Canada’s Len—featuring chief songwriter and singer-producer Marc Costanzo, also known as the Burger Pimp, and his older sister Sharon Costanzo, as well as D. Rock, DJ Moves, Planet Pea, also called Kudu5, and Drunkness Monster—present a different take on the popular rap-rock hybrid. Rather than adopting an abrasive “gangsta” style, Len has instead opted for old-school hip-hop beats and tape loops mixed with catchy pop and rock. “Hip-hop is hurting,” the Burger Pimp says, as quoted by Billboard magazine’s Carrie Bell. “All you have these days are your Master Ps with all their hard gold chains, tanks and camouflage. But rap isn’t about that. It’s about brotherhood and elevating your consciousness. Old school brings everyone to the party and feels good. People act like rap started three years ago, but it has history. Our music pays homage to that.” Still, Len’s image is not entirely void of the present-day hip-hop nation, given the members’ nicknames and streetwise fashion sense.
Although Len seemed to appear out of nowhere in 1999 upon the release of their infections hip-hop/pop single “Steal My Sunshine,” which became a top ten hit in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain, the group had been building a name for themselves for nearly a decade. Prior to securing a relationship with EMI Publishing and signing a major-label record deal with Sony/Work Group, Len released music on their own Four Ways to Rock Records (founded by Marc Costanzo), designed their own album covers, and directed their own videos. Additionally, Costanzo founded a national urban/skate magazine titled Vice.
“Len is a self-contained unit that does everything and does it well… ,” Jeff Ayeroff, a former co-president of the Work Group, told Bell. “That kind of act is usually the most rewarding to work with, but they’re also a big risk. We had faith, and it turns out they’re brilliant.”
Based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Len—named after a friend who happened to wander into a rehearsal studio just as band members were trying to decide what to call themselves—emerged in 1991 as a mainly noise-driven punk band led by Marc Costanzo, who had recently moved with his family to the Toronto area from Montreal. “We would smash our instruments after five minutes onstage, because we didn’t know how to play,” he admitted to Steve Appleford in the Los Angeles Times. Sharon Costanzo joined a year later when her younger brother pulled her onto the stage at one of the band’s gigs.
Already a fan of hip-hop, Marc began recording other artists free of charge at his home studio and came into contact with various Canadian DJ talents, among them future Len members DJ Moves and D. Rock, who inspired the punk rocker to begin experimenting with beats. “That’s what we all grew up with in the late ’80s and early ’90s in Toronto and Montreal,” he said in an interview with Washington Post writer Richard Harrington. “In my early teens, I got into the punk rock scene, and then, like everybody else, I got into Run D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys…. I just love it because rap then was still innovative and creative. That old-school feel has got so much more depth, it’s so much more diverse. You can head so many different places with it, have so much fun—you don’t have to be so serious.”
Gradually, old-school rap—viewed by the group as a classic period in American music, similar to how other generations looked at the big band era, rock and roll, and Motown—crept into Len’s overall sound as Marc Costanzo plunged into the local hip-hop scene. The community became known as the Cryptic Souls Crew, later dubbed the Len Crew. “There are about 40 of us and we’re all headed in the same direction,” Marc explained to Harrington. “Len is us six, the people that represent the crew and go on the road, while the Len Crew is the 30 people behind us.”
Between 1992 and 1996, Len released their first EP and two albums—including Get Your Legs Broke —on Marc Costanzo’s Four Ways to Rock label. Issued in 1996, Get Your Legs Broke led to self-directed independent videos for the tracks “Smarty Pants” and “Trillion Days.” Meanwhile, Marc Costanzo continued to release hip-hop records for other acts on the side and claims to have sold between 10,000 to 15,000 copies every time Four Ways to Rock released a record. Although Len is now signed to a major label, Marc intends to release a follow-up of sorts on Four Ways to Rock, not by Len, but by the entire Len Crew.
Members include Marc Costanzo (also known as the Burger Pimp), vocals, songwriting, producer; Sharon Costanzo, vocals; Drunkness Monster; DJ Moves; Planet Pea (also known as Kudu5); D. Rock.
Formed in Canada by Marc and Sharon Costanzo, 1991; released one EP and two albums on Marc Cos-tanzo’s Four Ways to Rock label, 1992-96; released Can’t Stop the Bum Rush, which contained the hit “Steal My Sunshine,” on the Work Group label, 1999.
Also, DJ Moves plans to record a disco-inspired album with Sharon Costanzo.
Len’s indie releases and videos, as well as their exuberant live shows, eventually generated record-company interest, and in the late 1990s, they signed to Work Group. In the spring of 1999, the group had a surprise hit with the song “Steal My Sunshine,” which was included on the Work Group-released soundtrack for the teen action film Go. While most thought tracks by No Doubt, Natalie Imbruglia, and Fatboy Slim were to receive the greatest radio play, stations unexpectedly latched on to Len. “Everyone was gung-ho about No Doubt, but Len is what really grabbed me,” said Aaron Axelson of San Francisco, California’s Live 105 (KITS), as quoted by Bell. “Not only is it fresh and connected with a hip movie, the song is a great balancer in a sea of Kid Rock and Korn.” Len’s profile was further enhanced when MTV and VH1 aired the “Steal My Sunshine” video on a regular basis.
However, Len could not understand what all the fuss was about. “We have a lot of songs like ‘Sunshine,’” Marc insisted to Harrington. “I’m not saying that they’re all hits or are going to be hits, but we have 30 songs like that lying around, and that was one we just picked out of a bunch. And it was recorded on eight-track! That’s a really low-quality format to have a Top 40 single on.”
Because of the response to the song, Work Group released the group’s major-label debut, Can’t Stop the Bum Rush, months ahead of schedule in the summer of 1999. A mixture of various genres, the album—also containing “Steal My Sunshine”—won high marks from the music press. Highlights from Can’t Stop the Bum Rush included the Kraftwerk-style techno track “The Hard Disk Approach,” the pop/soul ballad “Crazy ‘Cause I Believe,” and a heavy metal tune featuring an appearance by Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille called “Feelin’ Alright.” However, the heart of the album centered on old-school hip-hop. Using the pull of a big label, the group enlisted contributions from original players Biz Markie, who guested on “Beautiful Day” and “Man of the Year,” and Kurtis Blow, featured on the track “Cold Chillin.’” Besides “Feelin’ Alright,” engineered by John X, who has worked with Ice Cube and Korn, Can’t Stop the Bum Rush was mixed in Los Angeles, California, by the Dust Brothers’ John King, known for his work with the Beastie Boys, Beck, and Hanson.
In October of 1999, Len embarked on a five-week tour of North America. Following the tour, they traveled to the mountains of Nova Scotia in Canada to begin work on a new album by the expanded Len Crew.
Get Your Legs Broke, Four Ways to Rock, 1996.
Can’t Stop the Bum Rush, Work Group, 1999.
Billboard, June 26, 1999; July 31, 1999; October 14, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1999; November 1, 1999.
Melody Maker, December 8-14, 1999.
Rolling Stone, September 30, 1999.
Washington Post, October 8, 1999; October 11, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 12, 2001).
Hip Online, http://www.hiponline.com (March 13, 2001).
Len Official Website, http://www.lensite.com (March 13, 2001).
"Len." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/len
"Len." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/len
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