Makin Waves with Chris Rockwell: Jersey Shore Renaissance man

Chris Rockwell interview


Chris Rockwell is an influential Jersey Shore-based rapper, poet, spoken word artist, event promoter and visual artist.

Jersey Shore Renaissance man has a book dropping soon that will be followed by a national tour with his longtime collaborator, fellow rapper Chill Smith.

Asbury Park is a majority black town that has played majority white music in its venues for decades.

That’s about to change.

More and more rock acts are collaborating with rap acts in the studios and on the stages in and around Asbury Park. Bulletproof Belv continues to work with rootsy punk-rocker Matty Carlock, who’s now making a career of writing and singing with rap acts. Drew the Recluse is featured on The Cold Seas’ new single, “Bloodstain,” which they celebrated the release of together at The Saint. Drew, aka Barkley, is a part of Black Suburbia Music Group, which is presenting mixed bills the first Friday of every month at Asbury Park Music Foundation.

All of this healthy musical and racial mingling has been done for years by Chris Rockwell, a Brick Township-raised rapper, poet, spoken word artist, published author, event promoter and, now, a visual artist. In addition to frequently performing with bands, including his current backing unit the Ballroom Riot, Rockwell has been putting together mixed bills for years whether in concerts, open mics, poetry slams or multi-art events, which combine all three with visual works.

Those mixed bills didn’t take off, however, until the success of Bulletproof’s colab with Carlock, alongside Rockwell’s well-stated dis of the Asbury Park Music Awards when they nominated him as an R&B performer, having never had a rap or hip-hop category throughout the awards’ 25-year history. Rockwell’s statement subsequently was published in New Jersey Stage and inspired an article in the Asbury Park Press about the longstanding segregation of the Asbury Park music scene. The situation broke down barriers and led to many more mixed bills, including Nov. 16-17 when Rockwell will participate in a weekend-long benefit at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park for Food for Thought, the folks who offer annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the hungry and the homeless. The mix of rap ‘n’ rock at the Second Annual Makin Waves Hunger Benefit for Food for Thought at Langosta, as well as Asbury Park Yacht Club, also will include Evangelia, Cook Thugless, Black Suburbia Music Group, Sonic Blume, Wetbrain, The Cold Seas featuring Drew the Recluse, Tara Dente, Pamela Flores, Des & the Swagmatics, Nalani & Sarina, Experiment 34, and Chill Smith, Rockwell’s frequent collaborator.

But Rockwell doesn’t just mix things up musically. The self-published poet’s latest book will released next month and celebrated on Oct. 20 at the Barnes & Noble in Eatontown. In addition to Rockwell, poets Mwkali Words and Ink and singer-songwriter Arlan Feiles will perform and Maggie Danger Brown will host an open poetry reading. The book release will be followed by a national tour with Chill Smith. Their most recent work together is the new single, a remake of their 2017 charity colab “Bail Money” (streaming below).

On the poetry tip, Rockwell also will host the Barron Arts Center’s Woodbridge Poetry Festival on Sept. 29 at St. James School with Greg Glory, Deborah LaVeglia, Maria, Carrie Hudak, Peter Murphy, Eloise Bruce, Amos Koffa and Jenifer Stahl Brown. He also hosts an open mic and art night every Tuesday at Café Enigma in Toms River.

In the following chat, the Jersey Shore Renaissance man shares all that he has going on, his take on hip-hop’s live takeover of AP, and much more. Enjoy!

Q: How do you feel about the growing live hip-hop scene in Asbury Park and what impact do you think your comments about the lack of a hip-hop category at the AP Music Awards had on that growth?

A: I’m psyched that hip-hop is blowing up the Asbury Park area right now. I think I said what a handful of people have been saying for years, I was just really dramatic about it. Plus, I’m white, so now white people are listening.

Q: Another factor in the growth are collabs between rap and rock acts, such as Bulletproof Belv with Matty Carlock and The Cold Seas with Drew the Recluse. What do you think of those collaborations, and comment on how and why you’ve been collaborating with rock bands for a while with Rap vs. Punk, backing bands and other things.

A: Those colabs are dope and should only be the beginning. But the truth is, there are no proper outlets for hip-hop music regarding media or local radio play. Those colabs help expand to new listeners. That’s what it’s been about, cross-pollinating audiences. Not to mention the fact that rap and punk music grew up in the same neighborhoods in New York City in the ’70s and ’80s. They both had stigmas to overcome. The beginnings were so alike, it only made sense to put them together.

Q: Would you describe your current band, Ballroom Riot, as a rock band? If not, how would you describe them, who’s in the band, and how did they come together?

A: The Ballroom Riot is not a rock band. It’s bauxite, my backing band, playing all my solo songs. We’ve had Andrew Oliva on drums, Clint Newman on bass, Matthew Raspanti on guitar, and we’ve collaborated on stage with Chill Smith, Avery Rose Puryear, and Jimmy Mura too. We’ve all been playing the circuit for years, and I just love sharing the stage with them.

