FOGATRON & MANIC D The undisputed kings of NW talent shows.
It was the greatest double whammy in Northwest talent show history. After four years, The Stranger's celebrated citywide talent competition Pizzazz! expanded south to Portland, where sister paper The Mercury threw a Pizzazz! of its own. Hosted by Mercury editor/I Love Television superstar Wm.™ Steven Humphrey, the first-ever Portland Pizzazz! was a smash, drawing an array of disparate talents, from a guy who played George Michael covers on the ukulele to a lady who jazz-danced to Van Halen's "Panama." But top honors were taken by Fogatron and Manic D, the human beatbox/rap duo who received as part of their first-place prize package an automatic slot in Seattle's Pizzazz!, due to hit the stage at 2004's Bumbershoot three weeks later.

In Seattle, Fogatron and Manic D handily repeated their Portland triumph, vanquishing such competition as Great Guy (a superhero emo balladeer in full-body spandex) and the Tap Explosion! (helmet-wearing lasses tapping in a rain of My Pretty Ponies) and becoming Pizzazz!'s first-ever double champions. This honor brought the duo a bit of xenophobic heat (some crybabies believed the Portland champs should be showcased but ineligible for competition in Seattle) and an array of killer prizes, one of which was a profile in the pages of The Stranger. In recent weeks, the pair put the finishing touches on a new six-track EP--a cogent distillation of Fogatron and Manic D's time-twisting collision of beats (reminiscent of the earliest Eric B) and rhyme-styles (reminiscent of the latest Mr. Lif), available at www.fogandmanicd.com. To commemorate the EP's completion, I rang up 22-year-old Fogatron and 23-year-old Manic D to investigate the magic behind their budding talent.

Explain your names.

Manic D: I've been rapping for about five years now and I've had a bunch of different names. I adopted the name Manic D because when I initially started writing songs, one song would be extremely depressing and the next would be really happy and light and funny. My styles were just kind of scattered, because I guess I'm a little bit manic-depressive.

Have you since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

Manic D: No. I've got, like, a generalized anxiety disorder and like six other nervous problems, but I'm not actually bipolar.

What about you, Fogatron?

Fogatron: When I was in middle school, probably like sixth or seventh grade--I got nicknamed "Fog" because my glasses would fog up. I did a lot more turntablism back then, so I was DJ Fog. Then I just started calling myself Fogatron, because I've always been into robots and transformers, growing up during that era, you know.

How'd you meet?

Manic D: An old roommate of Fog's was a friend of mine, and about a year and a half ago he introduced us. But we didn't start working together until Pizzazz!

Pizzazz! was your debut?!

Manic D: More or less. The way hiphop works, a lot of times you get on stage with somebody you're actually not working with, but you're doing shows with them once a week and you're doing freestyle sessions. But we'd never really billed a show together before Pizzazz!

I know who you clobbered in Seattle, but who came in second in Portland?

Fogatron: A stand-up comedian. He was, like, 15 years old.

Manic D: We were behind the monitors, so we couldn't understand what he was saying. But people were going crazy for him. He seemed really intelligent.

Enough Pizzazz!, let's talk about the new record.

Manic D: We banged it out in about three days. Fog did his beats in one day, then I spent the next couple days putting songs over them. It was definitely a short recording process, but there's some really strong material on there. Everything on the record is by us--all the beats are by Fogatron and all the writing is by me. One track has scratching, which I did. Another has Fog on Jew's harp and maraca.

When it comes to composition, is it strictly Fogatron's music and Manic D's words, or is there cross-pollination?

Manic D: Not too much [role-switching]. Because if I were to go, "Well, I want this kind of a beat line," it would sound so sad. I can't even beat-box near this guy without sounding like a total idiot. He could come out with an album of beats a day if he wanted to. He's just really creative with the way he puts stuff together.

Fogatron: It's also cool because I can make a beat and Manic can sit on it for a day or two and think how it makes him feel and how he wants to write to it. Like, "This is going to be a party-banging track" or "This is going to be an evil track." Or, you know, robot-sounding futuristic sci-fi.

Manic D: The tracks that people always talk about are the ones where Fog does what he calls the robot-control beats, that sound futuristic and stuff.

The inevitable question: Influences?

Manic D: The Roots were one of the first groups that really got me into good hiphop. Also Mos Def and old-school stuff like Pete Rock and C. L. Smooth. But I listen to a lot of other stuff. I'm a Talking Heads fan. I'm a big fan of Morphine.

Fogatron: I listen to everything. Influences I listen to a lot are the Pharcyde, Gary Numan, a lot of drum 'n' bass. Bobby McFerrin--that's a big one. I remember listening to him at my grandparents' house. But my favorite group is the Cars, of course.

Of course. Thank you for sharing your Pizzazz!

Manic D: You're welcome.

Fogatron: Thank you for accepting it.

schmader@thestranger.com