January 10, 2006

Jelly D Takes It

A man dressed as a giant donut rocks the Bay Area's battle-rap scene.

Keith Huang

On a small stage in Oakland, Calif., a freestyle rap battle is underway, and Andrew Bancroft has just been handed the microphone.

Jelly D
Courtesy Illbilly Productions
Jam-packed with flavor.
A thumping hip-hop beat plays overhead while two attractive young women, who serve as timekeepers, sway in time to the music. One of the women is topless, though two (presumably large-denomination) bills cover her nipples.

With knees locked, Bancroft, a 26-year-old San Francisco resident, bounces up and down like a pogostick, the mic cord flailing about wildly. It's not that behavior, but instead his unorthodox attire, that makes him stand out even amid this odd tableau: Bancroft, who calls himself "Jelly D," is dressed as a giant jelly donut.

On this night in April 2004 (see video), even a rapping jelly-donut has a place in the eclectic mosaic that is "Tourettes Without Regrets," a monthly vaudeville show that founder and host Jamie DeWolf calls, "Sex, drugs and spoken word."

As seen in the video, in a second-round bout against an MC named "Ravenous," Jelly D rouses the crowd with the line, "Your girlfriend wants some lovin'/You come once/But I come by the dozen." In a subsequent round, Jelly D beats two MCs at once.

"There's nothing more embarrassing than getting beat by a gigantic donut," DeWolf says. "The next day, that's just gotta sting." DeWolf, who calls himself a performance poet, has known Bancroft from the Bay Area-comedy and live-performance scene. (Bancroft, a member of San Francisco sketch-comedy troupe Killing My Lobster, also performs regularly with Kenny Taylor as the comedy collective, Illbilly Productions.)

Traditionally, in freestyle battles, two MCs hurl rhymed insults at each other to demonstrate who has the greater lyrical skills, and the ultimate goal is to win the crowd's favor. But in the unwritten rulebook of freestyle battling, there's nothing that says you can't come dressed as a pastry item—especially at Tourettes Without Regrets, where nothing is too weird or sacred for display. And Bancroft doesn't limit himself to donut costumes. According to DeWolf, over the years, some of the more notable MC battles have featured Bancroft dressed as an old lady, a pudgy Santa Claus, a cockroach, an elf named "Holly Berry," and George W. Bush.

DeWolf doesn't tip off other MCs that one of their competitors will appear in costume. "It takes away from the challenge," he says. "If I tell them they'll be battling the president, and they have 20 minutes to figure that out beforehand, then they're going to write some verses for it."

Jelly D
Courtesy Illbilly Productions
The donut in battle mode.
In freestyle battling, a key element to winning is the use of improvisation in rhyme. A verse that is current and relates to events in real time almost always earns crowd approval; therefore, it's easy to assume that whenever Bancroft battles in costume, his competitors easily demolish him with punchlines.

Not so, says DeWolf. "A lot of MCs get shook," he says. "They have no idea what to do. But the MCs that actually accept [the costume] and attack him as that character, those are the ones that usually win."

For example, DeWolf recalls a battle in which an MC beat Bancroft who was dressed as President Bush. The MC rhymed: "I'm gonna send this bitchass to heaven/I've seen his punk ass on Fahrenheit 9/11/I grab this mic and just bomb him/You can't see me/You can't even find Bin Laden."

"That just destroyed it," DeWolf says.

These improvised moments have helped to make Tourettes Without Regrets a consistently popular Bay Area draw (see video) since its inception in 1998. Today, the show draws nearly 400 people and features not only freestyle rap battles but also slam poetry, standup comedy, acoustic death metal, yodeling contests—just about anything that might fall under "unconventional entertainment." And capitalizing on the creativity that for years has been showcased at these rap battles, DeWolf has compiled a CD of the best freestyle battles.

Gelf Magazine recently interviewed Bancroft (as "Jelly D") to ask about what it's like to rap in a donut suit, whether he travels with an entourage, and what went down the night he toppled six MCs in a row.

Gelf Magazine: What's up, Jelly D?

Jelly Donut: Yeah, yeah, what's going down?

GM: How you doing?

JD: Doing all right. Doing wonderful. It's a little early for me.

Andrew Bancroft on Jelly D

Shortly after displaying his freestyle prowess, Jelly D handed the phone over to his alter ego, Andrew Bancroft.

Gelf Magazine: Hey, Andrew, how you doing?

AB: Hey, I'm good. How'd your interview with the donut go?

GM: It went well. About as well as I would have thought.

AB: Yeah, I just caught the end of that freestyle. I don't know, man, sounds like Jelly D's under the weather.

GM: At what percent would you say Jelly D was performing just now?

AB: That was about an 8 percent.

GM: Out of 10 percent?

AB: Out of 8-1/2 percent. So, not too bad.

GM: Is Jelly D just a side project? What's his role in terms of Killing My Lobster?

