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Remember Lil Jon? The pimp-cup-clutching Atlanta hype man/producer released a new album this year called Crunk Rock. You might not have heard about it—it tanked miserably. But its failure wasn’t the final nail in the coffin of crunk, that testosterone-heavy, lyrically light rap subgenre that Jon helped popularize.
More likely, the main problem with Crunk Rock was that it wasn’t crunk enough, instead trafficking in an unholy mixture of Miami bass and LMFAO collaborations. There’s every reason, in fact, to believe that crunk is alive and well in a slightly different form. The past year has seen the rise of hulking Riverdale, Ga., savant Waka Flocka Flame, who has taken everything folks love about crunk—the anti-bourgeoisie attitude, the masculine energy, the chanted catchphrases—and channeled them into something he calls Flocka Music.
Composed of slow, industrial-techno-style loops and so much bass that your iPod headphones may not be up to the task, Flocka Music is rounded out by simple choruses, repeated over and over, like “Fuck the club up!” and “For my motherfucking dawgs!” Waka’s most common refrain, however, is simply his own moniker, which comes, more or less, from his given name Juaquin Malphurs (“Waka”) and an ad lib (“Flocka Flame”) courtesy of his mentor, rapper Gucci Mane. Actually, that’s just one of many explanations Waka has given, but no matter. What’s important is that the guy really likes saying his own name.
Only four years after starting to rap seriously, he has acquired a tremendous following by stripping his songs down to their essential cores—gargantuan beats and mesmerizing hooks. If you’ll pardon my French, his music makes clubgoers lose their shit, and even he’s not entirely certain why. “Flocka Music? I’m telling you, I’m trying to figure it out,” he told Mo’Nique not long ago. “I ain’t playing this. God playing this.”
It’s a cliché for musicians to claim divine inspiration, but Waka’s assertion is more believable than most, if only because his songs are completely noncerebral, like he’s channeling ancient melodies. His flag-planting, comically simple, late-2009 breakout hit, “O Let’s Do It,” uses little more than a high-register, circus-style synth line and the title repeated ad nauseum. It’s completely effective, and he claims to have written it in 10 minutes.
Flockaveli, further, was originally conceived as a mixtape rather than an official album, but Asylum Records saw things differently. Stocked with his biggest tracks from the past year, it’s as much a greatest mixtape hits compilation as a debut studio album. Whatever you want to call it, it works. In fact, unless Kanye West or Nicki Minaj can show him up in the fourth quarter, it could just be the hip-hop album of the year.
But Flockaveli’s content differs greatly from what one can expect from those two artists’ upcoming big-budget works. It entirely lacks pomp and circumstance; there’s no fancy production, live instruments, or big-name guest stars, just an hour and 12 minutes of threats, boasts, and shout-outs to his crew. One of the most hypnotizing tunes, “Young Money/Bricksquad,” is composed almost entirely of Waka and guest star Gudda Gudda chanting their names and cliques.
This is rap completely drained of intellectual, moral, and artistic pretense, which you’ll either find immensely appealing or completely aggravating. Obviously, Flockaveli—whose title is not so much a nod to Machiavelli as it is to Tupac’s album Makaveli—won’t play well with your parents, your sister, or your raised-on-Rakim friends. It’s club music for guys, demanding moshing, slam-dancing, and head-banging. The subject matter is bleak, if not completely nihilistic; “Live by the Gun” is just one of many tracks whose topic is firearms. But like the best crunk—and punk rock, for that matter—it’s cathartic and allows for the release of aggression in a healthy way. Flockaveli will get your heart racing and make you feel like beating somebody up. But when it’s over, you’ll return to your regularly scheduled life, and no one’s nose will be the broken-er for it.
But is it hip-hop? Some have tried to argue it isn’t, particularly Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man, who was incensed by Waka’s assertion that lyrics aren’t critical to a rappers’ success. As has been the case for years with northern MCs who trash the southern sound, however, Method Man overlooked an important point—that early hip-hop was filled with mindless, singalong chants, from The Sugarhill Gang’s “a hip-hop, the hippie, the hippie to the hip hip hop, you don’t stop” and onward.
Sure, Waka lyrics like “I’ma pull through this shit/I don’t need no nigga to pray for me” lack the playfulness or optimism of “Rapper’s Delight,” but make no mistake: For an album that’s concerned primarily with pain (inflicting it or feeling it), Flockaveli is surprisingly invigorating. Standout track and recent single “Hard in da Paint” has emerged as the finest sports motivational this side of “Eye of the Tiger.” Its coursing, primal rhythm may sound like the world is coming to an end, but it makes you feel like you could withstand it.
The credit for the album’s sound goes to 19-year-old Suffolk, Va., producer Lex Luger, who crafted beats for the majority of it. He’s created a new, harder template for club music through tracks that are rougher and slower than what’s been played in recent years, and his sound meshes perfectly with Waka’s guttural moans and various sinister assertions, from “I hang in the ‘Dale with them hit squad killas,” to “Front yard, broad day, with the SK.”
Despite Lil Jon’s fall-off, one suspects there will always be a market for these rambunctious, feel-it-in-your-bones tunes. God may not have had anything to do with Flocka Music, but the way it will help you take leave of your senses is nothing short of uplifting.