Radcliffe Bent is a performing artist with roots in the poetry and hardcore scenes of New Brunswick. He’s released music under different projects and names including Hill Boys, Radxbent, Bentwaeve, and most recently as N.G.G.A. Our music reporter Bennett Kelly spoke with Bent on the phone in September about his music, the local scene, classic philosophers, philosophies of hardcore music and DIY, and more.
Ben Kelly: When and where was your first performance in New Brunswick?
Radcliffe Bent: My first performance in New Brunswick. I can name the address now, because it’s no longer a place for music. But it was at my old house, which was on Hamilton Street. It’s a few streets down, a walk away from where I live now, actually. I believe it was January, maybe 2016. The house was called the Tan Cradle. We also ran poetry, we did the Huntington Poetry Club out of that, and then the name stayed with it.
BK: Yeah I had heard you initially got involved in the DIY poetry scene before music.
RB: Yeah. And that started off on Huntington Street. When I came to Rutgers as a freshman, I was not involved in anything. But sophomore year, I moved into what happened to be the Huntington house, when it moved to Easton.
BK: For your music, I feel like it’s somewhere in the intersection of electronic, hip hop and hardcore. Is that accurate? How would you describe what you do?
RB: I would describe it exactly like that, for the most part. Most of my music is unreleased as well. I haven’t counted it, however I’m aware that it is several hundred songs. I pulled what thirty I had from online a few years ago, at the advice of a friend in the industry talking about, just don’t oversaturate your market or target audience. Most of my electronic stuff has never been heard [laughs]. But yeah, that’s correct.
It started because of a William Faulkner seminar that a professor of mine, a good friend to this day, was teaching at Rutgers. We had a project which was to make a multimedia representation of the works we had been reading at that point. So I did that, and I did it in the style I was rapping with a few friends for recreation. And then I showed it to my friends who are in the hardcore scene and they’re like, You have to do this as a formal project and do it live, because this is some of the angriest, most critical music we had heard at that point. It’s just different, different is most of what they were stressing.
BK: Do you have a home base among those three? Electronic, hip hop, hardcore? Did you start out with more in one than the other?
RB: I started off definitely with hip hop first as that’s what followed me throughout my life the most. I know as a child, there was actually, no. What did I start with? I guess it has to be gospel. It might have been gospel that I was most familiar with. So there’s a bias for gospel because I grew up, my parents were pastors to different varieties. They did have other jobs too. But hip hop and gospel. Honestly a tie between those two.
And nu-metal of course shows up. Which, I don’t talk about it though on purpose, but because of the WWE. I used to be a big wrestling fan, and because of that, nu metal was huge in my life [laughs].
I should also mention my dancehall background. That’s the first music I ever heard, dancehall. That’s the biggest influence. Hill Boys [2018-19 project] sounded like that. Kind of why my mumbling style on some of these songs and in general came from Jamaican dancehall, because I’m Jamaican.
BK: You touched on your uploads of your music, and I was looking around for it. Your Bandcamp has a lot of music, you had a whole album out in March. And the Spotify single recently with Zoloft Zombie. But it’s not everywhere. Where can we find your music? Is it mostly Bandcamp where you put stuff up?
RB: I’m trying to get it back online. I’ve been trying to, it’s one of those, oh what’s the word? I know there’s frequent memes and jokes about this. But it’s one of the things where I’ve been deciding a track list for about two or three years, like the track order and what I’m going to put on a release on Spotify. I don’t even have my best stuff on the Bandcamp at all. That’s kind of dated for the most part, besides that Chao Island one. But for right now, Bandcamp, that’s correct.
BK: Our mutual friend Sam, he described you as being uncommonly captivating on stage. I’m curious how you view going up on stage. Do you play it straight, or do you banter with the crowd? What’s your performance ethos?
RB: What did Sam say again? I want to hear that one more time. I just like that [laughs].
BK: Yeah, he said “uncommonly captivating.”
RB: Yeah, that’s what I usually go for. Mainly because it’s the style I garner, mostly from the hardcore shows that I was going to in the scene there, one. And that original project as well, it was based on this town called “Beat Four” in William Faulkner’s work, which was really in-your-face and like, violent. And fast, quick, nothing’s telegraphed, one-hundred-percent high-octane.
And I try to emulate that in real life as well. Why? Because of the historical and social conditions that are in my life and underrepresented people. And I think it’s generally, generally a mode of existence in this epoch and history, as it were, with the style which I ape on stage. Which is me really just doing whatever I want with banter, and creating a general degree of consistent, not inconsistency, but somewhat like a chaos.
