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Name: Adam Bernard
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Reassessing Rap-Rock
Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hip-Hop has always had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with its rap-rock / nu metal subgenre. Many refuse to even recognize it as Hip-Hop unless it includes an already established rap act, a la the songs of the Judgment Night soundtrack from 1993. The feeling many have is that rap-rock is a bastardization of the culture and that the rappers who lead these groups are nothing more than unskilled phonies who need a band backing them up because they can’t hack it with just two turntables and a microphone. Those critics, however, are missing the point entirely and in doing so are selling Hip-Hop music incredibly short.

Are lyrics important? Absolutely. But do you have to be able to flip complicated couplets that are lush with metaphors and similes to be an effective emcee? Absolutely not. Rap music, at its core, has always been about two main things - having authenticity and emotion. It’s about making the listener feel what you’re saying. Good rap-rock, just like any other good form of rap, does this. Hip-Hop fans hated on Limp Bizkit, but what they totally neglected to see was the real, genuine emotion they had, which was very Hip-Hop.

The latest rap-rock group to hit the airwaves is 3Oh!3 (don’t be fooled by their pop single, they have a kick ass band backing them) and I took in a set of theirs the other day when I was covering Warped Tour at Nassau Coliseum. “Don’t Trust Me” is a pretty fun song, so I was interested in hearing what else they had to offer. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of heart or soul behind the emcee stylings of 3Oh!3’s raps. In fact, when listening to them perform about the only thing I could hear their music saying is “we’re trying to be pop stars.” That seems to be their goal and it’s painfully evident when you hear them perform.

I think most any music fan can tell the difference between an artist who is pouring their heart and soul into something versus one whose sole goal is fame. This is certainly the case for me as while I was watching 3Oh!3 perform I found myself wanting to hear the heartfeltness of a Limp Bizkit song. I know, to many that may sound crazy, but even if you hated Fred Durst’s lyrics he was undeniably passionate about everything he said and his goals were simply to let it all out and let it connect with whoever it connected with. 3Oh!3 had an entire set filled with songs about nothing that were clearly made to generate a huge teenage audience for them and listening to it all made me realize something, something kind of sad; what I view as 3Oh!3’s faults are exactly what makes them perfect for that large segment of society that embraces the faceless and soulless.

3Oh!3 is the ultimate in poser music and this is something that actually bodes very well for them. In 2009 making poser music is exactly what’s going to lead the group to superstardom, because, simply put, we’re in an era of posers. How else would you describe the masses of people 35 and under who spend their entire paychecks on one night out? And how else would you explain the popularity of clubs that feature “bottle service?” Sometimes life imitates art. At other times art imitates life. 3Oh!3 falls into the latter categorization, which, in their defense (sort of), is the lesser of two evils since it makes them merely a reflection, rather than a cause, of society’s ills.

None of this is too surprising when one looks at the acts this new breed of rap-rockers have been inspired by versus those who inspired the previous generation of rap-rock artists. At Nassau Coliseum 3Oh!3 were joined on stage by Lil’ Jon, who is known mostly for his one word catch phrases and is a usual suspect when people discuss the dumbing down of Hip-Hop. 3Oh!3 said being on stage with him was “a dream come true.” Limp Bizkit worked with Wu-Tang Clan legend Method Man. The talent gap between Lil’ Jon and Method Man is one of epic proportions.

What really disappoints me in all this, however, is that although I like when the humor element is brought to the table, and I think it’s important to laugh in tough times, we’re facing the worst economic crisis we’ve seen in our lifetimes; if there was ever a time to get mad and say something on the mic, it’s now. That’s a large aspect of what had me longing for those rap-rock acts of the 90’s. They were pissed off and right now is a time when we could use some of that emotion.

Hip-Hop fans got it totally twisted when they threw the poser label on the rap-rock acts of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Many of those acts had something to say, even if you didn’t agree with it, or think much of it or the way they said it. Heck, I know a lot of people who don’t think much of what’s being said by a lot of traditional rap acts today, but it doesn’t mean those acts aren’t part of the genre.

Perhaps in retrospect we can right the tags and labels that were given to acts that, now that we see what real poser music is, deserve more credit than they ever received during their heyday. If you’re still skeptical, download a couple songs from the rap-rock acts you remember not liking very much back in the day (did I really just refer to the late 90’s as “back in the day?” Damnit!). You might be surprised to discover a newfound appreciation for their work.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:42 AM  
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