OCCASIONALLY OVERLOOKED #2 – SKATEMASTER TATE

Growing up, I noticed Jerry Hurtado aka. Skatemaster Tate’s name seemed to crop up an awful lot. Whether it was through music, or as his moniker suggests, skating, Tate seemed to drift through left coast subcultures, with the ease that he displayed when he was drifting through traffic on his ever-present longboard.

As a disclaimer, I’m prejudiced toward longboards. Tate and Andy Kessler (RIP) are an exception – too often, they’re transporting a lean character in bootcut denim, Quicksilver sneakers and wraparound shades who undoubtedly hi-fives after blitzing “brewskis” and date rapes girls with noserings to a scratched CD of whalesong. As a second disclaimer, should you go YouTubing, please do not judge me on the basis of the Skatemaster’s atrocious ‘Justice To The Bass’ with The Concrete Crew – I’m fully aware it makes ‘Rico Suave’ sound like Nasir Jones by comparison. Instead, we should take a look at the man’s other achievements.

Periodically mentioned in Thrasher, and a contributor to the magazine’s skate rock compilations, when embracing his Cuban-Salvadoran heritage, some tracks would work; some had longevity and others were a sub Beastie Boys racket. ‘Skaterock Rap’ for instance, is pretty bad. By all accounts a former Skull Skates sales rep, Tate was later brought to my attention with his work for 4th & B’Way, which, for the most part, wasn’t especially good. But it did get him a mention in pieces marvelling at a breed of rappers with South American ancestory, like Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace. and the Cypress Hill crew (I also heard he claims co-production on their first LP) as well as the Samoan Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. Muggs and Joey “The Butcher” Nicolo had apparently heard him and wrangled him a deal.

Naturally there were more flops than successes from that assortment of artists linked only by race, despite a disperate bunch of sounds and attitudes, and Tate was destined to the cut-off bin, but he’d been  been grinding long before the deal.

Working on music that was as targeted towards the skateboard as the output of surf rockers like the Del-Tones was to those chasing waves once upon a time, always seemed as corny as any other cash-in, even if the practitioners were knee deep in the scene. To be fair though, a decade on, the appalling OPM’s novelty record ‘Heaven Is A Halfpipe’ made Tate’s single sound downright credible by comparison.

In Brian Cross’s ‘It’s Not About A Salary’ (the book’s third mention on this blog in less than a year) there’s a lengthy alcohol and weed aided conversation between the Skatemaster and B+ that fleshes out his past, with him talking promotions and violence at concerts, courtesy of the Boo-Yaa. It also showcases his Los Angeles apartment circa. 1992, full of decks and vinyl. Unfortunatly, with a lack of scanner or functioning USB, if you haven’t got the book, you’ll have to take my word for it.

Then there’s the good music – I associate ‘El Cumbre’ from his debut album, 1988’s ‘A Way of Life’ with happy ’80s VHS memories, from the same major label flop, instrumentals like ‘Joe’s Jam’ wouldn’t be out of place on a GOOD Beasties LP – and not one of those scrappy side-projects either. He performed on Perry Farrell’s Porno For Pyros side project in 1993 too. He appeared to have a foot in the L.A. rap underground too.

I wonder if Ya’ll So Stupid’s Vans and skateboard Glen E. Friedman shots for their 1993 LP ‘Van Full Of Pakistanis’ had any Skatemaster influence too. That album holds up better than the half-arsed Half-Cab Rapidshare rap of today, and Tate’s role in hipster rap’s family tree (should anyone be daft enough to trace the sound’s geneology) shouldn’t be underestimated.

Then there’s his own deck courtesy of Jerry Madrid’s Madrid Skates. Another testament to how deep Tate was in the scene. The added fun of the man with the Stussy porkpie hat on was his duality – he appears in Raymond Pettibon’s experimental ‘Judgement Day Theater – The Book Of Manson’ then co-hosted ‘SK8-TV’ on Nickelodeon the following year with the very annoying actor Matthew Lillard (then Matthew Lyn), who’s excused for starring in the excellent ‘SLC Punk.’ For televisual extreme sport exploitation, it’s not bad – pleasantly scrappy, and with Stacy Peralta as director, plus Craig Stecyk acting as director of photography, we never had anything half as good in the UK.

But where is he now? The last I heard of him was on DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s ‘Product Placement’ tour as a guest DJ in 2002 from what Thrasher described as “a self-imposed exile.”