At a hardcore show, you have to move. You’re going to have to dodge at times. I may just, like, charge. I may do things with a joke, a quick banter, and then I may just play a very angry track. Or really like, drop kick someone in the audience. That was a big thing of mine for a while when I was playing more. That was like my trademark move, drop kick someone [laughs] in the audience. But yeah, that’s where the philosophy comes from. That’s what the style is, generally.
So, “captivating” sounds good because it’s not really something you can ignore if you’re in the room. Mainly because of the intensity, the level at which I’m yelling. If I’m doing some of the yelling tracks, I’m just going all-out for the most part.
BK: Is it a goal to win over a crowd in those basements?
RB: It depends on my mood. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. I might want to alienate the crowd. I might want to win them over.
BK: And when you say drop kick, you mean you literally drop kick someone in the chest as part of the show?
RB: Oh yeah. That was just every show you went to, like an N.G.G.A. show. There’s a good chance you may be drop-kicked. You might get kicked on the stomach. I’m not pulling any punches either [laughs].
BK: Right. Well hey hardcore gets a little physical. And hardcore has its own kind of scene in New Brunswick, separate from the more straight-up rock. That’s more of the scene that you go to shows in, the hardcore stuff, as opposed to a rock and roll show?
RB: Yeah. It’s actually where I started with DIY. Because one of my friends, he worked for me when I was like 17 and I worked at this Papa John’s. I was the manager of it for some reason. But one of my delivery drivers happened to be a hardcore kid, and he invited me to a Hillsborough hardcore show. And then I was invited here to Brunswick for a hardcore show when I was like 17. And then I got into that, just basically because of this one friend. I didn’t know it was a thing.
And then I started off here more at the pop-punk side of things, when that was huge in like 2014. Because someone was throwing those shows, booking those shows at my house, which was called The Empire back then, or The Tabernacle for the poetry. And then after a series of crazy experiences, like crazy levels of just being like the, I don’t know, it was like me and a few, I guess, racial minority friends who were somewhat alienated throughout the years. I felt sort of I really didn’t care about it. I cared about it, however, at a certain point, I was like, you know, I’m just gonna focus on only being around the hardcore shows because I was going to both for like ten-plus years.
BK: You mentioned that where you live now is a block or two from that first performance space you lived in, in 2016 or so. And we’ve had a pandemic in between. Have you noticed if the scene has changed in any ways?
RB: Very much noticed. I’ve noticed that it’s more, I don’t want to use the word segregated, but it somewhat is. Not necessarily in a purely racial way, but in more of I would say economic way. I would notice that people in the hardcore shows, they’re somewhat, just to start here, I would say it’s less connected to the Rutgers community than it was. I believe there’s more of a disconnect, and there was already a huge one. By which I mean there’s less Rutgers students that I see there. There’s less of them. What I will see is there are more people who are coming from just New Brunswick who live here or the surrounding areas, or just happen to just be a hardcore kid or something.
And then I’ll notice that on the rock side of things, that I’ll see more alumni and I’ll see more RU current students. And it’s almost like exclusive business. It’s like a rule at this point. Now, I’ll see some alienated alumni at some hardcore shows, but I don’t really notice them interacting unless it’s something that maybe… There was myself or one other friend who will orchestrate the shows that have both parties [hardcore and rock]. And it’s usually like by chance, just happens to be at a place where regular rock shows happen and then there is a hardcore show there, such that the two groups are now just meeting each other by chance during a set.
BK: And are you finding a good community at the hardcore shows these days? Are you going to a lot of shows?
RB: I would say there’s several different communities at once in this community. It’s not clear to what extent that they’re all uniform. I know there’s a purported hardcore unity, which is just generally the view that people take and the view that people are actually aware of. The only thing that I do notice is that on just an ecological or taxonomic understanding of how any social sphere is gonna operate, I noticed there’s several different hardcore scenes basically within any one hardcore scene. And a lot of them have different modes of operation. That’s the only thing I’ve noticed.
But there is support from some of them, basically. I’ll say it in a less difficult to follow way than the way that I presented that. I would say that there’s subcommittees in this, more so than a large community. And they do support each other to various extent that they can. But I’ll say I’ll challenge the idea that there’s support really in a general, in any one scene, that there’s widespread support for anybody. And I feel like that’s not really possible to support everyone in the scene because it takes so much to do that and it’s really… Cognitively, I don’t know if that’s even possible with the way history has gone and the way social groups just work in the west and in the world.
