Photos by Melanie Stangl
BBGuns performs at their Thirst album release show at The Stage at Karma, February 2018.
If you thought the extent of quality hip-hop from Pittsburgh starts (and stops) with Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, then clearly you haven’t listened to BBGuns yet. The duo, comprised of singer/MC Lazy JP (real name Justin Pitkavish) and rapper Barz Blackman (Joel Carter), have been making big local waves since the release of their debut full-length album, Thirst, back in February 2018.
And it’s easy to see why—this isn’t your run-of-the-mill, DJ-Khaled-formulaic, top-40 rap act. BBGuns blends earworm beats with impressive, often rapid-fire lyrical flow; clever wordplay that explores vulnerable, emotional territory; and seamless production from collaborators such as C. Scott and Glo Phase. Elements of indie rock, electronica, and even flirtations with psychedelic/trip-hop are all present in their multidimensional, genre-bending tracks. The results are energetic and captivating, undeniably cool and strikingly honest at once. While each member’s individual talent is obvious, their collaborative dynamic is electric.
It’s clear which generation JP and Barz belong to—and that’s a good thing. Their eclectic collage of influences, pop-culture-inspired song titles and premises (such as “Blade Runner” and “Ghost in the Shell”), and DIY work ethic are emblematic of a time when a strong hustle is essentially a prerequisite, and media of all kinds is more accessible than ever.
“Nowadays, we spend most of our time consuming art or creating it,” they confirm. “Video games, anime, arthouse movies, streaming, podcasts, whether it’s highbrow or lowbrow…JP calls it being a ‘culture sponge.’”
Even in the midst of this immense connectivity (or perhaps because of it), it can be easy to feel isolated, or get fixated on all the ways you don’t seem to measure up to your peers. In this Post-Gazette piece, JP revealed that Thirst tackles particularly millennial struggles surrounding relationships, intimacy, and growing up. These themes provide depth and resonance, and come across in one listen (though you’ll probably want to go back for several more.)
Since Thirst, BBGuns has kept busy. They’ve performed locally (both in standalone shows and as part of festivals such as Deutschtown); played a ten-day regional tour; put out a music video for the album’s third track, “Circles;” and released another single, “One Piece.” But though they’re “currently in the studio working on [their] next full-length project,” they have another surprise in store for their avid, growing fanbase before the year ends. Their next music video for “One Piece” is dropping in December.
We at Moxie have been part of this fanbase for a while. We took this opportunity to talk to BBGuns about their influences, their experience as Pittsburgh artists, and what’s to come. Check out the interview below!
1) How did BBGuns get started? I seem to recall you previously used the moniker "LAZYBLACKMAN," but how did you two start collaborating creatively in the first place?
We have been working together in some form or another for the better part of a decade. We started performing as the duo LAZYBLACKMAN about 4 years ago now, though we changed to BBGuns during the rollout of “Thirst”. We went to the same high school [Highlands High in Natrona Heights], but didn’t really hang out until early college, out of a mutual love of hip-hop music and rapping.
2) You recently had a conversation on Sikes' "Start the Beat" podcast about the blurring lines between rock and hip-hop, and the list of influences on your Facebook page reflects this range, from Gorillaz to Kid Cudi. Which artists would you say have had the biggest impact on you musically? Is there one in particular that made you say, hell yeah, this is something I want to do?
There’s a few different ways we could answer this one, haha. I would say Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Odd Future qualify for both us as examples that you can be creative and get somewhere in Hip-Hop music, be yourself, and even be from Pittsburgh. Gorillaz showed us you don’t have to be limited by genre, that all sounds are tools on the belt no matter the art form. Gorillaz in particular opened us up to experimenting with indie rock, electronica, and other ideas.
3) I know I've seen you guys perform in a lot of different venues, and your album release back in February generated a LOT of local buzz. How would you describe your experience so far in the Pittsburgh music scene? Has it changed since you first started making music; if so, how?
We used to feel like Rodney Dangerfield for the longest, but since the name change and the release of Thirst, it has been pretty surreal how we’ve been embraced by the music community here and elsewhere. We’ve started getting to places we’ve always longed for, but even when climbing to the next plateaus, you’re kind of already looking to the next one. Having a musical career is a tangible possibility for us, and this is simultaneous incredibly exciting, and also scary.
4) I'm sure you get this a lot, but I have to mention Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller: both huge breakout successes from Pittsburgh, and both hip-hop artists. Do you think the Pittsburgh rap/hip-hop scene has something special that kind of lays the foundations for artists to make these leaps? If so, what is it? Who else should we be paying attention to in these genres?
Sonically, I think Wiz and Mac are anomalies. They had great songs, style, and work ethic to earn their well-deserved spot. Pittsburgh hip-hop has a lot of different sides to it, and the people that have the material and ability to navigate through its various sub-scenes are the ones that will have the most success. As far as local hip-hop based artists here we are a fan of, we would recommend you check out Clara Kent, Romance Nyogu, and Blackboi.
5) Relatedly, are there any local acts in particular that you enjoy collaborating with, or seeing live/listening to their stuff? If so, who are they?
We wanna make songs with Swampwalk, she’s our favorite! (Author’s note: I’m a fan of hers as well!) Also tend to gravitate towards bands like The Zells, Silver Car Crash, The Lopez, and Pinstripe Sunny.
6) What do you do outside of music that helps inform/rejuvenate your creativity?
We are huge nerds. JP likes to call it being a “culture sponge,” soaking up quality creative media of all types. Video games, anime, arthouse movies, streaming, podcasts, whether it’s highbrow or lowbrow. Nowadays we spend most of our time consuming art or creating it. We most recently started a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in which JP is the DM (Dungeon Master), and Barz plays a Drunken Master Lizardfolk Monk.
7) Your videos are released through the Subterranean Aliens YouTube channel, and SA also has its own Facebook page, run by JP. Can you tell us more about that--is it basically the name you gave the content creation/media side of what you do? Is it just for you, or is it something other musicians could potentially get involved with, like a collective?
Subterranean Aliens is a brand we’ve used for our own self-released stuff over the years. If we throw a show, make a video, stream, etc. on our own, we usually put the STA branding on it. It’s kinda like a label, but we are the only ones on it and we do all the work ourselves!
8) Your previous music video, for the Thirst track "Circles," was filmed in an empty skate park. Can you tell us anything about the upcoming video for "One Piece?"
It is a contrast of tranquil stillness and the motion of life. Also “Circles” was filmed in an abandoned drained pool in Lawrenceville by the cemetery. (My bad, guys.)
The video for “One Piece” will be released sometime in December 2018; we’ll update this post once it’s live. In the meantime, check out the track, as well as the “Circles” music video, below. BBGuns' music is available to stream and download on all major music platforms, including Bandcamp and Spotify. Make sure you’re following along on Facebook and Instagram as well—you won’t want to miss their next Pittsburgh show.