Kanye West got a lot of people excited last year by sampling French house duo Daft Punk on his single "Stronger." Those of us who had been Daft Punk fans since their 1997 debut "Homework" were wondering what took everyone else so long to get hip to the duo's fusion of hip hop, house, and 80s sleaze. Mostly, however, I was excited by the possibilities that "Stronger" could open up. Artists like Dizzee Rascal and M.I.A. have made impressive albums by fusing hip hop and electronic music, and no doubt a lot of other banging music is going to be produced as a result of rappers discovering the electronica section of their local record store.
Of course, Baltimore crew Spank Rock (which is, awkwardly, both the name of the group and MC Naeem Juwan) has been mashing up electronica, house, electro, and hip hop for a few years now. Juwan defined their 2006 debut album "YoYoYoYoYo" as "the rap version of Prince's '1999'" while coconspirator DJ Armani XXXchange defines their sound as "American kids ripping off European kids ripping off American hip hop." Both descriptions are accurate, and either way it's a brilliant, booty-shaking album.
It opens with "Backyard Betty," a track that is all skittering drums, electronic glitch, and booming bass. For a minute you think that this might be just another effete Eurotrash group who are aiming for hardcore but arriving closer to Hammer. Then Spank Rock starts in and makes it clear where they are coming from:
"Ass shaking competition champ
Ooh that pussy gets damp
Hump back hump back tramp"
Yes, while their music references a lot of Euro electronica, their lyrics are straight filthy, with rhymes that might make Lil' Jon or Luke Campbell blush. Spank Rock's genius is the way they are able to meld the diverse influences into the ultimate party music. "YoYoYoYoYo" is all about sex, drugs, and having a good time, rather than conforming to a specific genre. Juwan describes their scope on "IMC"
"I emcee don't get it twisted
From back spins to tight black fisted
Iced grilled spinners
White cats from Denver
Fitted cap, throw back
Thug ass niggas
I seen a lot of shit
So my scope is bigger
Hope got bigger"
In other words, don't paint them in a corner. If they want to do a nasty bass jam like "Touch Me," and follow that up with a funk anthem like "Sweet Talk" before going into the slow burning electronica of "Chilly Will," they're gonna do it, and they're gonna do it well. If they feel like closing the album with something screwed and chopped, then they'll make "Screwville" a track so dripping in syrup that it could have come from the decks of the late DJ Screw himself. Spank Rock seamlessly traverse different styles and genres without it seeming gimmicky or jarring.
A lot of the credit for how well "YoYoYoYo" works goes to DJ/producer Armani XXXchange, who is able to make the glitchiest electronica sound perfect for hip hop. He combines bizarre, non-hip hop sounds with banging breaks and beats, to create soundscapes as funky as they are original. It's as if dance music from different clubs forced to cohabitate on the same track, and it works perfectly.
He's backed by an emcee who embodies the original meaning of the term, Master of Ceremonies. Juwan is as clever as he is nasty, and burns the mic up with his odes to the good life. He drops one-liners like "behind my Game Boy I got game, girl" with a casual ease. He's even clever when he's being an asshole cokehead, declaring "my mimosa's on the coaster where the coke is smeared/ yo, we dope in here." Any idiot can rhyme about partying and getting laid, but it takes a real MC to make it sound good. He is also able to be totally dirty without being totally offensive, perhaps in part because he gives equal airtime to female MC Amanda Blank, who drops lines like "my rhymes are painfully fresh/ my pussy's tasting the best." The listener realizes that the whole crew is in on the joke, which takes the sting out of the many references to bitches and pussy Juwan drops. Their 2007 "Bangers and Cash" EP went too far in the gross-out direction, and I hope their next release will see them reigning in their inner assholes.
I'm betting that 2008 will see a lot of MCs mining house and electronica for beats. "YoYoYoYoYo" is a template for how it should be done, and a promising starting point for what could be cratefulls of good music. It's not quite hip hop, it's not quite dance music, and it sure as hell ain't polite. Call it what you want, just don't call Spank Rock late for the party.
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: March 25, 2008