The rest of the reason that I’ll feel the most home in hardcore is because I’ll know at times that I’m just outgrouped of course for several reasons. One is the way I talk right now, is in general, I’ve garnered this, inherited it, not just from life in general, but from the Rutgers philosophy department and the English department, from the most alienated, old-school professors there. And so it’s difficult, the words I use at times, nobody knows what I’m talking about. That’s one reason.
So I’ll go to these places because I know even though people don’t know what I’m talking about, or people may just abjectly dislike me, that I’m not going to be turned away and it’s not going to be unbearable. Because that’s how the scene is, just full of people that may or may not jive or may or may not understand or be on the same page, but we’re all here because of the music.
To an extent, there is a unifying aspect of knowledge of this, and wherewithal that this is where we are unified by difference, profound differences and profound discord. And profound, high-octane, just, I don’t want to say violence, but a theme in that life and that shows in the scene and in the music.
BK: Here’s some other music questions about a couple of projects that you’ve been on. One is Hill Boys along with David Pressler. I watched an interview of you guys from 2019, on A Band Show 3000.
RB: Oh yeah, that was a funny one.
BK: They had a question that I was going to ask you too, and that was about philosophy. You had a good answer. The question was, Did any of the philosophies you’ve learned carry into your music? And you said, Yeah, all the time, that’s why I curse so much.
RB: That’s true. This is probably the longest segment that I’ve not used any swear words of any variety in a long time right now [laughs].
I probably should mention Gricean maxims in linguistics. That was a big thing that followed my music and why I cursed a lot. Just because of his rules on pejoratives. I wrote a whole essay about it. It’s crazy that this guy is so instrumental to me.
BK: And you were also mentioning Faulkner and the writing department and stuff. So I’m curious just to continue that question. Are there any more artists, writers, philosophers that you follow in your music life, in daily life?
RB: Yeah, totally. Too many. Way too many. But I was just writing on this. It was 9/11 yesterday. And with respect and memory, I just happened to be writing a forty-page, monospace, philosophical evaluation and historical, almost like a seminal thesis type work. On how war and peace intersect in some of the modes that dominate basic communication in the world and the west throughout history. And I was talking about that and I just looked at the clock. I was like, oh, it’s September 11th. Some of the themes were actually on point. And in it, I reference which authors are most instrumental to me right now.
Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai writer. I may have mispronounced his name.
Dostoevsky is another. William Faulkner, I probably put him at the top of the list. Because of “The Sound and the Fury.” It’s difficult, very difficult to read. But if you can read it, and understand that you’re going into chaos to an extent – and you should probably have a wherewithal for chaos, if you’re not generally going to be instructed on or have an ability to learn chaos almost anywhere – then it might be a good read for you. Or you can start somewhere else.
Baldwin, definitely Baldwin. He actually worked in my hometown, for one, and had the same reputation that I had as like a black, crazed worker when he was working there. His philosophies helped me without even knowing that he worked there. He identified this area as the Deep South because of the latitudinal congruence with Kentucky, based on the coordinates. And history, of course. But Baldwin, instrumental, especially if you feel alienated in this area or anywhere in the world.
Who else? Oh, Machiavelli. Definitely Machiavelli. He has a horrible reputation for being jaded and being biased. Reading his work however, it’s clear that this is exactly what he’s trying to do. His work is generally, it seems expository on disingenuousness, and wartime philosophy. And actually just saying the opposite of what they believe as being a stratagem in self-defense and defense. And understanding that people you’re talking to may or may not be telling you what they generally believe. So I would say especially if you’re going into school or younger, you gotta read some Machiavelli. Don’t take everything at face value. Great for operating in the world.
Greek authors. I’ll close this up in a second. Virgil, Ovid, some of the classics. And then I’ve probably said enough to be honest [laughs].
BK: Yeah that works. And then another collaboration you had was with the rapper Lil B.
RB: Oh yeah. Basedgod, Basedgod [a moniker for Lil B].
BK: I couldn’t find what song it was though.
RB: “Genius Time,” under my other alias Radxbent.
BK: Is that on Spotify or Bandcamp or anything? [Posted atop article]
RB: It’s been on Spotify since like 2020. Because my work is just so disorganized, my media is so disorganized.
BK: How did that one come about? Because he’s pretty popular, underground hip hop SoundCloud rapper dude.
RB: He came to Princeton once in 2020, I believe, or 2019. Around there in the winter, to perform at an eating club there. I saw it on Facebook events identified by my girlfriend at the time whose sister was, we all lived around the area. And then we were somehow able to find someone who was in that eating club who helped us get into the event.
