The Not-Quite-Triumphant Return of Crime Mob
They be like Saddam Hussein, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden
"Knuck If You Buck" would've been the greatest thing that circa-2000 Three 6 Mafia ever did if circa-2000 Three 6 Mafia had had anything to do with it. All the hallmarks are there: the eerily insistent minor-chord synth riff, the enormous drum-stomps, the thoroughly anonymous parade of male rappers with impenetrably thick accents drawling beatdown threats, the pair of bounce-snap female rappers who irresistibly interrupt all the rampant testosterone to issue their own beatdown threats, the hypnotically repetitive gang-chant chorus, the general air of gothy doom. The male voices are miles-deep slurs, and the female voices are trebly sneers, but they're all mixed so low in the track that anyone born north of the Mason-Dixon line has to work to pick out more than every third word. I could listen to it on repeat for hours without getting bored. It's a perfect example of the sort of drunken John Carpenter posse-cut bombast that DJ Paul and Juicy J regularly churned out before they rediscovered Willie Hutch samples and chased everyone out of their group. But it came out in 2004, a couple of years after Paul and Juicy moved out of their black-magic phase, and it came from an unknown group of teenagers called Crime Mob, which makes me love it even more. Crime Mob came from Ellenwood, a suburb outside Atlanta. When "Knuck If You Buck" trickled up from the deep South to Baltimore radio, the oldest member of Crime Mob, rapper/producer Lil J, was 19 years old. Diamond and Princess, the female rappers who had the best verses on the song, were 16 and 17, and they were still in high school. Without any outside help, this group of kids completely perfected that particular form of dark, heavy Southern fight music, and they did it on their first single. It's the sort of story that makes you wonder what the hell you were doing at 16 and why you didn't have your shit together yet.
If Crime Mob had released "Knuck If You Buck" and then disappeared completely off the face of the earth, I still would've loved them forever. But Lil Jon signed them to his BME imprint and, surprisingly enough, allowed them to develop their sound with virtually no interference. On Crime Mob's self-titled debut album, there's one Lil Jon beat and one Oomp Camp beat, and every other track comes from Lil J. There's only one guest rapper on the entire album, and he doesn't even rap: Lil Scrappy just provides a quick little hypeman intro to "Knuck If You Buck" and then goes away. And so Crime Mob uses the rest of the album to do exactly what you'd imagine a group of Atlanta-area teenagers with major-label contracts to do in 2004: they spend twelve tracks exploring all the different ways they're going to beat your ass. Pretty much every track sounds like every other track, and every one of the fired-up chant-hooks is the sort of thing that'll get lodged in your brain for an entire day if you hear it before leaving the house. It's pretty great.
But that first Crime Mob album came with a built-in expiration date. Maturity is the sort of thing that kills a group like this, and nobody ever expected them to keep churning out teenage head-busting anthems. Over the last couple of years, the world has moved past Crime Mob. Snap music happened, and now it seems like every new Atlanta rapper is resorting to either Jeezy-esque coke-slinging nihilism or making up a goofy dance. Bombastic minor-key crunk isn't a going concern anymore, despite what Lil Jon's necklace would have you believe. Diamond and Princess made some regional noise with a single called "Georgia Girls," which didn't make it too far out of Atlanta. I didn't hear much of anything about the guys in the group. I'd check the internet every once in a while to figure out if they were up to anything, but I wasn't really expecting anything.
A couple of weeks ago, the Fader got ahold of a five-song sampler for a new Crime Mob album and blogged hyperbole about it. The album, Hated On Mostly, is set to come out in January, but the group has a really fucked up new setback to contend with: group member Killa C is in prison for drug possession and for molesting his little brother. That little news-bite is sad and bizarre enough that I have no idea what to do with it, but he's not a member of the group anymore, for whatever that's worth. In any case, I've heard two of the tracks from Hated On Mostly, and I like both of them. "Rock Yo Hips," the first single, is basically a snap song, but it's a good snap song. They've invented their own dance and everything, and it's not as much fun to hear 19-year-old girls rapping about how sexy they are as it was to hear 16-year-old girls rapping about beating you up, but the track has some of the same spacey repetition and unbridled enthusiasm as "Knuck If You Buck." If I had access to a car with some subwoofers, I could tell you if Lil J is still manufacturing violent bass-pounds, but I don't, so I can't. "What Is Love," meanwhile, samples Haddaway's uber-cheesy Euro-techno Night at the Roxbury theme and, through some Herculean feat of irony-negation, finds the lonely pain at the song's center and turns it into an airy dirge about disillusionment with the music industry. I'm going to miss the raw scrappiness of the younger Crime Mob, but I'm starting to get really amped about the prospect of seeing what they can do with the wisdom and experience that a couple of years in the record-industry treadmill must've given them. Even if one of them was a child molester.