That's My Jam: A Tale of Two Bands

Wake up. Drag yourself out of bed. Check the time. Feed. Clean. Dress Up. Drive. Slide the security badge through the reader by the door. Turn on the computer. Check your voicemail. Check your email. Check your inter-office mail. Fill your coffee cup. Put on the headphones. Scroll with your thumb until it says "shuffle songs."
Like so many other things on a Monday morning, hoping for the best..
Only to get exactly what you need.
I discovered One Minute Silence about a year ago, when I happened upon this song through Internet radio. I'd never heard of them before -- but after getting instantly addicted to this burner I immediately set out to learn more. Turns out they'd had only a quick 3-album run before breaking up, which in my opinion has a lot to do with the fact that this is about the only tune of theirs that sounds like this.
Because unfortunately, like a lot of bands trying to break through in the
late 90's, One Minute Silence began delving into the idea of Rap Metal.
It seems a laughable footnote now, but Rap Metal was a hot trend when it hit. The problem was, most bands that tried to jump into that fray suffered from one of the two following major handicaps:
A) A rock singer trying to rap.
B) A rapper trying to sing rock.
Rap metal is essentially a bad word these days, but when it first appeared it was an idea loaded with crossover potential. Fans (and the bands themselves) don't like to admit it anymore -- but there are several established groups (Korn, Disturbed, and Slipknot come to mind) who got their foot in the door with their own variations of this genre, only to grow out of it about the time the wave started to crest and the record companies started looking at the entire idea as a commodity.

Recognizing the commercial successes of groups like Limp Bizkit, labels started trying to either manufacture hits with put-together groups like Linkin Park or over-emphasize the urban side of the equation by having hip-hop producers mix metal albums, which in many cases tended to sap the overall attitude of the band's recorded musical performances -- leaving in it's wake little more than second rate vocal tracks that essentially had no chance competing against established producers and performers on Top 40 radio.
Best rap metal song I've ever heard? -- 99 Problems, by Jay-Z
The simple truth was that very few rap metal bands even at the height of the style's popularity had anything close to a serviceable, skilled rapper as a frontman. As such, once the initial novelty wore off it became clear that the majority of the bands were just rock guys trying to imitate the styles of more urban artists, and in most cases failing miserably.
When all you have is the suggestion of authenticity, then it's hard to take your message seriously.
And what rock guys rarely seemed to get is that underneath everything else -- rap music was (and will always be) about the message.

When your entire musical style is built on skimming only the surface qualities of another genre, whether it be the beats, the style, or the suggested attitude -- it becomes almost immediately clear that you're not only trying to be someone else, but that you don't really understand where that someone else is coming from at all.

Even worse is that because in many cases you've wired into a false identity, it becomes hard to sustain. We all like to put on masks now and again, but eventually it has to give way to your own style -- which is possibly why many so-called rap metal acts now claim to be something else, not only in an effort to shed that negative connotation, but because there's really only so far most bands can actually go with that style without becoming a flat-out imitation of someone else.

I know it sounds like I'm talking about racial heritage here, like I'm alluding without really saying that white kids should stay on their side of the fence, but honestly -- that's not it at all. Music isn't about what you look like or where you come from, it's about how deeply you feel it. How much you're able to connect the emotional side of your creativity with the mechanical process needed to create sounds from an instrument or a voice.
It takes a lot more than a knowledge of pentatonic scales to play the blues.
Industry writer (and good friend) Adam Bernard recently posted a fantastic article about the decline of actual rap in the era of hip-hop, discussing at length the danger that comes when one genre attempts to assimilate and commercialize another. At the way the negative image that is associated with rap has been in many smoothed over and homogenized by the watered-down rap style that's emerged, leaving actual rappers with something real to say out in the cold.

I will forever contend that there were a few bands out there who got it right, who melded the aggression of metal with the street poetics of rap in such a way that you could bounce your neck to something just as often as you could bang your head to it -- most notably Rage Against the Machine and personal faves Hed(PE), whose first three albums were actually produced and released on Jive records -- but the simple fact is that so many of the other bands who tried on the jacket of Rap Metal in the name of commercial success (as it appears One Minute Silence might have) couldn't do so without in many ways watering down their metal side first.
Which is not to say that I think One Minute Silence is a failure as a band, or that they weren't being true to themselves when they decided to take one direction over another -- but that like a lot of other groups at the time they weren't able to find a path to a sound that authentically represented the contact points of their varying interests, and wounded their own growth when they decided instead to rob the energy of their heavy side in an attempt to try to feed what they felt was their funky one.
It's a shame too, because these guys could flat-out bring it when they wanted to.

