The three man hip-hop collective Who Cares may have everything it takes to be a great band, and their music will make you feel like you’re reliving your first heartbreak.
Rapper Ernie Upton holds nothing back when he tells stories of growing up, breaking up and everything in between.
“That’s the theme of my life,” says Upton, 26. “I’m always crying and stuff, but who cares?”
Jammal Tarkington, 31, provides backup vocals and plays the saxophone, and Maxwell McMaster, 26, runs production and the keyboard.
Who Cares’ influences range from Slick Rick to Miles Davis, and it shows, especially with the addition of the sax and keys.
“Jazz is a major influence in our band,” says Tarkington, who also plays in local band Keyser Soze.
Upton, usually wearing a brown cardigan sweater and thick glasses, doesn’t look much like a rapper. “We don’t wear jeans, either,” Upton says of himself and Tarkington. McMaster, who lives in California and was not at the interview, wears “really tight jeans,” Upton adds.
At shows, Upton is usually the guy with all the fans gathered around him after a performance.
“I really like everyone that comes out to our shows,” he says. It’s not just hip-hop fans either. “We’ve got some punk rock kids I really like.”
The band estimates it’s played roughly 100 live shows since first performing together in 2003. The frequency of their shows in Reno is evident by the number of fans at their shows wearing Who Cares T-shirts, adorned with the group’s sad bear logo.
The band members say they make an effort to do as many all-ages shows as possible.
“The one thing I really like about this band is that we have a connection to the youth,” Tarkington says.
Their next scheduled all-ages show is at the Holland Project on July 8 and again on Aug.11 for a multi-act hip hop show.
“It’s my pride and joy for the summer,” Upton says of the event.
Who Cares officially released their first full-length album, Who Cares-The LP, in 2005. Much of it was finished in 2004, and some of its songs were recorded as early as 2001. The LP is 14 tracks of raw emotion. Even the lighter songs, like the ode to hip-hip “Play Standards,” are sad: “Do you ever see reflections of your past at night/ The ones that help you rebuild hope and make you feel like you’re alright.”
The album is well-crafted. Regardless of how you feel about emo-rap, as some may be tempted to label it, there is no denying these guys as musicians. If you’re suffering a heartache about love, or about anything, you won’t be able to take this album out of your boombox for weeks.
Their second album, an EP called The Winter Came Back, was released in spring of 2006. It was recorded in McMaster’s bedroom, except for one track recorded live. It’s a little less melancholy. Not as much effort went into it as The LP, the band members say.
In nearly every song they’ve ever made, their continuous heartbreaks are evident.
As artists, “we’re all horrible with women,” says Upton. “Max is all right, but he’s still horrible.”
But hey, who cares? At least they know how to rap about it.