Sounds like chicken
Chico’s longest-running crew, the indefinable Becky Sagers, rap up 10 years together
What’s in a name? If you were a really tall girl at Chico High School 10 years ago, and you went by the catchy name of Becky Sager, there’s an awful lot in your name. You have yourself of course, and you have a couple of funny white dudes who took your name as their own.
The two dudes were Jeremiah Wade and AyeJay Morano (who goes by just AyeJay), and the co-opting of their friend’s name started innocently enough—as part of the bigger inside joke of starting a rap duo called the Becky Sagers. With a karaoke machine and a constant supply of beats courtesy of Tower Record’s stock of hip-hop cassingles, the two friends began to put their subtle and clever senses of humor to work crafting their personal brand of stand-up rap.
“We made this tape and took it to a New Year’s Eve Party [in 1993]—we were going to make our friends listen to it,” Wade explained during a recent interview.
”We thought it was really funny.”
Of course it was funny, and fun. They hardly realized it at the time, but AyeJay and Wade had begun a project that would effectively combine their close friendship with their burgeoning infatuation with rap music into a shared identity that would take them and their peer group on a 10-year journey.
Interacting with the soft-spoken Chico native, you’d never guess that Wade dabbled in the extroverted wordplay of a rap musician. The thin, 6-foot-4-inch tall Becky Sagers member, whose long, disheveled brown hair ranges in style from just-woke-up to just-got-off-a-motorcycle, chooses his moments carefully—usually to share something quirky and hilarious.
“I swear I saw a picture of George Clinton water-skiing on a dolphin,” said Wade, laughing along with his own story, “and that made me buy a Parliament’s greatest-hits tape. And then, when I heard hip-hop, and it had all the same samples in it, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is pretty neat!'”
Those funky beginnings, combined with his father’s musical background—playing guitar—and his father’s record collection ("In junior high I discovered his Gil Scott-Heron records"), led Wade to the Beastie Boys and Run DMC and eventually to that karaoke machine and his transformation into MC Heatha, and later MC Heathakilla.
Wade’s eventual cohort, widely known local artist AyeJay (MC Shecky or Shecklove), is a more obvious choice for a performer. His father, percussionist Jerry Morano, is one of the founders of Chico’s longest running (nearly 30 years) band, local world beat pioneers Spark ‘n’ Cinder, so it would seem that music is in his genes.
“I was raised on a wide variety of stuff … a lot of reggae, so it wasn’t a huge jump [to hip-hop],” explained the mellow house-husband (his wife Meka is a social worker) and father of two.
“My dad bought a Kurtis Blow record, and that was my first exposure to the music—through my dad.”
“There were no rap shows to play,” explained AyeJay, bouncing the wide-eyed, 4-month-old Greta on his knee. While the two (actually, an occasional three-piece when DJ Matt Loomis hits the steel wheels) never intended to bring the Becky Sagers to the stage, the fact that they ran in the very communal indie-rock and Blue Room Theatre circles made it come as no surprise that they were nudged onto the bill of one of the Blue Room’s marathon benefits.
According to AyeJay, “We started playing indie-rock shows because that’s who we hung out with. … We find generally that rap fans don’t really like us anyway.”
Their stand-up stylings, in which the between-song banter is half the fun of the show, aren’t what the typical rap fan is used to. The duo has never been interested in mimicking the mold, though, and much of their style is built upon making fun of themselves for it.
“People want Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and we’re giving them Lenny and Squiggy,” AyeJay explained. As he continued, the pattern of their aesthetic begins to take shape: “We’re not what you would call [insert SNL comedian Chris Farley finger-quotes] ‘fun to watch’ or ‘good at music.’ We’re not what you would really call ‘attractive people.'”
Despite their low-key approach, the duo’s effect on Chico’s rap awareness is undeniable. AyeJay has been instrumental in bringing countless touring rap artists to town, and even though as he puts it, “It’s hard to say what would’ve happened,” it’s pretty obvious that the duo’s consistent presence has inspired other local rappers such as Thug E. Fresh and Fay Dog to get on stage.
For his part, Wade can see how the Sagers’ existence was an inspirational one. "[People say,] ‘If those guys can get on stage, we can get on stage.'" And just to clarify, AyeJay sums it up with, "The genre of faux-rap music never existed until us. We claim full responsibility for that."