and Interview magazine, among others, and been the musical guest on The Chris Gethard Show on Fusion TV, is a music and performance project of Neal Medlyn alongside collaborators Max Tannone, Adam Ad-Rock Horovitz and his onstage entourage of Tannone, Sophia Cleary, Farris Craddock and the Ghost of Champagne Past. Champagne Jerry continues Medlyn's prior work with pop stars in his Pop Star Series. The aim is to continuously create and provide the most significant moments in everyone's lives. He has routinely sold out shows at Joe's Pub in New York City where he had a year long residency and has played the Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Kitchen, New York Live Arts, Union Pool, Pianos, and various rock clubs, parties, Walmart parking lots, art venues and theaters on tour across the U.S. His album and videos for his albums “For Real, You Guys” and “The Champagne Room” are available now everywhere.

Band Members