Nearly as quick as the “crunk” genre of hip hop has risen to club prominence have critics and underground fans written it off as an annoying fad without much to offer other than to serve as just another example of what’s wrong with hip hop. However, self righteous critics and backpackers may need to keep in mind that history has shown artists who cater to dancing club crowd are as integral an aspect of hip hop as the self-appointed street prophets and neo-soul revivalists. As Common once said, “If I don’t like it, I don’t like it / That don’t mean that I’m hatin’.”
CrunkNation, based out of San Antonio, Texas, is out to prove that substance can indeed coexist with the crunk style. Haughty, odd, contradictory, and lastâ€”but no leastâ€”admirable, is CrunkNation’s self-definition of their collection of artists and artistic goals: “A body of people and resources united for the purpose of creating opportunities and fulfilling dreams, while delivering the highest quality of products & services.” Without arriving at the impulsive (not to mention impossible) conclusion of labeling CrunkNation as a “conscious crunk” group, it is only fair to note that there is a decent measure of poeticism and deeper-than-surface observations lying in the lyrics of “Off The Wall.”
Those who don’t like crunk solely by association to Lil Jon and his cohorts, and haters alike may be pleasantly surprised by CrunkNation’s solid offering. Revolutionary or daring, “Off The Wall” is not. However, more subtle and focused (in comparison to artists like L’il Jon) it is, and for this alone, CrunkNation deserves recognition. The slow, plodding beats featured on nearly every track may lull some to sleep, but at least offer somewhat of a change-up from the customary super-charged, crunk club joint. And while Taz Saye’s rarely-varying production formula won’t win too many originality points, the high-pitched twangs of synthetic harpsichords and heavy, rolling bass lines eventually prove to be infectious. MCs P.B. Mobb, Young Tre, Skinny Black, A-Train, A.T., B-Pree, Swiss and Jus Real struggle to distinguish themselves from each other on track to track in both lyrical content and flow, but that they actually rap in a controlled, meaningful manner separates them from most of their screaming, barely-unintelligible contemporaries. The laid-back, synth grooves of tracks like “Ain’t No Love,” “Cutzilla,” the bonus cut “Gangsta Stroll” and the more aggressive “Can’t Fade It” stand out as some of the particularly impressive tracks on “Off The Wall.” Two tracks, “Ride â€˜N Blow” and one of its remixes, “Ride â€˜N Blow (Slow & Broke),” stand out as particularly odd based on duration alone, clocking in at a exhausting 7:31 and 9:00, respectively.
While the fate of crunk hip hop is yet to be determined, it seems to be here for at least a while longer, as crunk songs continue to garner frequent airplay and spins in the clubs. For those who don’t care for the crunk they’ve already heard, or those looking for something a bit more reserved in contrast to the more popular, abrasive club cuts, CrunkNation’s “Off The Wall” can serve as a solid in-between.