In the fifth episode of Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen’s gruff ex-con character Rick Sherman eschews painting in favor of electronic dance music in his continued journey to adjust back into society. Coming from a man who previously Jackson Pollock-ed his feces and ejaculate onto canvases for the sake of art, we knew the sonic results were going to be … uh, pretty questionable, to say the least. Meeting with Miami nightclub owner and manager Jake Inphamous to get some mentorship, Rick — or rather, DJ Solitary — ultimately shows off his work at a Fort Lauderdale nightclub, where the sounds of stabbings and toilet flushings are interwoven with bass drops of “buggering” and even more stabbings, much to the confusion of the crowd. (“Let’s hear it for all those murderers who is locked up because of crimes they committed!”) Inphamous, who maintained an admirably supportive presence throughout the segment, was nice enough to speak with Vulture about his bizarre Who Is America? experience. For one, he had a feeling it was a prank the moment the cameras starting rolling.
You’re introduced in the show as a nightclub promoter and DJ manager. What does that mean on a day-to-day-basis, and how did this career get you noticed by Showtime?
I’m actually a nightclub owner now, although I’ll always be a promoter at heart. I’ve been in the industry for over a decade, and I became an owner about a year and a half ago, so that’s why people still know me as a promoter. I’ve also managed DJs, but for the most part, I manage hip-hop talent. I own a couple of music festivals, too, like Trap Circus. My life is dedicated to my nightclubs and festivals, and every once in awhile I pick up artists that I see potential in and give them a little backing. Sometimes I sign them to a label, or sometimes I keep them independent.
When I was a young promoter — years ago — I was trying to get advice on the internet. I would YouTube and Google stuff about promoters, and I eventually started releasing YouTube documentaries about the behind-the-scenes of the nightlife world. It was always intriguing to me when I would go to a nightclub at 17 and 18 years old, see it packed, and not really know how it happened. What’s going on in the office right now? How did all of these people know to come here at this exact time? I started documenting concerts and nightclubs, showing that behind-the-scenes stuff. I got one of the videos on WorldstarHipHop, which got hundreds of thousands of views. I was meeting people all over the world because of the videos, and somebody from Showtime saw it and contacted me.
What exactly did Showtime say when they contacted you?
It was interesting and very funny. They called me and said, “Hey, we have this DJ and he has a really sad story. We’re behind him 100 percent. Paul Oakenfold just signed him, and Calvin Harris is working on a collaboration with him at the moment and he needs more direction.” It was hilarious. At first they were like, “Do you have time to manage him?” I was like, hey, this guy is already signed to Oakenfold and working with Calvin, this should be really easy for me. I guess I’ll give him a little kick-start. When I met the guy, he was like a half-retarded Marilyn Manson who’s also a sweetheart. He was really nice. I crack up every time I see the episode.
What were your first impressions of this Rick Sherman character?
My first impression was that it was a prank show.
Oh wow, really?
Yes. I laughed and went with it. I hung out with the guy for three days, so we had a lot of content put into a very small portion. At first, I was laughing at what he was saying. He was like, “Yeah, you know, I was getting raped a lot in prison, but I fell in love with the guy and he became my prison husband.” So I laughed and was like, “That’s kind of funny.” But he looked at me very seriously and was like, “No, that’s not funny, have you ever been raped before? It’s not funny at all.” I was like, “No I haven’t, I’m sorry man, you’re right.” Right after that, one of the producers comes up to me and says, “Hey, this man isn’t completely stable, so try not to offend him. This is a very serious show, and I know you’re a jokester, but respect him and his story.” I quickly apologized. The director did a very good job at giving me those very nervous eyes. [Laughs.] I actually asked another camera guy a little time later, “Hey dude, is this a prank show? Is Ashton Kutcher going to come out and say I got punked or something?” The whole crew is trained very well. He looked at me very nervous and reiterated how I shouldn’t offend anybody. So I figured, okay, but in the back of my head I really thought something was off. And that’s why I didn’t end up like Daniel Roberts with a dildo in my mouth, because I was a little more aware.
Well, good on you for figuring it out! Not many people did.
I was 60 percent convinced it was a prank show, and 40 percent convinced it might’ve been a real show. I didn’t 100 percent know it was a prank show.
Did you actually think his track was a “masterpiece,” or did you say that to be polite and supportive given the circumstances?
