Throwing bows like Johnny Cage
The self-titled 2004 album of the Atlanta rap group Crime Mob was a great example of what a group with limited strengths can do when it focuses all its attention on developing and displaying those strengths. Crime Mob’s big strengths were its unrefined teenage enthusiasm and group leader Lil J’s huge, gothic horror-crunk beats. The album was heroically single-minded; almost every track on the album was a raw, messy beat-you-up chant over a churning nightmare track, and the best of those, the single “Knuck If You Buck” took the group’s strengths and made them transcendent. The group is gearing up for the March release of its second album Hated On Mostly, and they’ve got an uphill climb. Their debut sold a few hundred-thousand copies on the strength of the crunk boom, but that boom has since subsided and given way to a Southern rap scene without a clear center, driven by regional fads that disappear as soon as they reach national audiences. On top of that, Crime Mob member Killa C has gone to prison for drug possession and (seriously) child molestation; I don’t know any of the details of his case, but I know it’s not the sort of crime that’s going to convince too many people to pony up for Free Killa C T-shirts. So Crime Mob is going to be facing a few challenges to stay relevant, and I’m afraid that maybe they’ll fall into the trap of the connect-the-dots album, trying to be all things to all people and forgetting their strengths in the process. I haven’t heard most of the album, but their new tracks offer an encouraging possibility: maybe Crime Mob has developed a some new strengths in the past couple of years. The single, “Rock Ya Hips,” is a pretty good example of the novelty dance-song trend, but the song that really grabs me is “What Is Love” which takes a sample of the cheesed-out Haddaway song of the same title and turns it into a half-articulated lament. That song is a real left-field surprise, and I’m hoping we’ll get more of those on Hated On Mostly. I talked to group members Cyco Black and Princess on the phone this afternoon. My phone interviews never turn out particularly well; I always have trouble working up any sort of conversational rapport, and the two of them were in the midst of a long and probably tiring day of interviews. On top of everything else, we were having trouble hearing each other. So don’t expect anything particularly deep or revealing here; it’s more of a chance to check in with a young group that’s already done some great work.
What I’ve heard of the new album is really different from the first one. What’s the difference between the group we’re hearing now and the group we heard a couple of years ago?
Cyco Black: Well, it’s a more mature album. We all older now. It’s a two-year period, and we just been growing. We had more experiences. We learned what life is really about. So basically we showcasing it on the album.
What do you mean what life’s really about?
CB: I mean, a whole lot of different things, from baby-mama drama to saving your money. All kinds of stuff. The game, the business. I mean everything when I say that.
I was listening to the first album earlier today, and about 90% of that album, which I love, is just about beating somebody’s ass.
CB: Yeah. We was young, man. We was coming out of high school, and the movement back then was crunk. We still on the crunk; don’t get me wrong. But we’re just more mature with the crunk.
How young you were was something I really liked about the album, the idea that a group of kids worked up this sound together. It was so consistent, and it took us into your world.
CB: Yeah, and that’s what we still on. We keep it crunk, man. It’s a down-South thing. It’s an Atlanta thing.
Was maintaining a consistency a goal with this one?
CB: Let me tell you our goal with this one. Our goal was just to reach a bigger audience. We wanted more people to know who we are and that we really have talent. That was our main goal.
Did you feel like the last one didn’t make that happen?
CB: I don’t feel like it was like that. I just feel like it was the first time, and people didn’t really understand what we was trying to do. People underestimated us and thought we was one-hit wonders, and we don’t want people to think it was like that, so we want to reach out to a broader audience and give them the best of Crime Mob.
Your hit was “Knuck If You Buck.” Is that the first track you did as a group?
CB: No. Actually, we recorded so many songs because we used to record every day after school. We had so many songs, and we didn’t even believe that song was going to blow. The streets just took that song on; that’s what the song blew up. But the first song Crime Mob recorded as a group was called “We From the South,” and we recorded that in 2000.
“Knuck if You Buck,” for me at least, is probably one of the best rap singles of the past five years. That song is huge for how young you were and for how fierce it sounds. Is following up a track like that a challenge for you?
CB: I don’t feel like that’s a challenge. We do this 24-7-365. We constantly in the studio, so I don’t even look at it like that. People don’t always want to hear that beat-a-ninja-ass music. We want to give the people what they want.
“What is Love” is a really different sound for you guys; what were you reaching for there?
CB: Like I told you, we trying to reach the biggest audience we could reach. Crunk’s over. We trying to get collabs with some of the biggest names in the game: rock and roll, even country, and that’s the way to do it.
Who are you trying to collaborate with?
CB: I wouldn’t mind doing something with Korn, Aerosmith, Kid Rock. It’s just plenty of names out, a whole lot of people.
The song that you sampled for “What is Love,” that song got a lot of airplay a few years ago, and a lot of people looked at that original song as kind of a joke; it was in a Saturday Night Live skit and everything. But you took it really seriously; the song you made out of it is a really sad and serious song.
Princess: Going on what Psycho is saying, we’re not a crunk group. We’re not crunk artists. We’re artists. We have talent. We don’t like being labeled as a crunk group. Crime Mob has their own sound, and Crime Mob is versatile, so we’re going to take songs and flip it and have people bobbing their heads to it. If they don’t like it, Crime Mob is so addictive that you going to learn to like it. And when you learn to like it, you gonna love it.
Princess, it’s rare to have a rap group these days come out with two girls in it, and both of you came really hard on that first album. One thing I was wondering about was old Three 6 Mafia, when they had La Chat and Gangsta Boo. Was that an influence on you?
P: Not really. Maybe indirectly because when I told my brother, Lil J, that I wanted to rap, he would sit me down, and I would have to listen to certain people because that’s who he listened to. The only other females that he listened to were Gangsta Boo and La Chat. It indirectly affected me because they were the only females I listened to, and he’d be like, ‘You see how she put that word on there? You gotta do this and you gotta do that.’ So yes. It’s not a threat or anything. I don’t feel threatened that I looked up to them. They came out before me, and I listened to them. We talk to Boo all the time; that’s our homegirl.
Did your brother coach you as a rapper?
P: In a way. But when we were growing up, I always wrote poetry in stuff. In school, I did plays, and some of them had raps in it, so it’s always been there. But it came to his eye when he was in school and he’d come home like, ‘Listen to this, listen to this.’ And he never kept his raps in a book. I used to tell him to keep all of them together, but he never had them in a book. He let me hear it once or twice, and he’d lose the paper, and he’d be like, ‘What did I say here and here?’ And I would remember his whole verse, and I would say it with so much passion that he knew I’d been bitten by the rap bug. So he’d sit me down and teach me different things; you could say he coached me.
On the first album, Lil J produced almost the whole thing. Did he do the same thing with this one?
P: This one was more spread-out. All the boys produce, so they all got tracks on the album, as well as a couple of others.
What’s the situation with Killa C?
We’re not discussing it.