[Listening to:  Living Colour - "Burned Bridges" ]


Heff said…
I just don't dig it. I didn't even like when Anthrax did it.
wigsf said…
The problem with rap metal is the same problem that afflicts rap. The person with the microphone is rapping.
Adam said…
It's a bit reductive to assume that white rap-rock musicians don't "get" or "understand" hip-hop because they make shitty music we don't like. Truth is, most of them listened to just as much rap music as the rest of us did growing up... and are just as entitled to claim some sense of "legitimate" interest in hip-hop or longstanding fandom or whatever. Linkin Park may suck, but they seem to be a lot more "real" to me than, say, Body Count ever did. Those guys reeked of insincerity and mawkish voyeurism.
Adam Bernard said…
I've always had a soft spot for good rap-metal (not an oxymoron!) and you hit the nail on the head when you noted it's all about the emotion. Authentic emotion REALLY comes out when it's good.
Hex said…
Heff -- It's an acquired taste to be sure, but if you're willing to look, there are some diamonds in the rough.

wigsf -- If it keeps nickelback off the air for 3 more minutes, I'm fully in support of it.

Adam -- Like I said in my post, to me it's about emotion, about the ability to connect your emotional creativity with your technical ability. I listen to jazz and blues constantly, but still struggle to express myself in that vein musically, because I haven't been able to make that link to my own satisfaction yet. The interest may be legitimate, but when the style is simply used as a gloss over music without feeling (as I contend a Linkin Park mostly is), it's bothersome.

I've heard some of Mike Shinoda's side project work with groups like the Executioners and his solo stuff, and the flavor he brings seems to work a lot better there. I think he's sometimes more connected personally to those things than he is the band that pays his bills. Just my opinion.

On the other hand, I adore Body Count. I don't know that I'd consider them rap metal in the sense that I was writing about, because even though Ice-T is their singer, he rarely raps on their songs (the whole point of the thing was for him to have an outlet for his rock/metal/punk side). I'm more talking about that late 90's trend where metal and rock bands all began rapping -- bringing horrid tones out of groups like Extreme, or misdirected efforts from established groups like Biohazard.

Body Count in all honesty was a garage band. Not all that talented, hardly all that serious, and really only in it for the good time. The fact that their singer was famous was probably the only reason they got any run whatsoever, but even with their rough edges and silly lyrics -- they were a hell of a lot of fun to see live.

It's a personal taste thing, obviously, but I've always dug BC.

Adam Bernard -- exactly. Regardless of the style, if you're not feeling it, it's not going to 100% work. It's true of any musical style I think, but it was a particular flaw to most rap metal, despite its fleeting popularity. Glad you liked it!
JerseySjov said…
i always end up feeling a little sheepish when you write posts like these, because i definitely have tracks on my itunes from artists that you clearly dislike.

music is tricky...i listen to a lot of music that people think is "bad" or "just noise" because I like the way it sounds and it makes me feel happy to listen to it.
its like you said; it all comes down to the emotion/realized emotional intention of the artist. but its about the emotion that the listener feels, too.
Werdna said…
Clearly Rock and Roll could never Hip Hop like this...

I love rap, I love metal. I don't really like them together very much. Although 99 problems is a pretty good and there are some others, usually live band hip hop ends up disappointing me.
Hex said…
Jersey - I definitely have my specific tastes, but I never hate on anyone who genuinely enjoys their music (unless it's Nickelback, in which case there's gonna need to be an intervention, full-on every friend and family members with letters in their hands teary-eyed as they tell you how much they miss the way you used to be before you started listening to "Photograph"), but I think sometimes certain genres get a pass because of the way they're promoted rather than how good they are.

The prime example in my mind is hip-hop. The chasm between what's popular versus what's available is just ridiculous.

Werdna -- It's a hard mix to achieve well, because I think the spirit that's at the heart of each style are so utterly in contrast. But it can happen, if a musician is willing to bring together pieces of the two to create a whole.