AB: Wherever Jelly goes, I go. The two of us have a lot of things we want to be a part of, and we're blessed to have too much of it around. Killing My Lobster is always providing great opportunities to perform and make new comedy in the Bay Area. But Jelly D and I work very closely with Kenny Taylor in a group called Illbilly, making movies and stuff. But there's definitely a challenge between those two groups—which one to commit to and which one not to—but it's really just a blessing to have too many things you want to do.

GM: So are Illbilly and Killing My Lobster stuff you do fulltime?

AB: All of the creative stuff I do is fulltime for me, and Killing My Lobster is definitely a large portion of it. We're writing a lot of shows and I'm going to be working on and heading up a first-ever Killing My Lobster musical for 2006 in the fall, which I'm pretty excited about. There may be a possible merging of the donut and the lobster for the first time.

GM: How would you describe the comedy scene in San Francisco?

AB: I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. When you're performing comedy or just doing acting in the Bay Area you often get: 'Hey, you guys are good. When are you going to move to L.A. or New York City?' There's something behind that, in that there's a lot more money and a lot more focus in those places. But there's also something to be said for how powerful San Francisco and the surrounding cities are that people are sticking around and not just going down to L.A., which is so close. There's a quality of life here that brings out a lot of inspiration in comedy—there's a lot of weirdos in this town. Lot of freaks. Not everybody's cut-and-dry like Jelly Donut. There's some real characters out here. So you get some really quirky, strange comedy—or grounds for it, anyway.

GM: Like who?

AB: There's a guy named Will Franken who's a great comedian—you'll hear a lot from him. There's a group called Kasper Hauser that's really funny. And there's a lot of crossover, too. I know a lot of musicians who are absolute characters to watch. You wouldn't necessarily be going for a comedy show, but they'll keep you super entertained. Sean Hayes is one, a beautiful singer/songwriter, Obo Martin—all those guys are going to be coming up on the scene. Kid Beyond, I don't know if you're much into beatboxing. He actually did the beats in the background of "Maximum Wage." There's a really good vibe here.

GM: So what's next for Jelly D?

AB: Jelly D hasn't been back at Tourettes in a while. There's a great community of MCs there and Jelly D likes to go back and battle those cats. But for right now, along with Illbilly, Jelly Donut is helping to write a 15-minute musical film about evolution. Just a rather humorous look at the argument for intelligent design and creationism vs. natural selection. It's a musical with lots of hairy monkey people singing in the forest. I'm excited. Shooting begins early in 2006. Man, I can't believe it's 2006.

GM: Any other shoutouts, messages for the kids?

AB: Stay in school. You know, Jelly D is big on school. And he thanks anyone who takes the time to listen to him. It's his sugary-sweet goodness is what fills your bellies. But it's people who listen to his loud-ass mouth that gives him energy.

GM: I heard you're a little hungover. What'd you get up to last night?

JD: Y'know, sometimes I like to just do little bakery crawls. And about the third or fourth one you've seen so many donut holes your head is spinning—you don't know what flavor you are anymore. You don't know if you're raspberry, lemon, custard cream, gravy, chutney—I threw some Indian flavor in there.

GM: How does Jelly D get rid of a hangover?

JD: Well, I usually sleep most of the morning. Make a giant pot of Dunkin' D coffee—Dunkin Donuts coffee—that I order that from across the country and I get that delivered by my own personal jet plane. Other than that, sometimes I just squeeze a little filling out and toss it around the room a little bit. Acclimate. It always helps to purge a little.

GM: Yeah, man, sometimes you gotta get the evil out.

JD: Mm-hmm. I hear ya.

GM: So most MCs rap about their life and what they see outside their window. What does Jelly D rap about?

JD: I like to mix it up a little bit. I rap about my life. There's all kinds of things you can rhyme about, really. You can rhyme about your past, and where you grew up, which, for me, was a pretty harrowing experience trying to escape from a bakery. Thank God I had my friends Apple T and Bearclaw who helped me get out of there. So I rhyme about that a little bit. And then you can rap about all the ho's you're going to get with at some point. I do some of that as well—no disrespect to my sisters. And, then there's the battle-rapping and you're pretty much obligated to make fun of the person right next to you. It's difficult because there's a lot of Player Haters out there, and then I get Player Cravers—they don't know if they want to beat me or just devour me from head to toe.

GM: How do you prepare for an MC battle?

JD: Jelly Donut doesn't get super-blunted before his battles anymore. That's stopped working for him probably because getting blunted is a gateway drug and that just leads to doing 10 pounds of mushrooms and drinking a gallon of Zima. But mostly I just jump around a little bit. The legs are more important in freestyle than most people would guess because you need a whole lot of words when you're freestyling and they don't all fit in your head. You need some of them to fit in your legs. So if you stretch your legs out you'll have extra room for rhymes. Don't go tellin' everyone that—that's a little Jelly Dizzle secret for you.

GM: How long have you been doing MC battles?

JD: Just a couple of years, not all that long. Jelly Donut would never claim to be the best on that topic. Some people can just rip you apart. But I like to go out there and see what people think of the donut. I'll be honest, some people are prejudiced and you might get kicked around in certain neighborhoods if you look a little bit different. But if you don't have any punchlines for somebody you're battling, then you've just got to move in and just see what you can make happen with the rapping.

