The Silversmiths seem to have a bit of a transportation issue.
In 2005, rapper Tom McCauley — aka Jon?Doe — was riding his bike in Morro Bay when he got hit by a 1985 Volkswagen Jetta, throwing him onto the car. And last October, the man who comes up with the beats, Derrick Bennett — aka Agent Orange — was driving a street sweeper in Texas when a train hit his vehicle, throwing him out of his boots.
“I’m just waiting for my massive accident to happen,” said McCauley’s rapping partner Stephen Bryden (aka Sankofa.)
If bad luck is contagious, at least Bryden has distance on his side.
While McCauley, his writing partner, is in Los Osos, Bryden is in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And Bennett fluctuates between Oklahoma and Texas.
That distance ensures that you’ll probably never see The Silversmiths perform live. But neither long-distance nor accidents could prevent them from releasing their latest album, “A Tandem of Giants,” an old school hip-hop record that would have fit right in on McCauley’s old KCPR hip-hop radio show.
The genesis of the Silversmiths dates to 1996, when McCauley and Bryden met in online chat rooms dedicated to hip-hop fans. Not only did the two like each other’s rhymes, but they also had similar pasts.
Both grew up overseas — McCauley in Belgium, Rome and Italy, Bryden in Australia—because of jobs their American parents had (McCauley’s dad was a computer engineer with Hughes Aircraft, Bryden’s parents were teachers).
Bryden first got into hip-hop after hearing the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. For Mc- Cauley it was Grand Master Flash’s “The Message.” So while rap was still making inroads to white America, McCauley and Bryden were in on it fairly early.
After his parents moved to Orange County, Mc-Cauley started rapping as a teen while collecting thousands of tapes.
“I had this thing called a Helix-Wheely 5000, which is pretty much the biggest boom box ever made,” Mc-Cauley said. “It has wheels on the bottom.”
He wound up attending Cal Poly on a track scholarship, but he got kicked out for bad grades. Meanwhile, Bryden, whose family made it back to the States in 1988, wound up attending college in Minnesota.
After they formed an online partnership, Bryden eventually moved to San Luis Obispo. After three months, they headed to Los Angeles to try to make it in the music business.
McCauley was there a couple of years, but Bryden couldn’t wait to leave.
“It wasn’t really a community,” he said. “L.A. was just this big, soulless city I had no interest in.”
While McCauley found work in the hip-hop industry, Bryden hiked the Appalachian Trail. Eventually he wound up in Fort Wayne.
“I ran out of money and mom had moved here,” Bryden said.
McCauley, meanwhile, moved back to San Luis Obispo, where he re-entered school and got hit by a car.
“Probably the fact that I was an English major saved my life,” he said. “Because my backpack was full of books. I flipped and crashed through his windshield, and then he slammed on his brakes, and I flipped forward on the street.”
At the time, a CHP spokesperson told The Tribune that McCauley had suffered major internal injuries.
Still, he graduated from Cal Poly with journalism and English degrees and resumed his work, long-distance, with McCauley, who had made a mark in the Fort Wayne hip-hop scene.
For the “Tandem of Giants” project, Bennett sent the rappers dozens of beats. Then McCauley and Bryden would choose favorites, rap some lines and send the rest to the other rapper.
“He’s all about concept songs and everything’s got to mean something,” Bryden joked about McCauley.
Backed with ’70s-funky grooves, their voices play nicely off each other, Bryden’s smoother, deeper vocals paired with Mc- Cauley’s faster, Eminem-style raps. A nod to old-schoolers like Public Enemy and Run-DMC, they admit they aren’t hard core like some of the more popular gangsta rappers. But not being hard core doesn’t mean they aren’t serious about their music.
“We have a love of language,” said Bryden, who now teaches kindergarten, when asked why they pair well.
Now 39, both are married. McCauley has three children, and Bryden is expecting his first in July. While McCauley gave up his radio show about three years ago — and his job at Costco keeps him plenty busy — he still manages to record regularly. In fact, he has a room dedicated to it.
As he recently showed the room, he noted that the 40,000 LPs in it — trimmed from an even larger collection he once had — help the acoustics. For even further acoustic enhancement, he raps into a microphone that faces a row of shirts in his closet.
Wearing the Adidas first popularized in the hip-hop community by Run-DMC, McCauley said The Silversmiths have enough music for another album. And while he considers himself old, he has no plans to stop rapping.
“If you had told me when I was 14, when I first started recording myself rapping, that I’d be rapping when I’m 39, I would have laughed at you,” he said.