Ice-T’s “Original Gangsta” double album is one of the greatest rap albums of the nineties, maybe ever. But on it, he inserted a one-off introduction to his band “Body Count,” a hardcore band that was far closer to rock than punk. You remember them. They’re the ones that Dan Quayle lambasted for having a tune called “Cop Killer,” and the U.S. Government thought this song was so important that eventually the record label was forced to drop it off of additional pressings. I’m not here to say that I was a Body Count fan. In fact, when I saw the Iceberg in 1991, he brought the band out to do a couple tunes, and it was the worst part of the night.
So Ice-T’s best album helped usher in the worst part of the 1990s: Rap/rock. Perhaps most famously personified by Limp Bizkit, it also spawned one-hit wonders like Alien Ant Farm and moved Everlast out of bad hip-hop and into grammy territory with his gravelly blues-rap. It gave white folks of all stripes a license to claim street cred, even affecting John Mellencamp on his not-nearly-as-big-a-disaster-as-it-should-have-been duet with Chuck D., “Cutting Heads.” Mostly, it’s performed by rockers who feel the need to young it up or by rappers who aren’t good enough to perform over a track, so they hide between heavy guitars and fast drums (see Fred Durst). As far as I’m concerned, only Prince has been able to truly excel in this genre, but you can taste a bunch of examples in my “Rockers Who Think They Can Rap A to Z” post, which you can find on the sidebar link. My point is, rap and rock don’t always go together like chocolate and peanut butter.
This brings me to Metermaids. They’re not quite rap-rock, but they skate along the edge. And they do it well.
I discovered the band on a hip-hop site I pass through now and again called Wake Your Daughter Up and really enjoyed the tracks he had up for sampling. I get so many CDs in the mail that I rarely request one from a band, but this time I did. Yes, it’s rap rock, and yes, it’s got some of the weaknesses inherent to that style. But the rhymes are more than just good, and the emcees (a duo individually named Swell and Sentence) aren’t just cribbing off guys they’ve heard before. For example, the band tells street tales on “Think About It,” which incorporates finger snaps without being corny, and pulls off a scratchy soul hook. The flow is a little like El-P or Aesop Rock, but without the venom. Instead of trying to sound hard, they seem content to hang in the back as storytellers, without posturing or forcing their message. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a rap-rocker do that before.
Another standout cut is “Fingertips,” an old-school party track with a crisp synth lick and a simple snare. But the best party cut is probably “Funk Terrorist,” which has fun lyrics and an ass-moving beat. They’re at their best on anthems like this one, and “Life is Easy.” The band hails from New York City and they’ve been known to play The Knitting Factory, which is a great place to see a show. So if you’re in their neck of the hood, check ‘em out.