Q: You’ve also had a big influence on the local music scene by hosting open mics and poetry slams throughout the state. What do you enjoy most about that and do you have any coming up that folks can perform at or just attend?

A: I love the unpredictability of it all. You never know who’s gonna get onstage and blow everyone away. I love the way they cultivate talent, but also community. You can ask anyone in my crowd why they do it, and they’ll say, “We do it for the culture.”

Every Tuesday I’m at Cafe Enigma in downtown Toms River, and we’ve got slams and even a poetry festival sponsored by the Barron Arts Center coming up throughout September. Visit their site for info.

Q: Tell me about the book that’s coming out next month, how is it a departure for you, who will be publishing and when?

A: My book is a poetry manuscript of poems I’ve put together in the last few years. I put out a book and a record last year, and I’m doing the same this year, so I don’t feel like it’s much of a departure. The details will be announced soon, but the book launch reception will be Oct. 20 at Barnes and Noble in Eatontown, and Arlan Feiles will be the musical guest of the evening.

Q: When the book drops, you will be going on a national tour with longtime collaborator Chill Smith. When and where will you be heading?

A: We’re playing a few shows in the Tri State area before heading west to hit Phoenix, Las Vegas, L.A. and a few more cities.


Best buds, Chris Rockwell and Chill Smith will tour together in the fall.

Q: What do you like most about collaborating with Will, including your new track together, “Bail Money”?

A: Chill has approximately zero ego, and I love him as a person. He’s my best friend. Whenever we work on music together, it’s effortless. It always reminds me that the reason I do any of this in the first place is because I love it.

Q: What inspired “Bail Money,” and what do you like most about what Will brought to it and about the song in general?

A: We started writing that song on tour last year. He came over my spot before we left and listened to a bunch of beats, picked a few, and we just had fun with it.

Q: Do you think you’ll make a video for that track, and will it be part of an upcoming LP?

A: “Bail Money” initially was released on our colab EP last year, which we released DIY-style and donated the money to survivors of the hurricane in Puerto Rico. We have since revisited it, revamped it and sent it to be mastered by Jesse Cannon (The Cure, Limp Bizkit) in New York.

Q: Tell me about your upcoming recordings, what are they like, when will they be released, and will you be collaborating with Will on any of them?

A: I’ve got a few collaborations coming up, with wherestessah, Pamela Flores, a few other local artists and, of course, Chill. Most of them are looking at release dates early in the next year.


Rappers Chris Rockwell, center, and Chill Smith, right, will return on Nov. 17 to Asbury Park Yacht Club for the Second Annual Makin Waves Hunger Benefit for Food for Thought.

Q: Your tour with Will will wind back home on Nov. 17 to headline the second annual Makin Waves Hunger Benefit, for which he’ll sit in with you at Asbury Park Yacht Club. That show will benefit Food for Thought. Comment on their annual efforts to feed Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the hungry and the homeless.

A: I’m super excited to be involved with this organization and this event. This is my first year involved with this show, but we’re putting together a wild set. I donate a lot of my time to help others in my community and beyond, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to join the efforts of Food for Thought this upcoming season.

Q: Having taken on the worlds of music and publishing, you recently made a foray into professional art by selling your first painting. How did that feel?

A: Oh, it was awesome. I actually had done a mixed media piece featuring my blackout poetry. It sold to a fellow poet in the scene.

Q: Have you had or do you plan to have any events that meld your visual artwork with your music and writing?

A: There are ideas in the works, but it’s too early to speak on them. One thing I’ve learned this year, though, is that my events always go better when I include art, poetry, and music all together. So I intend to keep that going!

Q: Where did you grow up and how did it influence your desire to rhyme and make music?

A: I grew up in Brick. I really have no idea how I turned out the way I did, living here.

Q: What artists inspired you to do the same and why and how?

A: In the beginning I was most inspired by Sage Francis, Atmosphere, Saul Williams and Beastie Boys. I guess I was moved by their energy and intensity.

Q: When did you make your first live appearance and where?

A: Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock pulled me up on stage to freestyle with them at Rutgers University in 2004.

Q: How and why did you come to Asbury Park to perform and when and where was that first time?

A: It’s all thanks to Rick Barry inviting me to share the stage with him at the Wave Gathering in 2005.

Q: How many albums have you released and how many books of poetry have you published?

A: There have been three EPs and three LPs of music, two full length records of spoken word, and seven chap books of poetry, all self-released.

Q: Out of them, which is you favorite album and why, and which is your favorite book and why?

A: Oh, this is a rough question, dude! I guess the album Buildings Will Collapse in 2013 changed my life the most. My favorite book so far may be “Cure for the Common Cold Side of the Bed” in 2007, but I don’t even print that anymore.

Bob Makin is the reporter for and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at And like Makin Waves at

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