After which, while Lil B was performing… he was doing a lecture for the most part. The sound system was just simply abysmal [laughs]. He looked like he was not necessarily, he didn’t look like he was having the best time, from my perception, maybe I was jaded. But it was a good talk, it was a good lecture and it was good fun, but I don’t think the music was as pivotal to the engagement.
However, what I did while I was there, I’m like, you know what, who cares about social maxims, I’m simply going to do this thing that may be good and it may help whatever my goals are. He was talking about who can rap or who does music, and then because I already have people standing with me in the crowd, they just pointed at me and I started hearing stuff and I was like, I really just did not care.
But he did it. The eating club itself was pissed. They really didn’t know what was happening. I still have some videos of where I performed on stage. He was rocking with it. And I quoted his presence with The Pack, from about 2006 or five around there, you remember the song “Vans,” Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers? People don’t know that Lil B was in The Pack and that’s where he started. I knew all his stuff and I was like yeah, this is going back from fifth grade, sixth grade.
He appreciated this. And then when I went to talk about philosophy and the Rutgers philosophy department and my presence there and told him that if he would like, I can arrange that he could speak to some of the professors and maybe come to the department, as it were, at that time, or see a talk. And then he just gave me the rap for free.
And we actually have plans to work. I have plans to work with him soon. I would have, but I got doubly concussed exactly the week that I was supposed to. But we are still friends. We’re actually good friends, remained friends the entire time.
BK: Cool. Yeah. How are you doing? I know you’ve posted about some concussions lately.
RB: Yeah, that’s been rough. I went back and got cleared for this concussion. However, I’m more skeptical of that doctor, because it was like the worst… imagine we had to just pretend and play doctor as it were, to a patient. It was like that. They were doing way worse than I think any competent person could possibly do.
So I’m going to get re-evaluated for that because I have been reading on particularly soccer concussions. I was reading something about a damaged nerve, which seemed similar to the pain where I feel it. It was exactly where the US women’s soccer player who had gotten concussed several times talked about pain she had, and then she was given her actual diagnosis by an actual neurologist. Gonna get that checked out.
But it’s been a wild ride these two months or two months plus. It’s been like uncanny. Uncanny. First a twenty pound mirror fell on my head and shattered perfectly. Did not kill me somehow. The glass did not hit, did not cut any of me, just shattered on my head. And then there was a mosh pit one, of course, accident injury, and then it’s like all of my decisions have been with a huge asterisk and a huge cloud, about two months plus.
BK: Gotcha. Thanks and, sorry to hear that.
Another collaboration, this year you’ve got that song out, which I think you changed the name of the song, but it was “Kurt Angle.” “Perc Angle,” with Zoloft Zombie.
RB: Yeah, “Perc Angle,” it is now. Mainly in reference to his TNA [wrestling tour] time when he was addicted to opiates, and he was actually like a maniac. It was actually probably one of the best periods of his career, the wrestling.
BK: Do you and Zoloft Zombie have anything else planned for this year? I think you also performed together at one of those Demarest Hall events on campus?
RB: Yeah, that’s my boy. We go way back to Verbal Mayhem [Rutgers poetry club] days. Way back in the day, 2015, 2016, that era. Some of our projects synchronized; the way we play is similar, some of the vocal takes are similar. Why? Because I’m a bit older than Zoloft, but I’ve shared some of the things that are essential to my approach, and he shared other things that he has expertise in. So we built a lot of this together and worked on so many songs together, most of which are not released. That “Perc Angle” track was recorded actually like 2019 in Belle Mead in my mom’s basement [laughs].
BK: Nice. Any more music planned this year? Sounds like you’re also getting your catalog back up.
RB: Yeah, if I can bring myself to do it, I’m going to try to drop this album maybe in two days. Which probably won’t happen but I’m going to try. Without any promotion because I really don’t care. And for the scope of my aims at this point, at this moment, I mean, it’s irrelevant to an extent, the way that my target audience I think interacts with media. I think quick and fast is best. So I might do that.
And otherwise, Zoloft and I have a track or two that may be coming out soon. And then I’m definitely going to be working on that one project I referenced separately, actually the one that if I work with Lil B again, we do have a plan. And I want to put out one with just electronic music as well, similar to Hill Boys, because that was some really surreal music.
BK: Your song with Lil B, it came out when you were going as Radxbent, but it looks like you change your performance name sometimes. What’s the philosophy behind that?
RB: Just a poor decision [laughs]. I probably changed my name the most. I’ll give a shout out to Bars, the rapper Bars. She’s the only one that changed their name as many times as I do, or close to as many.