There’s a great Tate blog post here: http://skateandannoy.com/2007/01/04/rap-and-skateboarding-skatemaster-tate-gets-no-respect/ and some good imagery at http://www.tonyhallamskateboarding.com.au

And here’s a 1987 ‘People’ magazine profile of the man himself…

He’s Not Lean but His Rap Is Mean, So the Thrashers Relate to Skatemaster Tate

By David Grogan

Sporting a wild mess of purple hair and funky, secondhand duds that do little to hide his hefty paunch, Skatemaster Tate, 27, does not look like a man built for speed. But among the hordes of “thrashers” who bomb around the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York on wooden skateboards with polyurethane wheels, the roly-poly rapper from L.A. is riding the crest of a boisterous, frenetic new wave of music called skate rock.

You won’t find many samples of skate rock in your record shop, but to skateboarders it’s killer and rad (translation: terrific). Skate rock groups named Septic Death, Gang Green, Tupelo Chain Sex, Beach Blanket Bongout and Jody Foster’s Army put out their songs on such specialized labels as High Speed and Deluxe, and they’re gobbled up by the faithful by mail and in small, independent stores that cater to the trade. Most of these raucous troubadours of thrash play “speed metal,” a mutant form of rock characterized by a frenzied beat, yowling guitars and lyrics full of debauchery or societal woe. Violent energy is skate rock’s main—some would say only—appeal. “It’s all in the attitude,” explains Tate, who is skate rock’s champ. “It’s punk rock and skating rolled up in a ball of confusion and screaming down the alley in a gutter.”

Skatemaster Tate’s eminence doesn’t bring him much money, and the king of skate rock has startlingly little in common with most of his subjects. Besides being somewhat plump for a skateboarder, Tate’s approach to song is more freewheeling and less macho than that of his confrères. His works bear such titles as La Coumbre—it’s a salsa rap dedicated to a popular San Francisco skate rock hangout—and Jolt Rap; his lyrics celebrate such non-thrashing delights as shopping and eating (“Ain’t food fun”). Then there are the inevitable odes to the board, as in Skaterock Rap:

My face is round
And never wears no frown
I’m a real hip cat
With a little fat
Always skating around with a baseball
bat

“I decided to cop a different attitude than most rappers who always have so many gold chains and so many women around they don’t know what to do,” he says. “I wanted to give a little humor and truth to it.”

Skate rockers keep up on the latest trends through Thrasher, a San Francisco-based magazine which features everything from coverage of major skateboarding competitions to recipes, or “scarfing material,” as Tate calls it with plain affection. Always pudgy, the Skatemaster has put on even more weight in recent years and now swirls around with 200 pounds on his 5’8″ frame, but he still manages to thrash through cement pipes, ditches and banks wherever he can find them. Like most skate rockers, Tate has devoted much of his life to zooming around on wheels, and he is not given to talking about much else. “One way or another, skating relates to just about every part of my life,” he says.

Tate was christened Gerry by his father Jorge Hurtado, an L.A. machine-shop foreman, and his mother, Hilda, a clerk at Knott’s Berry Farm; he chose the moniker Skatemaster three years ago in homage to his rap idol, Grandmaster Flash, and Tate as a short version of his adolescent nickname, Potato Head. An avid thrasher as a teen, he became a top competitor, but unlike most of his skating peers, he downplays his prowess. “I was a pretty good amateur for a couple of years, but mostly I skated for fun,” he says. “I’m primarily a bank skater. I like to go fast, but I don’t feel safe doing 360-degree turns in which you can land paralyzed on your back.” After attending a broadcasting trade school in L.A., Tate started out as a disc jockey in punk rock clubs and took up skate rock about as soon as it was born, in 1983, recording his first number, Skaterock Rap, in a friend’s home studio shortly thereafter. Ever since its release last fall, he has been in increasing demand as an emcee for thrashing contests at skate rock parties and clubs in L.A. and San Francisco, and he recently toured Texas with an all-girl thrash band called the Screaming Sirens. “The Sirens qualify as skate rockers,” says Tate, “because they love skaters.”

In his shows, Skatemaster Tate goes through so many costume changes he looks like a runway model for a thrift shop: His huge bargain basement wardrobe includes heavy chains, studded leather bracelets, silken headbands, porkpie hats, rhinestone sunglasses, exotic earrings and about 150 Hawaiian shirts; he also owns 27 guitars, most of which decorate his Santa Monica digs. Even though his discordant voice and music would cause all but the devoted to cover their ears, Tate is a hit with the ladies and admits he likes the “gnarly Bettys.” And despite the sometimes nihilistic pretensions of some of his ragtag followers, he insists skate rock and skateboarding are far healthier outlets for kids than lots of the alternatives out there. “Wherever you do it, there is something euphoric about skateboarding,” he says. “It’s still about as gnarly as you can get.”