Grammatical B is the alter ego of Ben Johnson, longtime Casbah bartender and member of Hostile Combover, Tourettes Lautrec, Wha?, and the Long and Short of It. “It’s comedy-based storytelling rap stuff,” he says.
“This is my first foray into rap, after doing heavy rock and punk for the last 20 years,” says the Golden Hill resident. Asked about early influences, he mentions Weird Al (whose parents were longtime San Diegans). “Although I won't be doing any parody stuff, ever.”
“When the wee Grammatical one moved from Seattle to Carlsbad and had culture shock before going to the beach and forever bidding farewell to my Emerald past, I would often fall asleep on the top bunk, my brother on the lower, and we would laugh at the Dr. Demento radio show until my strict mother would come in and make us read Dostoevsky to remind us there are no free lunches.”
Johnson doesn't consider Grammatical B to be a so-called novelty group. “I avoid being labeled a novelty act by making every song so amazingly catchy and danceable that no one realizes they should be laughing until they're halfway through freaking someone's mother or the furniture.”
As for locals he finds a kinship with, “The one contemporary in San Diego that I'm aware of is D-Pain. Extremely good and funny.”
His debut CD The Birthinating was released in October, 2010. Regarding one of the songs, “Don’t Ask Don’t Intel,” Johnson says “It was written for my friend from Mexico City, who is being sued by the Intel Corporation for using the word ‘intel’ in his news service, which of course has nothing to do with Intel Corporation.” A video was shot for the song as well.
Another song takes a shot at a certain type of bar patron.
“You’re a douchebag, that’s the only explanation/ for the same mistakes that you keep on making.”
“Think of it as a public service announcement,” says Johnson of “Rules and Laws,” the comedic song and video he created with Michael Pereira (Microphone Mike). “Shot at the Casbah, it’s me speaking — or yelling — at all those obnoxious people who just don’t get the art of ordering a drink.”
“Wait your turn, we know where you are/ that’s why the hell we’re on this side of the bar.”
“It ain’t like you see on TV/ we ain’t friends and I ain’t doing therapy. Once you get stupid, you’re out the door/ we got a goon squad, that’s what we’re paying ’em for.”
Despite the common perception that hip-hop events can be dangerous, Johnson says, “So far, it’s been a lot safer [than rock and roll].... I’ve been injured countless times on stage. My old band Tourettes Lautrec used to end each show with the guitarist flying into me behind the drums.” The same group played what he recalls as his “worst gig ever, New York City in 1999. I was too drunk to play and embarrassed the shit out of myself in front of 500 people. That was not incredible.”
He says neither rock nor rap has ever paid well enough to quit bartending. “I’ve had zero cents and owed people money probably a hundred times in my life. In fact, if someone is reading this and I owe you money, I’m sorry, but I’m still pretty thin over here. Someday, though, I promise.”
As for lyrics, he says “It’s not funny until you asphyxiate or wet yourself. Puddle that shit.”
As of 2012, the comedic rapper is now backed by a DJ crew: Grand Marceny, Hype Woman Extraordinaire, and newest addition Dub Baloney. Johnson also plays with Wha?, is a goth-punk band he formed in 2012 alongside keyboardist Tracy Wooley (of Beehive & the Barracudas, formerly of Tourette's Lautrec and Tammy Faye), with Kaoss Pad and David Robles (the Marsupials).
Johnson also plays with Wha?, is a goth-punk band he formed in 2012 alongside keyboardist Tracy Wooley (of Beehive & the Barracudas, formerly of Tourette's Lautrec and Tammy Faye), with Kaoss Pad and David Robles (the Marsupials).
Johnson became a published novelist in 2014 with his book A Shadow Cast in Dust, an urban fantasy mostly set in Golden Hill. A sequel was released in 2016. “Blood Silver, the second installment of the Webworld trilogy, takes the story of A Shadow Cast in Dust forward three months to a convergence of several groups swirling around Buddy Figgins, the boy who escaped the dreaded warehouses,” he says. “Finally, found by those searching for him, Buddy kicks off a chaotic chain of events. Spells are cast. The Web is twisted by the Council and their foes, some of which may be playing both sides.”