I started listening to rap in about 1987, I believe. Someone got a hold of their brother’s copy of the Beastie Boys’ “Licensed To Ill” and it had the words “damn” and “hell” in it. At age eight, it was unbelievable to me. Of course, I started getting into all the rap and hip-hop that came before the Beasties – Run DMC, LL Cool J, etc.
So, from that point on, I was listening to rock music and hip-hop, which isn’t really that unusual for people my age. The culmination, for me at least of this dual rap/rock lifestyle was the amazing soundtrack to an otherwise forgettable movie, Judgement Night. It featured rock bands playing songs with rap acts, Ice-T and Slayer, for example. It was mind blowing and it was exactly what someone like me needed at the time and, it had never really been done before…except for that one time Aerosmith & Run DMC got together…but I digress.
About 1995-96 I stopped listening to hip-hop and rap, with rare exception. The explosion of gangsta rap had turned most rap releases into commercials for expensive cars and diamonds and the soul that originally drew me to rap was gone. Rap/rock combos like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit had hit the scene and everything was so shiny and commercial and sad. There were some bright spots that stand out to me from around that time, though, but nothing like what I felt when I first discovered hip-hop.
Clay Hughes and the What? bring back the soul that has been missing, for me at least, in hip-hop inspired music. (Not all of hip-hop, mind you, just most of it.) The songs on “The Wrong Side of Crazy” combine hip-hop, country, blues and rock and, at times, also bring tinges of folk, soul and funk that bring a fullness to the music. You don’t feel like you’re going to be hungry again in an hour after listening to “Crazy”, even though it’s only a six song ep.
If I had to use one word to describe “Crazy” it would be groovy. As I was listening to the songs, I was constantly bobbing my head to the beat and tapping my feet. The music is good and it’s catchy and it makes you move. The genres seem to slightly change from song to song. For example, the title track, Wrong Side of Crazy, is most definitely more hip-hop than anything else, but you’ve still got the funk and country influences apparent in it.
The most important thing about this ep is Hughes’ voice. After all, it is his voice that is the connective tissue between songs. Hughes is able to match his voice’s groove to the groove of the music and the emotion he brings, when it’s needed, is at a perfect pitch. Even on the song Only Man, which is probably my least favorite track on the disk, Hughes is able to evoke an overriding creepy feeling, the slight shudder of impending doom…especially when he says “Oh no.”
My favorite song from the ep, Ex, starts out with echoy samples that sound straight out of an LL Cool J record circa 1987, then The What? hits us with a funky bass line, driving beat and some sweet guitar action, as well as Tony Beats’ awesome scratching, which, I feel, is something missing from most hip-hop these days. (Whatever happened to real DJs?) Regardless, this song reminds me of a simpler, better time in my life. If the ep makes you bob your head to the beat (and it does) this is the head bobbinest song on it.
Do yourself a favor, pick this ep up and go see Clay Hughes and the What? if you get the chance, you won’t regret it. “The Wrong Side of Crazy” comes out January 25, 2011 on Sharp Country Records and you can download a track here. The ep release party will be held at the Czar Bar in Kansas City, MO this coming Friday, January 21, 2011 at 8PM.
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