I like Korn. I understand that might seem strange coming from “the rap guy” but I’ve never denied myself permission to explore other genres. If rap artists sample every form of music under the sun, why shouldn’t I do the same? So in the 1990’s I went and saw Korn, not long after their self-titled debut album came out, at a time so early in their career they were actually the opening act for someone else — Smashing Pumpkins was the headliner. I admit I didn’t understand it at first. Someone on the stage was playing bagpipes. Another guy was screaming nursery rhymes into a microphone. “Knick knack paddy wack, give a dog a bone! This old man came rolling home!” Let’s just say it wasn’t love at first sight, but over time as I heard more of their music, it grew on me like a fungus.

That fungus was what would later get branded as nu metal, a fusion of hip-hop and hard rock into something that got widely decried by observers on both sides even as it grew in popularity. Korn’s specific appeal to me came from the unorthodox singing style of Jonathan Davis and the heavy bass guitar playing of Reginald Arvizu b/k/a Fieldy. Korn’s best songs slap in a way you can bob your head to (or head bang to) and Davis always seemed to be channeling a inner demon, ripping open his wounds and pouring the blood into his words. The group isn’t shy about their rap influences either — beatboxing, scratching and sampling all wind up on Korn’s songs. They’ve worked with many big rap artists and vice versa. The respect is there.

It therefore pains me to say “Rock N Roll Gangster” is a terrible album. As great as Fieldy is at playing bass, as much as he may respect rap music and hip-hop traditions, none of that translated into hearing him grab the mic. At least when Steve-O from Jackass made an album he had the good sense to brand himself “The Dumbest Asshole in Hip-Hop.” He knew he was a terrible rapper and that the entire thing was a vanity project recorded for a laugh, and if you bought it you were either in on the joke or higher than Steve-O himself. It’s not a coincidence that I brought him up — both Glover and Arvizu have admitted to their addictions and strive for sobriety.

I can only assume that like “The Dumbest Asshole in Hip-Hop,” Fieldy’s “Rock N Roll Gangster” was recorded during a period where drugs were addling his brain. Calling his side project Fieldy’s Dreams tells us that he was sincere about rapping, it was something he was dreaming about, but lines like “everyone eat a dick, this is our gangster clique” from “Bleu” aren’t just bad for being simplistic. Fieldy is trying so hard to be sincere in his story about a runaway kid from a broken home, but he’s delivering the bars with less emotion than a robot trying to order coffee. The song’s bleak instrumental can’t help his delivery and like so many of these tracks needed the one thing he can do best — play a wicked bass.

On some level Arvizu realized his own shortcomings and brought in outside help for the raps, but it doesn’t make his own lines like “I’ma bounce on your face like a sixty-four Impala” or “I’ma pound on your face like I’m tenderizing a steak” any less wince inducing on “Ortiz Anthem” featuring RBX. (By the way that was supposed to be an entrance song for Tito Ortiz, who I actually remember better for coming out to a modified Limp Bizkit track. Go figure.) The selection of guests is also over the map. Slimkid3 from The Pharcyde is on “Sugar-Coated,” Son Doobie from Funkdoobiest is on “Put a Week On It” and some dude no one ever heard of named Polarbear joins RBX for “Do What You Feel.” He’s a better rapper than Arvizu too.

Thanks to Arvizu’s guests (including Korn’s own Mr. Davis on a few tracks) and his undoubtedly sincere as opposed to silly intentions, “Rock N Roll Gangster” ends up being a better album than Steve-O’s… and that almost makes it worse. At least when something is so bad that you can laugh about it, and the person behind it himself admits it was a dumb idea, everybody is on the same page. Fieldy was serious though, and he’s a horrible rapper, and he wasn’t doing this as a joke. He probably doesn’t like people ripping on his earnest raps, but that’s too bad for him because he’s the one who decided to record them and sell them to people. I’m sure he thought that because he was in Korn people would flock to any Korn side project, but most people wisely avoided “Rock N Roll Gangster” and you should too.

Fieldy's Dreams :: Rock N Roll Gangster
3Overall Score