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For a slab of 100 percent undiluted crunk -- perhaps too crunk to be healthy -- consider Decatur's Lil Jon & the EastSide Boyz. With their 1996 independent debut, Who U Wit, Get Crunk: Da Album, the former club DJ/So So Def A&R man and his two backing boyz actually had "Rosa Parks" beat to market by two years. With the recent release of a third album, Put Yo Hood Up -- essentially a redo of last year's We Still Crunk!!! with new singles added -- the shit is so crunk it would be a stretch to even call it rap. Lil Jon's grunts and chants are so terse, so inarticulately fractured, the sense of flow and subtle cadence that rappers typically employ is completely absent.
Just check the current hit, "Bia' Bia'." Jon accentuates his hook -- that is, the word bitch -- by stretching it into two syllables (as in, bee-atch), but then deems the entire word not sufficiently pithy to fully realize its crunkness. Hence, the truncated bee-ah. The music follows suit: It's raw, thoroughly unsubtle and highly repetitive. It's also aggressive, almost violent; meant for the dance floor but as tailored for the mosh pit as pure hip-hop gets. It's a sound that Lil Jon -- rarely photographed without a snarl -- reflects perfectly in his visage.
This is party music, to be sure, but it's crunked up to dangerous levels. "You don't want to fuck wit' me/'Cause my nigga's in the club wit' heat," Jon barks on the title track. It's as if he's having so much fucking fun at this party, the adrenaline rush alone could inspire him to just pop a cap in someone's ass.
True to Lil Jon's background overseeing So So Def's Bass All-Stars compilations, Put Yo Hood Up is essentially rooted in the sounds and culture of Southern bass music. But for all the chanting, rumbling sub-bass and tinny drum-machine beats, the stuff is slowed down and roughened up enough to be barely recognizable as bass music. In fact, the record has a lot more in common with another Southern hip-hop sound, that of Master P's New Orleans franchise. P, after all, is the guy who out-crunked them all with "Make 'Em Say Uhh!," a track that hinges on a sound so guttural and viscerally expressive in true Old-English form, it could have been uttered by Grendl himself.
The 404 Soldiers, Lil Jon's fellow Atlanta crunksters, have even more in common with Master P. Like P's No Limit label, the duo of C Dawg and Big Lee conjures military imagery. It's not so much because, say, they support the priorities of the Bush administration, but rather because it suits the music's marching cadences and tough-guy veneer -- grunts, in either case. With the help of Shawty Redd -- who produced another local bootstepping anthem, Drama's "Left Right Left" -- 404 Soldiers unleash their major-label debut later this month, Walk Like a Soldier, on Epic.
If you've been anywhere near hip-hop radio of late you've no doubt heard the record's title track and leadoff single. "Walk Like a Soldier" isn't nearly as transgressive as Lil Jon's offerings (soldier, after all, is Latinate), but a fiery voice yelping, "Walk like a solider, talk like a soldier" clearly puts it in the same 'hood. Other tracks, including "Banging Dat Ass" and "Fuck A Hoe" (hoe being, like crunk, a condensing of an already terse Germanic term) further convey crunkness.
But, to the betterment of their music if not their crunkdom, the 404 Soldiers never get as densely oppressive as Lil Jon. In fact, toward the end of Walk Like a Soldier, the tone shifts considerable. First, "Moma Don't Cry" features a mournful female voice soaring over a chorus ("Mama don't cry/Dry your eye/Your son is still alive") that sounds far more honest than most of the other "mama songs" that have become a tiresome hip-hop cliché. Then with the finale, "We Do," things get positively breezy, as the 404 Soldiers join R&B crooner Ginuwine for what could certainly become a pop hit. And popular, of course, is about as Latin-derived as it gets -- the antithesis of what's essentially crunk.
A third local release, arriving in late September via Universal and Sounds of Atlanta Records, deviates even further from a strict diet of Germanic monosyllables, but in some ways gets even closer to the essence of what it means to be crunk. Keep it Country, from Augusta native Miracle, marks a startling transformation from the rapper's self-titled debut, which yielded the rap hit "Bounce."
Where Miracle offered standard Dirty South fare -- bass beats, screamed raps and blunted chants -- Country opens right off with a heavy electric-blues guitar riff. And as the title track kicks in -- launched without build-up by a funky guitar jerk and spare, throaty vocal hook -- the singular musical reference is unmistakable. Youngsters may hear bits of New Orleans rapper Mystikal, but most of us would quickly recognize the track -- and pretty much the entire CD -- as a flat-out imitation of Miracle's fellow Augustan, James Brown.
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