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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Great Value Jesus’ new single riffs on child’s play and the normalization of school shootings

 A bearded white man with long hair and John Lennon sun glasses sits in a graffitied concrete underpass
Sam Warner
Courtesy Noah Renken-Kapatos
Musician and songwriter Noah Renken-Kapatos, AKA Great Value Jesus, has a new single out on Friday. "Hide N Seek" comments on how teachers prepare children with disabilities to remain safe during a school shooting by playing games.

Songwriter, composer, producer and front man Noah Renken-Kapatos is perhaps better known as his musical moniker Great Value Jesus. The Twin City native moved home after a brief period in Portland during the pandemic, and is now studying music production at Illinois State University.

Renken-Kapatos continues to put out songs while in school, including “Hide N Seek,” due to be released on Friday.

Renken-Kapatos did not grow up in a musical family, so his tastes and influences were built one-by-one, starting with Led Zeppelin. He’s explored nearly every genre there is, resulting in an eclectic style that is part psychedelic rock, part grunge, part singer-songwriter and everywhere in between.

“Hip-hop started to become a big influence the last three years of my life,” said Renken-Kapatos, 24. “I was always really into jazz — I pivoted from rock to ‘90s rock and psychedelic rock to jazz, and then from jazz to hip-hop.”

Renken-Kapatos gets especially giddy recognizing the cross pollinations of rhythms and harmonic structures between forms. And they all show up in Great Value Jesus’ music — some more omnipresent than others. An affinity for punchy lyrics and songwriting came later, inspired, in part by Bob Dylan.

“[Dylan] really made me appreciate what you had to say,” Renken-Kapatos said. “And it was also cool because he was a bad singer. I’m not a great singer either, so that’s awesome. It’s more what you have to say. In rock music, a lot of it is guitars and instruments. I really liked fusing both of those elements of having something to say, but then also having some cool music.”

The new single dropping Friday represents that marriage between the music and the message. “Hide N Seek” addresses the topic of school shootings with an ironically peppy soundtrack and nod to ‘90s ska. He recorded a brass section with fellow ISU students as part of his music business course and asked to use it for “Hide N Seek.”

“They fully agreed to use me using their samples in the song,” Renken-Kapatos said. “Great Value Jesus does not have any horn players. We are not going to be pivoting to be a ska act. But in my tradition of releasing every genre of music I felt like I had to hit ska at some point.”

The year 1999 marks the unofficial beginning of the American epidemic of violence in schools as the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado unfolded on live television. The Washington Post reported that 386 school shootings have taken place since Columbine, affecting 356,000 students nationwide.

It is the normalization of school shootings that bothers Renken-Kapatos the most, and is the reason he wanted to write a song about it.

“It hits home,” he said. “There’s a complete abdication of taking care of these kids. It’s gotten so bad that we joke about it. We joke, thank God that school isn’t in session right now. It started impacting me at a young age and it still impacts me to this day.”

“Hide N Seek” is about children with disabilities, specifically, and how teachers prepare them to remain safe during a mass shooting.

“My partner’s sister is a teacher at an elementary school working with kids with disabilities,” said Renken-Kapatos. “It was horrifying to hear their active shooter training includes hide and seek, making a children’s game an easy way to get these children to be quiet, but for it to seem normal.”

One source of inspiration in writing "Hide N Seek" was Foster the People’s 2011 song of the summer “Pumped Up Kicks” that flooded radio airwaves and became an earworm that forced conversation about school shootings. The other was Outkast’s “Hey Ya.”

“The whole song is kind of a joke about people only wanting to dance and not listening to the message,” said Renken-Kapatos. “The message of the song is that nobody’s in true love anymore, nobody can make it work, but we're all just saying we’re happy here. Andre 3000 even says, ‘Y’all don’t want to listen to me. Y’all just wanna dance.’”

Great Value Jesus’ new single “Hide N Seek” drops Friday on Spotify, Band Camp and Amazon. Noah Renken-Kapatos expects to have a new album out by the end of the year.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.