THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 1998

By Sean Calhoun

I try to cover a number of different genres with my Yearbook reviews. With that in mind, I decided to give a chance to a genre that I haven’t ever really had a ton of respect for, diving into the world of rap-metal with perhaps its biggest mainstream breakthrough

Follow the Leader – Korn (Immortal/Epic)

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As someone with very little experience with rap-metal (I’ve listened to a bit of Linkin Park before and that’s about it) I was pleasantly surprised when Follow the Leader got off to a really solid start. The opening track, “It’s On!”, introduces what could be described as the “Korn formula,” with aggressive and percussive instrumentals alongside generally angry talk-singing from frontman Jonathan Davis.

Following “It’s On!” are the album’s two commercially-released singles, “Freak On a Leash” and “Got the Life,” both quite solid (at least in the context of the genre). The former introduces a motif that recurs a couple of times throughout Follow the Leader – a series of vocal stylings that I described in my notes as Davis’ “Angry Scatman” routine, in which he spouts a series of nonsense syllables in an aggressive (and acceptably rhythmic) fashion. It sounds kind of silly now, eighteen years later, but it actually works a lot better within the album’s context than one would expect.

Unfortunately, after the first three tracks on the album, there aren’t a lot of highlights to be had. Davis’ irrepressible anger becomes grating, as does the rather repetitive and samey nature of the album’s instrumentals.

Particular lowlights on Follow the Leader are two of the album’s guest features, the first being “Children of the Korn,” which features Ice Cube. While Ice Cube is easily a more talented rapper than Jonathan Davis, the track borders on self-parody, painting what appears to be a completely unironic image of “hardcore kids” who disobey their parents, have lots of sex, and smoke a lot of weed. It’s a mess, and I’m glad that a train outside my window drowned out most of the second half of the track.

Even worse, however, is “All In the Family”, a “song” which consists of Davis and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst trading crude insults over a beat for a torturously long four minutes and forty-nine seconds. Crass sexual humor and homophobic slurs abound, and the effect of the track was such that nothing afterward could have convinced me that Follow the Leader was worthy of a good score, based solely on the fact that “All In the Family” was allowed to exist as part of it.

The rest of the album is unremarkable – more paint-by-numbers rap-metal, with lots of Davis being angry at the music industry, angry at his own band, angry at women, and angry at himself. It’s a lot of anger, and it gets really tiresome. I’ll give credit to Korn for effectively birthing a genre that reached shocking heights in the early 2000s, but I’m not going to give them much more credit than that.

Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 4.1/10

 

After sitting through 1998’s first album and its seventy-minute run time and coming out feeling disappointed (and, frankly, kind of gross), I needed a pick-me-up to remind me that music can be fun, too. Luckily for me, that came in the form of

 

Hello Nasty – Beastie Boys (Capitol Records)

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From the get-go, the Beastie Boys want you to know that making music is really fun. Every lyrical line and techno sample of Hello Nasty bursts forward, keeping the energy level high and making for a really, really enjoyable listening experience.

Pick a song, any song, on Hello Nasty, and you’ll find something to enjoy about it. The New York threesome (with the assistance of a couple featured artists and turntable virtuoso Mix Master Mike) repeatedly hops, mashes, and deconstructs genres, making for a wholly unexpected listening experience. The songs on this album rarely stick to one melody or style, instead rushing back and forth between musical ideas and lyrical themes like a kid on a sugar high.

Wit abounds on this record, with the Boys delivering plenty of lines that are difficult to imagine having been rapped with a straight face, the highlight almost certainly being Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz on “Putting Shame in Your Game”: “Well I’m the king of Boggle, there is none higher/I get eleven points off the word ‘quagmire’”. I had a smile plastered on my face for the vast majority of Hello Nastys 67:28, both from the aggressively humorous rhymes on a number of tracks and from the sheer audacity of some of the group’s musical choices.

This is a rap album with mellow piano/lounge pop (“Song For The Man”), instrumental jazz (“Sneakin’ Out The Hospital”), and even acoustic alt-rock (“I Don’t Know”), not to mention the perfectly executed gimmickry of tracks like “The Negotiation Limerick File” (where every five lines actually form a unique limerick for the entirety of the song) and “Dedication” (two and a half minutes of yelled-out place names with no rhyme scheme or melody to speak of).

The biggest highlights of Hello Nasty, however, are its two highest-charting singles. “Body Movin’” and “Intergalactic” are the Beastie Boys at their finest – aggressive, goofy team efforts with shouted rhymes and punchline-heavy verses. (I have to quickly mention the hilariously cheesy, Godzilla-influenced video for “Intergalactic” as well.)

Hello Nasty is an album with practically nothing in the way of flaws to speak of. It’s energetic, it’s unpredictable, and it’s super fun. I’m kicking myself for not giving the Beastie Boys a chance until now, but you can bet that I’ll be exploring the rest of their discography in the near future.

Score, Adjusted for 2016 Ratings Inflation: 9.6/10

 

Related:

Meet the Interns: Sean Calhoun 

THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 1996

THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 1997