The three young rappers of East Bay outfit the Bayliens pride themselves in being extremely fashionable. They are meticulous putters-on of outfits: airbrushed graffiti shirts, candy-colored skate shoes, baseball caps with boutique designer logos, gold donkey chains that resemble the cord on a Chanel bag. Their first question, upon scheduling a newspaper interview, is whether or not each emcee should bring a change of costume. In the end they decide to just bring one extra shirt — a splashy, psychedelic tee custom-made by Filthy Dripped Streetwear, with graffiti colors and a phallic cartoon octopus that’s apparently supposed to be an alien.
Even without costume changes, their everyday Bayliens paraphernalia is pretty exciting. Spaceman Cell (né Marcell Merriweather) dons two oversize white-gold necklaces — one Jesus head, the other skull-and-crossbone — and large sunglasses big enough to be a protective shield — as though he’s ready to combat the real cyborgs. Enzyme Dynamite (né Jared Joseph Magers) goes “material girl” with a fishnet stocking and bangle bracelet around his left wrist. Jay Three (né Justin James Jack) wears a dollar sign baseball cap and wallet chain.
Though they’ve only recently attained rap star celebrity — a radio hit on Wild 94.9 — the Bayliens say their ultra-flashy threads are nothing new. “I personally try to keep it spacey at all times,” said Spaceman Cell, who moonlights as a fashion model. “I dressed like this before it was a style,” he adds, recalling that in junior high, he was “the weird kid” with a sweet tooth for all things tacky: hyper colors, old Ghostbuster T-shirts, Looney Toons logos. He wears sunglasses indoors — even while sitting in a dimly lit Mexican restaurant on Telegraph Avenue. He says he sleeps in them, too.
In both their sartorial choices and their constant sci-fi references, the Bayliens seem to be emulating ’80s-era hip-hoppers of the Afrika Bambaataa strain (who spawned from the same lineage as Parliament and Funkadelic). The Bayliens’ version is campier, though it still makes an excellent marketing gimmick. They say the name “Bayliens” is no misnomer. Spaceman Cell is a Trekkie, Enzyme an avowed Star Wars buff. As for Jay Three, this fool is just hella into aliens. “Like Roswell? That shit is real. Area 51? That shit is real,” he assured. “I am actually an alien,” added Enzyme. “Me too,” chimed Jay Three. “I have a tracker in my ear. You feel this part of my ear?” he asked, pointing to his right earlobe. “It’s regular? But feel this,” he said, pointing to his left earlobe, which, on closer investigation, feels chunky and hard. “There’s messages being relayed to me,” he explains. “Like I’ve seen crazy stuff.”
“No seriously,” Enzyme interjected, “this dude is crazy.”
By the time they formed a trifecta, all three emcees had spent roughly a decade getting nickeled and dimed in the underground rap game. Dominican-born Enzyme spent years slinging demo CDs and rapping for free to promote his product. Before launching the Bayliens, his biggest claim to fame was landing in an East Bay Express music blog that listed the worst Bay Area band names to emerge in recent years (“We Will Eat Rats to Survive,” January 23, 2007). Jay Three launched his career while growing up in Daly City, where he sang in glee clubs and talent shows. He had a special knack for insulting people, and spent years battling just about anyone who crossed his path. In fact, he and Enzyme actually met during a 2003 battle at Pacifica’s Octopus Lounge, which they said was rigged — both lost after the first couple rounds, then went outside and battled each other to vent their frustrations. (“He called me a crackhead,” Enzyme remembers.)
Meanwhile, Spaceman Cell was a competitive breakdancer in high school, and later became a DJ for indie hip-hop group Forensic Science. He hooked up with Enzyme (already an acquaintance) on a lunch break in 2006, when both were working department store jobs in San Francisco. That year the three decided to combine forces, and chose a space-themed name that would create a packagable aesthetic for the group. (Before settling on “Bayliens,” they were Children of the Atom, then Galactic Force, then Delta 9). After years of abortive demos and ill-fated rap battles, they’d finally hit on a viable shtick. Then came the stroke of genius that was “Bubblegum.”
“Bubblegum,” the group’s first-ever radio hit, is a nyah-nyah pop song with a catchy minor-key backbeat by local producer Dublin Beats, sardonic lyrics that poke fun at the rap industry (in a nonetheless industry-friendly manner), and a melodic chorus sung by local R&B vocalist Cait La Dee. “We were driving, and we kinda came up with the bubblegum theme because the beat sounded like it was saying ‘bubblegum,'” Jay Three explained. He sings the beat — kind of a video-game-style triplet figure — for illustrative purposes: “doot-doot-doot, deet-deet-deet, doot-doot-doot, deet-deet-deet.” And indeed, you can almost hear the word “bubblegum” reverberating over and over. Conceptualizing the rap part was easy.
A couple nights before that song got on the radio, they were smoking weed at Cal State Hayward, looking at the view and grousing about the state of things. “We were just talking about like, ‘Shit, dude. Like, you know, we gotta push like hella albums by the end of the year,'” recalls Enzyme. Miraculously the next day they wound up on Clear Channel’s web site, next to established pop artists Lil’ Mama and Sean Kingston. The headline read: “the Bay’s hottest new act.” A couple days later “Bubblegum” started playing on Wild 94.9. Last month they performed at the station’s “Wild Jam” concert, which featured A-list pop acts like Danity Kane, Pitbull, and Lil’ Wayne. They now host a gossipy Saturday afternoon talk show on the FUZIC (Wild 94.9’s HD 2 station), complete with skits and prank calls.
Such precipitous success gave the Bayliens a slightly different outlook on life. It was as though they’d stepped inside the fabricated, tinsel-town world of “Bubblegum.” The groupies got hotter. Dressing to the nines was no longer a fun pastime, but an imperative, and the goofy space talk became a form of public relations. After so many years of hustling CDs, freestyling rapping to anyone who would care to listen, and jockeying for position with other unknown emcees, they try to stay as humble and hungry as possible. But it’s gotten increasingly difficult to rap the lyrics of “Bubblegum” (I live the pop culture Rolling Stone/Always on my Motorola Razr phone) with tongue firmly planted in cheek. After all, the Bayliens have entered a bubblegum reality.