Counterfeit 20’s are the LA-based parody rap collective currently blowing up YouTube with their tongue-in-cheek renditions of hip-hop’s most recent anthems. Much like those who paved the way in popular parody music, Counterfeit 20’s use satire to explore the absurd lyrics we’ve been conditioned to ignore. They counter Migos “Versace” remix featuring Drake with “The Swapmeet”, and instead of name-dropping high-end Italian designers, they hail Los Angeles’ well-known Slauson Swapmeet, bragging on their penny-pinching and convincing designer knock-offs.
The hilarious trio is comprised of three native Angelenos who, inspired by former classmates like Issa Rae, are determined to put their mark on the city. Tony Breckenridge is Creative Director of United We Function and helps manage a team of “experience architects” who hand curate Los Angeles’ premiere events. Fans of the popular web series “Awkward Black Girl” may recognize Tristen Winger from his recurring role as “Baby Voice” Darius. Desmond “DezzieGee” Gooden may be the youngest member of the group by several years, but his youthful candor and fresh perspective are certain to draw fans and cement the artist as one to watch in the coming years.
Though Tony and Tristen have been clowning around with parody rap since high school, it was only last year that some of their dreams were realized when Russell Simmons’ YouTube channel All Def Digital picked them up and began featuring their videos. Today, their most popular song “Outta Control” , has amassed almost 200,000 views and the group is looking to extend their reach even further.
I caught up with the Counterfeit 20’s and we talked about transforming hip-hop into a more relatable art, their partnership with All Def Digital and plans to parody in 2014.
How were the Counterfeit 20’s formed?
Tony: It all goes back to high school. G-Unit was getting really big at the time and while I appreciated a slightly different take on rap music, it was about stuff that I couldn’t really relate to. I went to a magnet high school, you know? We were in lab coats every other day.
So Tristen and I formed a group called AP Unit because it was like we weren’t G’s you know, but we were taking AP courses and we could tell you something about that! [laughs]
It was basically just nerdy rap. We did a song called “Tart Pie” that was kind of a parody take on 50 Cent’s “Wanksta.” Some of the lyrics were like:
Think you’re a smart guy but you never ace nothing
You just a tart pie and you need to stop frontin
Got 3 AP classes all of which you are flunking
Saying you made honor roll but you ain’t learn nothing
You ain’t no friend of mine
You ain’t no kin of mine
Come on bro your GPA is only 1.9
I’m learning all the time
Graphs points segments and line
Velocity equals distance travelled over time…
Cosecant over sine
X’s over y
3.14 is pi
It’s difficult when you’re a fan of rap, but you feel like you can’t do it because you don’t have a story that the mainstream wants to hear. We gravitated to parody rap because it was the easiest version of rap that we could do that was still believable.
Tristen: After we graduated I got more into beat making software and making beats. I started doing that in 2003 and have just kept practicing and refining that skill over time.
One of the things I really enjoyed was re-creating beats and so it just worked perfectly for what we were trying to do as far as parody rap. I’m able to reconstruct the beat into something different than the original, but still recognizable and that helps so people take us seriously and actually listen to our songs.
Desmond: I never really had the opportunity to rap with the guys because they were friends with my older brother. Last year Tony and Tristen finally got to hear me rap over a beat, even though I was just playing at the time, and we knew we had a chemistry and that we had to do something with it.
How did the partnership with All Def Digital come about?
Tony: Pure. F*cking. Happenstance. Well, at least in my regard. It was Tristen’s contact and I’m the one who brought Desmond on board.
We were all driving to Paid Dues last March and listening to Young Jeezy’s song “R.I.P.” I thought it’d be so dope for us to rap over that beat, but you know, I don’t know how to “kill” the club like he’s talking about in that song. But I do know how to be broke and how to work that sh*t, and that’s how the idea for “EBT” came up.
Tristen: Less than a week later, one of my co-workers from Awkward Black Girl told me about an opportunity to do parody rap for All Def Digital. Immediately we were like well we’ve been doing this our entire lives so let’s go for it.
So we pitched them our parody “EBT”, sent them our lyrics and I made a beat. They loved it and jumped on the idea right away. Everything happened within about a week.
What is everyone’s role in the group, what do each of you bring to the table?
Tristen: I like to be a character. I’m an actor and so it’s fun in that regard, but since I’m producing beats for the group, I get to set the tone in a way.
Tony: Tristen is definitely the musical center of the group. He is much more integral to the group than people realize. I go into the studio, record and I’m done. He then has to master and finish the track. Plus, as the only one of us with professional acting experience, he advises us about different aspects of production and being on film.
I’d classify myself as the wordsmith of the group. Yea, I bring humor to the videos, but I’m also making observations that go beyond the surface. I bring a maturation to the lyrics so that the parody isn’t so one-dimensional.
Des: I’m the ghetto eccentric (laughs). I’m from Long Beach, which is close, but people don’t realize how different it can be from LA, so I think I bring that point of view with me. Being the youngest, I’m tapped into a culture that Tristen and Tony might not be as aware of.
Tony: We’ve really achieved the perfect balance by having a music professional, a thinker and the whimsy of youth with Desmond. It creates a great dynamic because there’s something for everyone. My observational humor would be lost if the beat wasn’t on point, and Desmond’s really whimsical ideas would get lost if I didn’t ground it in some sort of sense of reality, you know? It’s really a unique symbiosis that we’ve created.
Do you have any plans to perform your music live? Is there any chance of a Counterfeit 20’s album?
Tony: Definitely. Our plan for this year is to really carve out a space for ourselves in the industry. I’ve always wanted to do a concept album, like a really nerdcore type album, so we’ll see. I really feel like with all of our talent, the possibilities are endless.
Desmond: 2013 was really a year of exposure for us and 2014 is going to be the year to be creative and really just put it all out there.
What can fans expect from the Counterfeit 20’s in 2014?
Tristen: We are currently working on a series of parody skits for All Def Digital and they do involve music, but it’s long-form storytelling instead.
Tony: We’re also working on developing an animated series that we were approached with. I’m super excited about that.
What inspired the name Counterfeit 20s?
Tony: The meaning of Counterfeit 20s actually fits in well with our plans for 2014. I first brought it up as a suggestion and said, “We’ll call ourselves the Counterfeit 20’s because they checkin’ for us!” (laughs)
Tristen: There was that, but the reason why it made so much sense was because as I thought more about the name and how I got to where I am now, I realized how much my path has changed since high school.
After graduating from high school I thought I wanted to go to college to be a mechanical engineer. Now it’s eleven years later and I know without a doubt I want to be an entertainer so it’s like, why did I ever tell myself to be a mechanical engineer? Turns out, it was because that’s what my parents wanted me to do. That’s not really a real reason to pursue a career to me. At that point a lightbulb went off and I really thought about our twenties and what they represent to a lot of us. We’re graduating college and getting internships and basically doing the things that we think we’re supposed to be doing. So the idea behind Counterfeit 20’s is that we’re faking it through our 20’s until we actually get to where we want to be in life.
With insightful lyrics that magnify messages we tend to gloss over, and homemade beats that rival their originals, it’s clear the Counterfeit 20’s won’t be faking it for much longer and will soon be taking their bogus currency straight to the bank.
Follow the crew on Twitter: @Counterfeit20s