I’ve been Bentwaeve. That was the first change from N.G.G.A., I went to Bentwaeve, and then I went to Radxbent. I went to Hatestile during a really dark period where I was mocking Turnstile to an extent. And then I was like, you know what? Turnstile is not gonna be relevant forever, I simply have to change this. And then I went back to N.G.G.A. Actually, no, I didn’t, I went back to Bentwaeve, then I went back to N.G.G.A. after that, after my friend was like, Yo, this sounds like you’re just some Vaporwave project. If I’m trying to play with hardcore bands again, like I was at first, I simply have to change this back and get away from Bentwaeve [laughs].
BK: Alright cool. So that’s my whole list of questions. I kind of always like to ask, just if there’s anything you would want to add or discuss.
RB: Yeah, this is really important. I would say for DIY, especially those getting into it, I would go into this as like you’re in a professional environment. Not to the extent that I’m saying that it’s just like a job. I’m not saying that. But I would say that there’s a purported degree of political act, political affiliation, and code of ethics, that I do not believe is anywhere close to what is actually there in DIY. I just believe it’s to an extent a free-for-all, and one should proceed understanding that boundaries are important. Understand that I’m here to listen to a song, I’m here for music, and maybe just not take everything as face value. That’s one important thing.
Just to be cognizant, even though people might report like, Oh, I read Marx or something and I love ethics online. It may not be the case that in application, in form, it may not match their statements. Just a general rule of the world.
BK: Do you think people approach the DIY scene from a naive point of view when they should maybe be a little more guarded?
RB: I would say not naive, but I would say hypo-vigilant. I was in the cog-sci department. I was taking a grad course there at Rutgers and what we understand with psychology, and I continue to study and read, is just that hypo-vigilance dominates the general public sector. Especially in DIY.
People are not nearly as vigilant as they should be, I believe. I believe there’s a degree of profound distrust that one should have, and profound self-protection and awareness. Especially younger kids, especially when you’re interacting with people that are older who may have learned ways to simply speak to younger people in a way that is just disingenuous. And I believe people should be on guard in general. Any genre in DIY should be very on guard.
I believe people should be vigilant. If you’re with strangers and people are drinking or something, yeah, be aware. Just be aware of that, that boundaries are important. And just distrust more, doubt more.
Descartes would say it very well. Just doubt. I’ll end it with that. “I think, therefore I am.” He also says “I doubt, therefore I am.” Something like that. I don’t have a precise quote, but I believe that’s how it goes. “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” I believe it’s something like that. I think that’s pretty important.
BK: And sounds like you might be pushing out some music this week, right?
RB: Yeah. I may name one new music after the Descartes thing. Because doesn’t it seem crazy that people cut out the “I doubt,” therefore I think, therefore I am? Why do you remove that doubt part? That’s so important. But I might just name it after the Latin transcription of that sentence.
Also, before I was doing the music, I used to interview some artists for New Brunswick Today, way back in like 2014.
BK: Oh nice. Yeah I saw you did an interview on one of the WRSU or student papers, too.
RB: Random, random interviews. Or I guess, it’s not random, it’s just me choosing things to do. But that and The Targum. I had some Targum time, before I got axed for political reasons [laughs].
BK: Axed at the paper.
RB: Oh yeah. Because I was [laughs], I was running a philosophical text. It would infuriate some of the general populace because it would always be political for the most part. It would always be snarky, and it would always be very condescending, too, at times. My editor did not like that.
My editor, now it doesn’t matter because the editor is long gone from the school. But they were like, they could not read. I got fired because I tried to explain what a run-on sentence was. I wrote them a whole essay on how to write a sentence, and they were like, I’m not reading that! [Laughs] Good times.
BK: Do you have any outlets for writing now?
RB: Yeah, I have a Substack which is called Adamantine: the music of chaos. It’s like substack.com/njhc. I probably should change that at this point because I barely write about hardcore now. But I’m going to put that forty-page manuscript thing up in pieces soon. That’s actually a good reason. It’s very good. It basically explicates some of the stuff I vaguely referenced on distrusting in DIY and in the public sector and in the world in general, and communication and how people misdirect, and sometimes say the complete opposite of their mode and what they plan to do in the world.
BK: Cool. I’m going to check that out then. Do you mind if I, can I reference that in the interview? A link to it?
RB: Yeah, please do.
BK: All right, great. Well, thank you for talking today.
RB: Yeah, thank you. Appreciate it.
Ben Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. In 2022, he won the first place award for Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage for his coverage of the New Brunswick music scene, from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists.