The appropriation artist who can't get George Lucas to sue him
In 1996, the Sucklord released an album of breakbeats made up entirely of sounds from Star Wars. We caught up with the artist to see what he's been up to since.
James Greene Jr
A long time ago in a borough not especially far away, a musician known as Supergenius created a funky contortion called Star Wars Breakbeats. The album weaves portions of dialogue, sound effects, and incidental music from the original trilogy into mesmerizing, rhythmic concoctions that effortlessly convey the intrigue and appeal of the fictional realm inhabited by Darth Vader, Han Solo, and Salacious Crumb.
Star Wars Breakbeats quickly became an underground sensation upon its release in 1996, but it wasn’t enough to keep Supergenius (né Morgan Phillips) from changing his handle to the Sucklord and moving into custom toy production. Star Wars Breakbeats has been out of print for years; thankfully, the Sucklord is finally making his creation available digitally. As The Force Awakens looms on our pop culture horizon, we reached out to the Chinatown-based artist to pick his brain about the album’s creation, its legacy, and the Godzilla companion album that remains unreleased.
HOPES & FEARS: Is this Supergenius?
SUCKLORD: [Pause] I don’t use that name anymore. Since then I’ve become a super villain. I became the Sucklord in 2003 when I put out my first toy. I put this toy out—this little shitty round thing—it sucked, so I called him Sucklord, and then I kinda adopted the name. Also, you can’t Google Supergenius. You can’t. Too much shit comes up. But there’s only one Sucklord.
H&F: That’s true. In the past you’ve said you never heard anything from Lucasfilm one way or the other about Star Wars Breakbeats, but was that a concern when you were making it? Avoiding a litigious situation?
S: No, that was the whole point, to be sued by Lucasfilm. I wanted them to sue me. I figured I’d put this thing out and get all this publicity, and somehow I’d end up working for them. I wanted to be hired for the prequels. Actually, I knew a few people over there, and I asked them about maybe doing the album for real with them, but they said it would cost too much having to buy the rights to the actors’ voices and all the John Williams music. That was really disappointing because I thought this thing could be much bigger than it was, and then I could work on the prequels.
Artist the Sucklord photographed in his studio in New York City’s Chinatown, what he calls his “Suckhole sweatshop” where he manufactures unlicensed action figures for his company, Suckadelic, November 11, 2015
H&F: What did you want to do on the prequels specifically?
S: I don’t know. It seemed obvious that somewhere in those movies they’d do a riff on the cantina from the original Star Wars, and I thought maybe I could be the musician in that. You know, what would a DJ look like in that world? Sure enough, if you watch the second prequel, Attack Of The Clones, they go into a bar that’s sorta like the original cantina, but there’s no music. None at all. Perfect opportunity and they blew it. That burned me up for so long. The idea that they’d do that, and also not being asked to work on anything for them after I’d done Star Wars Breakbeats. It just felt like I could have helped make those movies so much better.
H&F: I think a lot of people feel that way.
S: Yeah, everybody thinks the prequels are terrible. You know, The Phantom Menace completely destroyed my business [with Star Wars Breakbeats]. I put the cassette out in ’96, the CD in ’98…the whole time sales were going up and up. Then Phantom Menace came out in ’99 and there was a huge Star Wars backlash. Well, going into Phantom Menace sales were still good, but the movie was so bad it soured the world on Star Wars. Pretty soon after that I stopped making music, walked away from it to focus on my toys. I had been working on a follow-up album like Star Wars Breakbeats centered around Godzilla, but the business dropping off of the first album disheartened me.
H&F: Was the Godzilla album focused around one particular film in that series, or were there samples and audio pieces from various sequels?
S: It was pretty much just one era, like the ‘60s and ‘70s, when all the best Godzillas were made. Like Monster Zero, Destroy All Monsters!, Mothra… all the greats. I might still put it out one day just for kicks. You know, you can’t make money off of music anymore, so there’s no motivation in that respect. I also did a Lord Of The Rings album in 2001, one that I did actually put out, and it’s not good. It just doesn’t work. I did it with the Bakshi version, and the whole thing is too ponderous, too academic. I don’t like it at all.
H&F: Why do you think it came out like that? What didn’t make it work?
