Famous Last Words

Local rapper Sam Wartenbee reflects on his label’s 10th anniversary with a new book and album

Sammy Warm Hands
Sammy Warm Hands

“People won’t commit to your music if you don’t commit to it first,” says Sam Wartenbee, Eugene rapper and Crushkill Recordings artist.

If you’ve paid attention to local music for any length of time, chances are you recognize Wartenbee (aka Sammy Warm Hands), whether from hardcore punk band This Day’s End or local hip-hop act The ILLusionists.

Ten years ago, Wartenbee started his own recording studio and record label, Take 92 Music.

“I’d been anticipating the anniversary of Take 92,” Wartenbee tells EW. To mark the event, Wartenbee says he considered a documentary, compilation or getting some old bands back together.

“I couldn’t really come up with anything I loved until this idea popped into my head,” he explains. The idea? A 250-page self-published memoir, Famous Last Words. The book comes along with an accompanying album of the same name, released on cassette by Eugene-based tape label Flossless Audio.

Wartenbee hosts a book and album release party Wednesday, April 8, at Luckey’s downtown.

He admits that a memoir at this point of his career might come as a surprise to some. “I’m sure it seems premature to many people.”

But Wartenbee wanted to write a book in order to introduce fans to his diverse musical background, from his early days in Eugene’s punk scene to the discovery of hip hop and the establishment of a successful niche career as an independent solo artist.

A recurring theme in the book, as well as in Wartenbee’s music, is the universal struggle between workaday obligations and personal, creative passions.

“They fucking own you,” he screams in The ILLusionists’ anti-careerist screed, “Death of a Salesman,” from the group’s swansong of the same name.

Throughout the book, his prose is plain, conversational and, while not overly sophisticated, very readable. The book kicks off with a few sentences worthy of Holden Caulfield, if Caulfield were a child of the ’90s.

“As far back as I can remember I wanted to be gangster,” he writes, paralleling the opening to Goodfellas. “Wait — that’s not right. I wanted to be a football player. But I sucked at football, and that’s a story for another day.”

Wartenbee says for him the most meaningful sections of the book document This Day’s End and The ILLusionists — two groups to which Wartenbee says he devoted his heart and soul.

But he also feels the book memorializes a specific time and place in Eugene’s music scene.

“That scene is gone,” he says, explaining the loneliness of still pursuing a dream of a music career while many friends and bandmates have long since given up.

The accompanying album echoes many of the book’s themes — an engaging mix of pathos, anger and humor. The album’s opening track, “Famous Last Words (Nobody Gives A Fuck),” is a fan favorite at live shows.

Over a spritely backbeat recalling A Tribe Called Quest, Wartenbee raps: “I just dropped a new track,” as the audience responds, “Nobody gives a fuck!” before he signs off, “Yeah, well fuck you, too.”

Elsewhere on the album, “Ferguson Freewrite” is a compelling, ripped-from-the-headlines meditation on race relations in America. The song doesn’t pander to political correctness or the restrictive idioms of socially conscious hip hop.

Sammy Warm Hands hosts a book and album release show 9 pm Wednesday, April 8, at Luckey’s, $5. 21-plus. Find the Famous Last Words book and music at Take92.com and flosslessaudio.bandcamp.com.