GM: Do you roll up dressed as Jelly D, or do you go incognito and just bust it out onstage?

JD: I do like the surprise attack. But now it's gotten to the point where my safety is threatened if I walk out there dressed as the donut, 'cause a lot of people in Oakland want to see the donut. If I had enough bungee cords, I'd like to do some kind of swing dance in there, or Harry Potter could, like, materialize me on top of the stage to make it an extra surprise. But right now I just kind of squeeze through the crowd—I'm kind of fat. But when I get the Harry P on the Jelly D side, shit's gonna happen.

GM: What's it like to be the most famous pastry MC on the web right now?

JD: It's kinda nice because we're getting a lot of fans checking out our site, and saying hello. MySpace is blowing up—I got like three new friend requests just yesterday and that's just huge on the MySpace thang. But the top-of-the-line dogs aren't contacting me yet, and when I mean top-of-the-line I mean, the "It's Time to Make the Donuts Guy" hasn't called me yet.* Pop'n Fresh—he's the original article; some people say he went soft, but I say he keeps poppin' around—he hasn't contacted me yet, but I got a lot of cool people getting in touch, sending me beats that they made.

(*Last Dec. 27, Michael Vale, the actor who appeared in countless Dunkin' Donuts television ads as the sleepless baker who says, "Time to make the donuts," died at 83. Several days after this interview was conducted, Gelf emailed Jelly D to ask him about the loss of one of America's most well-known cultural icons. "It is no less than a level 7 mega-travesty. Not only was I touched by 'Mad Mike's' humble nature, but he was like a mother to me. He actually was the mother of some of my best homies (Bearclaw and A. Fritter, to name two). I will be honoring his life with a week-long fast (donut holes only). Everybody pour a sip of your Coffee Coolatta for my homeslice departed.")

GM: If you got stopped by a cop for speeding, what do you think would happen?

JD: I keep a big entourage around me at all times. I don't want to get stopped by two big cops, you know—they could make me be the next Jimmy Hoffa. It'd be like, "We don't know where [Jelly Donut] went." I mean, let's say a couple of dudes from the SFPD [San Francisco Police Department] gained a couple pounds over the weekend—"Jelly D's missing—we don't know what happened."

GM: Basically they would eat the evidence.

JD: That's what I'm saying. You're not working with them, are you?

GM: Nah, I ain't Five-Oh.

JD: You gotta be careful—you never know. I didn't mean to disrespect. The hangover's speaking to me.

GM: Tell me about the fresh Jelly D gear. How do you pee in that get-up?

JD: It's rather challenging, but you'd be amazed. The legs, once again, are very important, and the bottom of the dough stops at right about the jelly-balls level. When the job needs to get done, it gets done. I got some short little stubby arms, but I make up for it in my dexterity.

GM: I noticed that—your arms kinda make you look like a T-Rex. But you still manage to express yourself with your arms.

JD: I trained by watching Jurassic Park a couple of times. I was thinking the same thing: "What does he do? He gets away with those short little stubby arms but he can still flip cars and shit." So I watch that some, and then yoga. You know, you gotta get your Chi moving from your jelly Chakra up to the outer sugar Chakra and shoot it straight through.

GM: Who are your hip-hop influences?

JD: Definitely a Biggie fan. R.I.P. There was just something about his size that I connect with—it's like we both have the same birthday or something. Jay-Z grew on me quite a bit. I like a lot of the west coast gangster stuff and I like the east coast.

GM: What kind of jelly donut is Jelly Donut?

JD: That's the eternal question, really. I usually got some pink coming out the side. It's like mood changes for me—my insides can change. But there's definitely a hint of raspberry in there most of the time. But sometimes on particularly bright days I'll be lemon, other days, I don't know, I could be peanut butter fluffernut sandwich or something.

GM: If you'll indulge me, could I ask you to freestyle a little bit?

JD: Oh, for sure.

GM: How about this: I'll ask you a question, and then you can just start spitting: "Do the ladies love jelly donuts?"

(At this point in the interview, Jelly D says that he's in his car. After a few moments of fiddling with his car stereo, a beat is heard and the pastry begins to rhyme).

So the question once again: Do the ladies love jelly donuts? I'm glad you took the time to mention That kinda shit takes Jelly Donut out of his crazy dimension Because he's just ascended with his brain Now it's time to restrain I'm using swear words because this is going on the air But maybe not, maybe I could be fair, maybe if I had a little bit of hair But instead I just got some dough, I got the dough on my donut, I roll it I grab the microphone and I just rip it

My head be falling apart from head to toe,
I just grab the mic and let the players know
Do the ladies love the jelly dough?
Yo, you know they do, all the freakin' donut ho's
Knocking on the door and hittin' the doorbell
I grab the microphone just because I snore hell-a ...
Loud and when I actually get to sleep, but last night
Was something that just had to keep me awake
'Cause I was thinking about your girlfriend Tina
I think I wanna ride up in her va-jeena.

Related on the Web

• Jelly D's rap video "Maximum Wage."

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Article by Keith Huang

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