It wasn’t necessary to be polite. You know, I manage an artist called Lil Toenail. He’s a gimmick rapper and a troll rapper. He dresses up like a big foot, and has millions and millions of views on the internet. So I figured, “Okay, I’ve dealt with Lil Toenail before, it’s something similar to that.” I figured that if I’m taking this guy under my wing, I got to get his confidence, because this guy’s freakin’ nuts. I gotta support him. Me calling his work a masterpiece? Although I did think it was clever that he was able to get production hardware in prison and capture the sounds of his sentence, I called the song a masterpiece the same way I tell my 2-year-old daughter, “Oh my God, you finished your lunch! You’re the best eater in the whole world!” I was showing support and boosting his confidence. If I’m gonna manage the guy, I gotta support him and make him feel good about everything. Later, there was a segment that didn’t air where he was showing me album covers. It was really crazy pictures of him in Speedos and combat boots. It was then where I like, “Hey man, sorry my brother, this isn’t gonna work and I can’t be a part of this Speedo and combat boots situation. Let me give you some good advice!” I wished they showed that, actually. It was pretty funny. He was wearing a sandwich outfit in one of them.
Was it always the plan to give him a nightclub debut?
No, it wasn’t. I have a lot of resources in Miami. I’m the kind of guy who can put DJ Solitary in a nightclub full of people. The producers were very cool and I hung out with the two of them — we went out for drinks the night before. The part of me still thinking this was a serious show was like, “Screw it, I love these producers and I like Rick. He’s like a big baby. Let me just call up some clubs and see what happens.” The producers definitely tried to get me in that direction, though. In an earlier call, they implied something of the sort, like, “You think we can actually get him to DJ somewhere?” I figured if I can’t get him a DJ gig on camera, what kind of supporter would I be? So I called a couple friends. I let them know my trepidations. I was like, “Hey guys, this guy is freakin’ nuts, don’t hate me” — I didn’t want to burn a bridge with them — “but listen, I need this favor and you’ll get exposure on Showtime. I’ll bring the guy in quick and I’ll cut the music quick before anybody walks out.” The owner of the club we ended up with was like, “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but I trust you. Whatever bro, let’s do it.” I’m a pretty respected guy in the scene. He did actually get a lot of heat from his partners. I felt a little bad for a little bit. I threw DJ Solitary on last minute. I didn’t know what to expect. I actually did feel, What the hell did I just do? That’s a big sound system. To have somebody getting raped on the big sound system is a little crazy.
Your interview took place in Miami, but the nightclub segment took place in Fort Lauderdale. Why was that particular club chosen?
The reason I picked Sway was because Showtime needed to finish filming by Friday morning. If not, I would’ve done it at my nightclub. And it would’ve been a lot easier if there was a big fuck-up, since I could’ve handled it myself. But because there aren’t many Thursday night parties that could have that type of music mixed in with them — some clubs aren’t even open on Thursdays — I was like, screw it, let’s go up north a little.
What time did DJ Solitary go onstage and perform?
He played during the peak time. Full-blown peak time. It was around 1:30 a.m. He was up there for about three minutes, maybe four. I told the manager I wanted five minutes, but when I started seeing all of the craziness going on, I went to one of the directors and was like, “Hey, I gotta pull this guy off, I’m sorry.” The director was cool with it.
How crazy did the crowd react to his set?
I’d say 70 percent of the crowd was like, “What the hell am I watching here?” Yeah, that sounds right. A third was pissed off, another third was confused, and another third was like, “Screw it, I guess this is what major nightclubs are doing these days. Let’s dance!” I liked how Showtime captured the one guy with the disgust on his face. I saw many of those faces. But nobody booed! We’re in a time in music where, to be honest with you, I really appreciate music. I’ve been a musician. But now, I’d rather watch Steve Aoki crowd-surf on an inflatable boat and throw cake in some girl’s face then sit down and watch a perfectly orchestrated opera.
This is the second time “Rick” has appeared on Who Is America?, with the first being when he tricked an art gallerist into critiquing the art he did in jail — art involving his bodily fluids. Now that he’s moved into music, what do you think Sacha Baron Cohen wants to accomplish with these “Ex-Con Second Chance” segments?
I think he’s trying to prove that when a major network approaches somebody, people will do anything in the name of fame or money. By using an ex-convict, he’s able to push the boundaries of having a guy jerk off on some paintings or play a rape scene in a major nightclub. I don’t think it can get crazier or more absurd than that. He’s doing a great job at pushing the limits, and I think the only way someone can come close to believing that is an ex-con who’s been beat on the head a couple of times, acts a little slow, and has been through all kinds of craziness. I think Sacha is doing a great job at picking that character to push those kind of boundaries. Definitely.
Jake Inphamous is the owner of SQL Miami.