In the history of unintentionally hilarious YouTube videos – and there have been plenty of those – the Average Homeboy ranks pretty highly.
However, as WOW247’s Mark Butler pondered last week when he asked whether music could be simultaneously bad and brilliant, it’s Denny ‘Blazin’ Hazen’s lack of self-awareness that makes his rap demo so endlessly watchable.
He’s just a middle class white guy trying to express himself, after all.
Made in 1989, ‘Average Homeboy’ gathered dust on a shelf at MTV for 16 years, until an anonymous employee uploaded it to YouTube in 2005.
It quickly became a viral hit, making an unlikely star of the hoop-shooting, Froot Loop munching Hazen, and inspired a stream of video parodies and tributes.
With a new documentary about his unlikely career now on YouTube (where else?), we spoke to Hazen about what it’s like to be a human internet meme, why he has no regrets, and what he really felt about Vanilla Ice stealing his thunder.
We think that, once you read our interview, you’ll just be Blazed…
Hi Denny. Let’s start by covering off your breakthrough, back in 1989, long before it became a YouTube sensation… Did you have a genuine ambition to be a rap star back then, and did you receive any feedback at the time?
“Yes, I had been a fan of rap music since the late ’70s. There was a song called ‘Jam On It‘ by Newcleus which really got my interest in rapping. During the ’80s, rap started to gain its popularity. In high school, I got a job editing TV commercials at a local cable company, Warner Cable which was a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment. The parent company is now Time Warner. Through company publishing, I found some contact names at the Warner Bros. Labels. So, I figured that if I made a demo, then I could get my material in front of them. I did receive pass letters.”
But most labels rejected it, and MTV shelved it (for 17 years anyway). Did you give up there and then?
“No. Actually, I continued to make demo after demo, and I’ve got a folder full of pass letters from many record labels. More than ironically, some of the record labels liked my material enough to tweak some of my ideas into their own.”
What happened next for you?
“I made my first rap demo as a Freshman while in college at Kent State University. Many people think that Average Homeboy was the first video that I made because the anonymous person from MTV who uploaded my video did that video first. Actually, Blazin Hazen was my first video. Then, Average Homeboy was my second rap demo video. My track coach in the 7th grade in school nicknamed me, Denny Blazin Hazen. Anyway, I earned a degree from KSU in Journalism and Mass Communications. Then, I continued my career in television broadcasting.”
How did you feel when Vanilla Ice became massive the year after you made Average Homeboy?
“I’ve always liked the song, ‘Ice Ice Baby’. It has a great hook with the ‘Under Pressure’ ding da-ding da-ding ding ding. I give props to Rob Van Winkle for putting his material out there. He did his thing. I think that it’s reverse discrimination for people to rip him apart for being a ‘white rapper’. There is a difference between him and me. I don’t play the hardcore, tough act. ‘Ice Ice Baby’ has lyrics about gunshots and drugs. My material has always been about good clean fun. For sure, I’ve never been a thug.
“On VH1, the late comedian, Patrice O’Neal, once said this about me on a TV show called Web Junk… ‘Finally, a rapper who’s rapping about… how tough it is not to be tough.’ The record industry has changed a lot over the years.
“One thing that is still the same is… rap music falls under the ‘urban’ genre. That’s where I’ve always wanted a change. My music has always been from a suburban point of view from a white guy in Ohio. I don’t rap about drugs, thuggin’, gang bangin’, or other kinds of criminal activity. Also, I have an education. I don’t speak with triple negatives. For some reason, the stereotype of a rapper has to be ghetto. It has even progressed with Eminem who is from the 8 Mile trailer park. I’m just an Average Homeboy.”
OK, so let’s fast forward to 2005, when Eminem is a global star, and someone at MTV posts your original demo tape on YouTube. How did you find out, and what was your reaction?
“This happened at a time when YouTube was brand new. They had just started up their site, and it really mostly consisted of a homepage with featured videos. My video, Average Homeboy, was one of the featured videos. As I mentioned, I never gave up my recording contract dreams. So, I had a website. I started to get hundreds of emails from viewers who had looked me up and found my website. I was surprised, at first, because I had made that demo video so many years ago! Also, I made the video with intentions to present my concept to record labels.
“Some people might have been embarrassed by the rough video. Though, after I thought about it, I accomplished what I had set out to do. When I recorded the video, the internet didn’t even exist. Heck, cell phones, laptops, iPads, and even CDs didn’t exist yet. I recorded the demo on a cassette tape in a boom box. Kids today would have a hard time grasping some of the tech differences that we had back then. For that reason alone, Average Homeboy is unique in its own right. There weren’t many teenagers who could actually edit video on 3/4 inch videotape back then. Getting back to the purpose of my demo… I wanted to Blaze the world. Thanks to the internet coming along. I got to fulfill that dream.”
Were you comfortable with being a figure of fun?
“I can understand the comedy in… a white guy who was working on smoothing out his rapping. I like entertaining. So, there is a mix of seriousness and comedy. Hopefully, you can catch that in some of my lyrics, ‘For enjoyment, I like to shoot some hoops, but not until I eat… All my Froot Loops!’ I’ve found that people either love or hate the Average Homeboy. For sure, it gets a reaction out of them.”
Did you attract a genuine fanbase for your music after that?
“Yes, I prefer to call them… friends. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends around the globe through my videos.”
You’re listed as ‘Average Homeboy’ under KnowYourMeme.com, and there’s been no shortage of parody videos. What does it feel like to be a living, breathing internet meme?
“I’m just glad that I was able to share my videos around the world. I had the anonymous uploaded videos removed from YouTube. I could have the many more views on my videos if I had left them up. However, the TV show 20/20 on ABC wanted to do a story on how my video went viral. The anonymous person wouldn’t come forward for the story. So, I figured that they were only trying to take advantage of me. They also had a website selling merch using my name and face. Anyway, the best part about being an internet meme is making a ton of friends.”
Why did you decide to make the documentary? Has that sparked a renewed appreciation for the Average Homeboy?
“I’ve been doing some acting on the side. I’ve always had a desire to turn my story into a movie. For now, it is just a documentary, but I’d love to develop the story into a major motion picture. It’s a pretty incredible story.”
Looking back at your unconventional career, what’s your proudest achievement?
“There are a few achievements that I’m proud of. For example, I’ve appeared on Comedy Central and VH1. Those are worldwide television broadcasts. Tosh.0 gave me a Web Redemption and VH1 named me as their Top #3 Greatest Internet Superstar. So, to be able to go to Hollywood or New York and be on worldwide television, it has been a big achievement after growing up in a really small town in Ohio.”
If you could travel back in time to 1989, with the knowledge of what’s happened over the past 26 years, would you do anything differently?
“When I made my videos back then, I gave it my best shot. I knocked on many doors and sent out my demos. Of course, now… I know that it was the internet which would open a door for me. Still, I probably wouldn’t change anything. To this day, I really am just an average homeboy. I’m a middle class guy who likes to express myself through rap music. It’s never been about getting rich for me. I wanted to get my music out there to the world, and I have done that. I’m anxious to see where ‘music and technology’ will be in another 26 years!”
So Bad It’s Good:
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- Urban Gothic: the crap British Twilight Zone
- Samurai Cop is the best bad action movie
- The joy of bad video game dialogue
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