The Spokane rapper has a symbol-rich persona and a religiously devoted fan base.
Published: 12/29/08 Indlander
At 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, Knothead looms over a gathering of fans in the dimly lit back-room bar of Chan’s Dragon Inn.
The rapper, known to his friends as Steve Marggraf, lopes across the stage, braids swinging, with a macabre mask pulled to one side of his head. The off-white mask with the semblance of a skull has become a part of the Knothead image in recent shows.
The stage stands at the far end of a room littered with tables. People had huddled in groups talking among themselves until Marggraf and fellow rapper Maximus Rhyme started their set. Now all eyes are on the stage, most bearing a glossed look of quiet reverence, the groups of people breaking up as every person in the room seems drawn towards the stage by the persistent, magnetism of Knothead.
“Stompin’ out the gates of the wild Northwest,” Marggraf growls, kicking off the song "Stompin’." In time with an alt-metal beat, he delivers his growling rhymes with a grace that seems supernatural for something so guttural. “Chemically induced psychosis,” he howls with the force of a heavy metal showman. Marggraf’s music, while leaning to the horror-core rap side, incorporates a razor-sharp metal edge that draws in the head-bangers.
From his first performance in Spokane onward, Knothead has taken off, building a loyal, albeit eccentric, fan base.
The crowd lounging in front of the Blvd after one Knothead show says it all.
A fan on the far end of the crowd tries to rally the rest to a “puke attack” on the “juggalos” standing on the other side of Spokane Falls Boulevard. (“Juggalo” is a common term for Insane Clown Posse fans, which make up a portion of Knothead’s fan base.) This particular fan is convinced that, while it would be rude for him to go over and puke on the clown-faced kids across the street himself, it would be hilarious if five or six of them all participate.
Elsewhere, other fans comment on Knothead with religious awe. “It’s local and it’s the shit,” says a girl who goes by the name “Killjoy.”
She’s wearing dark baggy clothing and the black and white clown-face paint often associated with juggalos. “It’s doper than a bowl of giraffe turds.”
In this crowd, given names rarely resemble the names found on birth certificates.
“There’s generally a reason that [the nickname] was chosen for a person,” Marggraf said.
Ping Ping (this, ironically, is her real name), an instructor of sociology at Spokane Falls Community College, theorizes that a part of these peoples’ identities is expressed in their nicknames. “A name is more than a series of letters,” Ping says.
While the group in front of the Blvd might seem dark and intimidating, even unapproachable, that impression is only skin deep. The crowd’s mood evokes carefree playfulness and mischief.
Knothead’s crowds tend to wear their oddness like a badge. “How weird can this get?” seems to be the goal here. A non sequitur of a cheer — “Knothead smells like diamonds” — rings out. It’s these spectators’ version of the Surgeon General’s warning: “Product may cause strange outbursts at random moments.”
As the craziness wears on, a short man, hooded in a baggy sweatshirt, stands with quiet reserve near the street. The intimidatingly blank look on Than’s face says, this is the man to talk to. Here is the impartial voice of reason.
“It’s the perfect blend of rock and rap,” Than said. “The guy’s my family.” Than had no interest in explaining the last statement, but Ping offered several possible explanations for this intense identification with music.
It could indicate dissatisfaction with or a perceived lack of support from one’s biological family. It could mean that the person is looking for something beyond their physical family and finds it in the music.
While Knothead’s music wouldn’t seem to fit the bill here, this is probably the case. On stage or otherwise, Marggraf carries a strong aura of honor that the fans seem to pick up on.
For many of the fans, it goes beyond words and classifications.
“You can’t really put a label on him [Knothead],” Kalee Summer says.
The Knothead persona is biographical of Marggraf’s time living in the small coastal town of Port Hadlock.
He compares the birth of his Knothead alter ego to the way new pro wrestlers choose their characters.
“At its base, there’s a large part of Stone Cold Steve Austin in the person Steve Williams,” Marggraf says.
“He just takes a part of his personality and turns it up to times 100.” Knothead isn’t so much a persona as an extension of Marggraf’s own personality.
“That’s what Knothead is .... Knothead is me,” Marggraf said.
When Marggraf made the move to Hadlock, he did so with eyes wide open. He didn’t intend on getting involved with the town’s meth problem, but he knew it was there.
“I had constant exposure to meth for a year, year and a half,” Marggraf said. “Eventually it just became too familiar.”
Not that Marggraf blames his addiction on anyone but himself. “There was no kid being misled,” he says.
During his days abusing meth, Marggraf came across a couple tweaker kids who wrote rhymes. His first goal in rapping was simply to be better than them.
“I just started exploring myself. It was really like a cheap form of therapy, honestly. I probably saved my own sanity with self-exploration,” Marggraf says.
While his first album, Hadlock for Life, was chemically enhanced, Marggraf’s success comes more from two other elements.
The first words Marggraf utters if asked “What changed?” are, “My wife. I met my wife.”
At the time, Anne was in recovery from her own meth addiction but she jumped back in to save Marggraf.
“I made no bones about telling her this [meth] is what I do,” Marggraf said. “Parental advisory, enter at your own risk, you’re welcome to hang out if you want to.”
Around the same time, he hitchhiked to Spokane for a rap concert.
“I saw the crowd for what I was doing,” Marggraf said. “I knew Seattle was too big of a pond to get started and I knew the crowd was here [in Spokane].
“It was, like, polarizing. Every cell and ion in my body aligned magnetically ... everything made sense: ‘I’m coming to Spokane.’”
Many find it ironic that a meth addict would move to Spokane to get clean, but, as Marggraf says, “There is someone making meth within 100 miles of every hardware store in the United States. It’s all on you.”
Before the Chan’s Dragon Inn show, Marggraf confided the meaning behind the mask, which has become a personal totem to him.
He wore the mask of crystal meth for 12 years. While a part of that experience will always be with him, he has been able to pull it aside, conquering a corner of the rap scene by telling his story.
Knothead with B.B.N. Mafia, Allustrious Entertainment. and more at Casey’s on Saturday, Dec. 27, at
9 pm. 21+ $5 at the door. Call 326-4111