S: Well, when I did Star Wars Breakbeats I didn’t have Pro Tools. I did that whole thing on a tiny little Roland drum machine at my mom’s house. It only had 24 seconds of memory, so there was only so much I could do with each sample and drum beat, looping it around a bunch of times. But that limitation worked, because I was boxed in like that…the rhythms aren’t too complicated. It’s easy to get into. If you have the  version of Star Wars Breakbeats with the prequel tracks I did later—I don’t like any of that stuff. I moved to Pro Tools and suddenly I had all this space where I could play around. Everything just got too busy, too complex. Like “Duel Of The Breaks,” I put in so many changes and so much more dialogue. Not good. But yeah, I feel like in the future I’d wanna put out everything I’ve done except The Lord Of The Rings album. Let that be lost to history. I don’t really care.
The Sucklord holds the Star Wars Breakbeats in his studio in New York City’s Chinatown. November 11, 2015.
H&F: Was that limited memory on the drum machine the most difficult aspect in the creation of Star Wars Breakbeats?
S: The whole thing was difficult because it was the first thing I’d done and I didn’t know anything, like about mastering an album or shit like that. I didn’t even know Photoshop, so I had to get a guy who did to do the artwork. Paypal existed back then, but it isn’t like it is now; I didn’t know how to put the Paypal button on my website. I had this system where someone would e-mail me about it and I’d refer them to another page. This was before “the Internet” as we know it today. Back then there was more happening from mailing the physical CDs out. The main reason it took off is because I knew a guy in college radio promotions and I sent him a load of copies. Then he’d sent it to college radio and magazines. Putting an album in an envelope and mailing it? That’s unheard of today. I’d lug crates around New York, putting it in stores. Someone from Spin magazine saw it in Kim’s Video. Shit like that would never happen today. Eventually, it wound up on All Things Considered, where I was interviewed by Linda Wertheimer.
H&F: How many copies did you sell altogether?
S: I think around 2,000.
H&F: And then everything collapsed after Phantom Menace.
S: Yeah. The Star Wars Breakbeats money dried up real fast. And I kinda fell behind the times in terms of having it out there digitally. I didn’t know what to do because I been selling it to all these people, and I didn’t want to just suddenly put it online for free when all these people had just paid for it. So I left it alone and, you know… I was alright with it because I felt like the album had its day. Like I said, I fell behind the times… I wanted to get a copy to Hip Hop Trooper to see if he’d play it on his boombox at conventions and shit, and he was like, “Yeah, where can I get it digitally?” And I was like, “Can I send you a CD?” He says, “What? What am I gonna do with a CD?” Like, “What is this shit?” I’m gonna get it out there now. It feels like it should be out there.
H&F: Definitely. I can’t tell you how happy I am that it exists, that there’s something akin to what Meco did in the ‘70s but for whatever you’d call our generation. Of course, I can understand the disappointment in envisioning a certain level of success and seeing the thing stop short of that.
S: Well, yeah, I do wish it had been bigger, but I guess the best reward is to hear this, that it makes people happy and that people want it. It’s cool that it’s a cult thing and sort of culture jamming in its own way. Still, that Lucasfilm never commented on it one way or another… that bothers me. People don’t realize they’re not as… they don’t spend every minute of their day looking for stuff like this. If they did they’d never get anything done. But, you know, it’s been 20 years, I guess, and they’ve never commented.
Unlicensed action figures at the Sucklord's studio in New York City’s Chinatown. November 11, 2015.
H&F: They’ve never contacted you about your toys, either? Not even one cease and desist?
S: No. You know, in terms of copyright, there really isn’t anything they could say. What I’m doing, whether it’s the Breakbeats album or the Gay Empire figure, Star Wars is just one element I’m using. I’m creating something new that uses Star Wars as a jumping off point. It’s not like I make movies set in space with laser swords, you know? That would be real copyright infringement. Star Wars is just one component in what I do, an accent I’m using to get people’s attention.
H&F: Are there any unreleased Star Wars Breakbeats tracks lying around? I’m curious because the original album is so tight and really flows from beginning, middle, to end. Were there songs you created that just didn’t fit or work?
S: Well, maybe a few. I mean, the problem was more that I felt I could keep making these songs forever. The way I was doing it? This album coulda been five hours long. So it was more about stopping myself at a reasonable point and not get too bogged down in this shit.
H&F: Do you still make any kind of music today? Like just for a hobby?
S: Yeah, I got a guy I fuck with, we do some stuff together, but it’s just for fun. You can’t sell music anymore, there’s no money in it. And also it’s hard to coordinate anyway because we’re adults with other responsibilities.