Having owned a floppy toque or two, being a graduate of a school less than an hour away from the Peace Bridge and the shining lands of the Great White North, and unabashedly listening to Wolf Parade alongside Lil Wayne, I have some perspective on the unique flavors Montreal adds to music. An island stronghold for forward thinking musicians, it comes as a shock then to hear Nation Ruckus; this is a sound that has taken a step back from the bleeding edge.
On it’s face, Nation Ruckus is rap rock. The guitar heavy production on many of The Pre-Tape’s cuts sounds like something left on Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory cutting room floor. The heavy handed and boisterous qualities that cause the genre’s suicide inducing grate unfortunately rear their head here, although not without a glimmer of hope. Thankfully, not all is wrong with this Nation.
Emcee Milk-E Fresh is surprisingly talented and a sleeper find. A Canadian Peedi Crakk, Fresh’s high, clear voice pierces like the moon on a cold night. His deft, sing-song flow is in the same vein as Emilio Rojas and Laws, a sound currently in vogue right now, along with the drizzly syrup Stream of Consciousness favored by the Odd Future crowd and the raspy weed smoke vocals utilized by Wiz Khalifa or Tyga. When he manages to unchain himself from the rock, Fresh soars, single handedly lifting The Pre-Tape out of mediocrity.
Fresh walks the line between a fine signifyer (“A lot of Milk-E is good for your health”, “Like a porn star/I can never go soft”) and a self conscious need to justify his position on the mic. This woe-is-me approach seems ridiculous in an age where comedic actors and white girls from Oakland are dominant figures in Hip-Hop; his talent needs no apologies. A fearless representative for Montreal, Fresh could make an impact quickly if he hooks up on the right track. A superb remix of J. Cole’s “Work Out” shows just exactly what he can do when he’s put on.
Nation Ruckus is at their best when Milk is flowing. “You Oughta Know” utilizes an excellent Billy Joel sample while dropping the power chords, and Fresh responds with fantastic bars. The soulful backing of “Better Man” tells an epic of a street story as honest and earnest as any ever told. The palpable emotion runs thick and glossy, with Mafe adding a mournful finishing touch.
The bombastic, jazzy drums of “Anthem” and the piano driven “Keep On” also ride a more traditional rap sound to surprising heights. If Nation Ruckus wants to take the next step, these songs are the key.
Rock heavy production dooms the rest of The Pre-Tape to lopsided, aggressive mediocrity. Opener “SOMTL” goes from Dr. Dre to Kid Rock to laughable, while “Beware” and “Say What!?” (always beware any song title containing a question mark and exclamation point next to each other; it screams “Fred Durst’s ghost is here”) too ride the six-string sound to a regrettable, fiery end. Despite Fresh’s skill and some fine, old school Hip-Hop beats, as soon as that trite layer of crunching distortion comes in I instantly recoil; perhaps a knee jerk reaction from growing up white in the 90’s.
Despite some strong cuts and a fine emcee,The Pre-Tape left me with little save bad flashbacks and a burning desire to hear Milk-E Fresh on far more tracks. He and Montreal deserve better, an avant-garde sound Nation Ruckus seems capable of reaching but falls short of here.
I have already lived through the halcyon days of rap rock. I refuse to go back.
Download The Pre-Tape at http://nationruckus.bandcamp.com/
Prime Cuts: “You Oughta Know”, “Better Man”, “Anthem”
The Pre-Tape receives a PA
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