Jim Spurlock wrote his first rap song for the band Neato Bandida Frito in 2000 at age 17. The song also served as his senior project at Hellgate High School and he titled it "Senior Project to Poop On." His teachers were not impressed.
"I think it was specifically because I thumbed my nose at them," he says. "If I had went at it a little more subtly, I probably could have gotten away with more. But that's never my style. I'm going to tell you [how I feel] to your face, regardless if you're a teacher grading me or not."
Spurlock says he took a jab at the school because the scope of the project was changed at the last minute from a collaborative, community-based activism assignment to a regular in-school task. But while the scope changed, it was still graded by both teachers and a panel of community members. He says the community members gave him an "A." His teachers gave him an "F." With that, a populist contrarian MC was born.
Two years after high school, Neato Bandida Frito was still getting requests at the now-defunct Jay's Upstairs for "Senior Project to Poop On." But it wasn't long before Spurlock's strong personality got him in trouble again. This time, it was his bandmates who got after him, giving him the boot. They soon went on to form one of Missoula's most popular hip-hop groups, the iNHUMANS, and Spurlock was left on his own.
"I was doing some unruly things," he says. "Back then I'd be late for this interview and probably be drunk already."
For several years, Spurlock rapped at parties for fun, but didn't attempt anything serious. Finally, in 2008, after he moved back from a short stint living in Washington state, the iNHUMANS asked Spurlock to open up for them at the Badlander. He put some songs together, billed himself with the moniker Tonsofun and set his sights on taking music seriously again.
"I give [the iNHUMANS] mad credit for me being Tonsofun," he says. "July 11, 2008, was my first show—my rebirthing so to speak. I remember it. I don't think it went well, but it kickstarted everything. I didn't even have trajectory before they gave me that show. I didn't exist."
In the 18 months since that show, Spurlock has written numerous new songs, played several local shows and is currently slated to open up for his favorite artist, Lyrics Born, in February. He also recently finished recording his debut solo album, Pohbuddy's Nerfikt. The title plays off the phrase "nobody's perfect," and speaks to Spurlock's personal journey. It's also an apt name for an album that took four attempts to record.
"Twice the computer crashed and one other time the guy I was working with was just not working out," he says. When he finally met up with his friend and producer, local rapper Linkletter, Spurlock had already penned new songs, and the final attempt ended up being his favorite take. Plus, it was tons of fun.
"I was in a buddy's bedroom in a haze of smoke and beer," he says. "Before he did the mastering, you could hear either me burping or opening a beer before every single track. I did dedicate it to Pabst because it had a large part to do with it. They owe me a sponsorship."
The recording is a combination of playful lyrics—an a capella ode to vodka, for instance—and more serious, personal storylines set against a series of badass beats. There are songs about girls and songs about, in general, perseverance. Certain lines speak to Spurlock's current hardships: He's been unemployed since June 2009, and, without his own car, has somehow found a way to split his time between Missoula and Clinton, where he grew up and where he goes to take care of his grandparents. Songs like "Flash in the Pan" include a country-styled slide guitar, reflecting his roots.
"It's the joke that I'm the hippie of Clinton, which is funny because when I'm in Missoula hanging out with friends, I'm the redneck," he says. "I think there's that underlying theme in my music that I'm a country boy. I always say I have a country swagger and I definitely have country hospitality."
Spurlock says he never thought he'd get to the point of putting out an album. But he never got tired of writing rhymes, even when friends tried to get him to quit dreaming about being an MC because he wasn't following through on his commitments. Now, he says, with six producers sending him beats, he's on a roll.
"I'm flawed in many, many ways," he says. "But all it took was me finally having the balls to do this for myself. As soon as I did start doing it, I only spent 18 months to [release] the album, and now I'm opening up for my favorite MC. I'm 27 so I got a pretty late start. But it's a start."
Tonsofun plays a CD release show at the Palace Saturday, Jan. 23, at 9 PM with Traffic, Linkletter and DJ Brand One. $3.