He's Not Lean but His Rap Is Mean, So the Thrashers Relate to Skatemaster Tate

updated 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sporting a wild mess of purple hair and funky, secondhand duds that do little to hide his hefty paunch, Skatemaster Tate, 27, does not look like a man built for speed. But among the hordes of "thrashers" who bomb around the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York on wooden skateboards with polyurethane wheels, the roly-poly rapper from L.A. is riding the crest of a boisterous, frenetic new wave of music called skate rock.

You won't find many samples of skate rock in your record shop, but to skateboarders it's killer and rad (translation: terrific). Skate rock groups named Septic Death, Gang Green, Tupelo Chain Sex, Beach Blanket Bongout and Jody Foster's Army put out their songs on such specialized labels as High Speed and Deluxe, and they're gobbled up by the faithful by mail and in small, independent stores that cater to the trade. Most of these raucous troubadours of thrash play "speed metal," a mutant form of rock characterized by a frenzied beat, yowling guitars and lyrics full of debauchery or societal woe. Violent energy is skate rock's main—some would say only—appeal. "It's all in the attitude," explains Tate, who is skate rock's champ. "It's punk rock and skating rolled up in a ball of confusion and screaming down the alley in a gutter."

Skatemaster Tate's eminence doesn't bring him much money, and the king of skate rock has startlingly little in common with most of his subjects. Besides being somewhat plump for a skateboarder, Tate's approach to song is more freewheeling and less macho than that of his confrères. His works bear such titles as La Coumbre—it's a salsa rap dedicated to a popular San Francisco skate rock hangout—and Jolt Rap; his lyrics celebrate such non-thrashing delights as shopping and eating ("Ain't food fun"). Then there are the inevitable odes to the board, as in Skaterock Rap:

My face is round
And never wears no frown
I'm a real hip cat
With a little fat
Always skating around with a baseball

"I decided to cop a different attitude than most rappers who always have so many gold chains and so many women around they don't know what to do," he says. "I wanted to give a little humor and truth to it."

Skate rockers keep up on the latest trends through Thrasher, a San Francisco-based magazine which features everything from coverage of major skateboarding competitions to recipes, or "scarfing material," as Tate calls it with plain affection. Always pudgy, the Skatemaster has put on even more weight in recent years and now swirls around with 200 pounds on his 5'8" frame, but he still manages to thrash through cement pipes, ditches and banks wherever he can find them. Like most skate rockers, Tate has devoted much of his life to zooming around on wheels, and he is not given to talking about much else. "One way or another, skating relates to just about every part of my life," he says.

Tate was christened Gerry by his father Jorge Hurtado, an L.A. machine-shop foreman, and his mother, Hilda, a clerk at Knott's Berry Farm; he chose the moniker Skatemaster three years ago in homage to his rap idol, Grandmaster Flash, and Tate as a short version of his adolescent nickname, Potato Head. An avid thrasher as a teen, he became a top competitor, but unlike most of his skating peers, he downplays his prowess. "I was a pretty good amateur for a couple of years, but mostly I skated for fun," he says. "I'm primarily a bank skater. I like to go fast, but I don't feel safe doing 360-degree turns in which you can land paralyzed on your back." After attending a broadcasting trade school in L.A., Tate started out as a disc jockey in punk rock clubs and took up skate rock about as soon as it was born, in 1983, recording his first number, Skaterock Rap, in a friend's home studio shortly thereafter. Ever since its release last fall, he has been in increasing demand as an emcee for thrashing contests at skate rock parties and clubs in L.A. and San Francisco, and he recently toured Texas with an all-girl thrash band called the Screaming Sirens. "The Sirens qualify as skate rockers," says Tate, "because they love skaters."

In his shows, Skatemaster Tate goes through so many costume changes he looks like a runway model for a thrift shop: His huge bargain basement wardrobe includes heavy chains, studded leather bracelets, silken headbands, porkpie hats, rhinestone sunglasses, exotic earrings and about 150 Hawaiian shirts; he also owns 27 guitars, most of which decorate his Santa Monica digs. Even though his discordant voice and music would cause all but the devoted to cover their ears, Tate is a hit with the ladies and admits he likes the "gnarly Bettys." And despite the sometimes nihilistic pretensions of some of his ragtag followers, he insists skate rock and skateboarding are far healthier outlets for kids than lots of the alternatives out there. "Wherever you do it, there is something euphoric about skateboarding," he says. "It's still about as gnarly as you can get."

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