ig names Jay-Z didn’t tap for his big 2006 comeback: Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Clipse… not even new ally Nas. But Coldplay’s Chris Martin made the cut. Kanye appeared on a Fall Out Boy remix earlier this year. Run-DMC selected geniuses like Third Eye Blind and Limp Bizkit for their big 2001 comeback. And Jay himself handpicked Linkin Park to be his lawfully wedded mash-up spouse for the messy Collision Course back when there was a possibility mash-ups were MTV-bankable. So, yeah, rappers have historically godawful taste in rock.
With this in mind, Atlanta trio Shop Boyz don’t at all do a bad job trying to forge “hood rock,” (their term) out of crunky 808s and guitars. Everyone seems to concede that their runaway hit “Party Like a Rockstar,” is a scream but the sure-to-be-goofy album doesn’t even merit a chance, so I was surprised to find so much variety and lack of calculation here. It is goofy, as one would expect of three teenage rappers who like their projects, their rims, and, most of all, their parties. But contrary to expectations, the lyrics are never as moronic as Lil’ Jon or as embarrassing as Jim Jones. Once in a while they even get in some wordplay, like the girl who can “hold me down like gravity.” Sheed, Meany, and Fat come off as way too young and simple to be a contrivance. Instead, they seem to be genuinely taken with classic rock and the arena look, surprised other rappers haven’t copped it first. This is partly because their taste runs surprising, like on the surfy Beach Boys update “Rollin’.” Who would’ve thought they’re blasting AM stations out of that Bentley? Don’t go converting your dads just yet, though: “I got a cute little girl who will blow me like a flute,” isn’t exactly “Kokomo.”
The other thing is that it’s nice for once to see rock awkwardly conceived by genuine rappers instead of rap horribly conceived by barely-adept rockers. Now, hip-hop heads of all colors have two words to throw back at the Wonder-bread Nickelback fans who think it’s funny when black people wear jewelry, use slang, or do anything different from them: “t-t-totally dude!” And because Shop Boyz are just as crass as Jim Jones, only so much more endearing, they market the slogan like a catchphrase rather than a hook. It makes an appearance not just on the glorious “Party” single but its own little spin-off (you guessed it), “Totally Dude,” which itself is so endearingly crass you might not even notice the lone violin that slinks in near the end.
The production on Rockstar Mentality is the record’s secret weapon, what puts it above the line of most 808s-with-chant crunk. Some of it’s even subtle; surely by six plays of “Party Like a Rockstar” you know they get a tan with Marilyn Manson, go to shows with Travis Barker, and trip with the Osbournes, but did you notice those little horn squonks? “Bowen Homes” sounds like Rick Ross’ whole chrome-plated album melted down into one sleek little medallion, and “Baby Girl” finds a use for funky guitars that are neither cliché-metal nor goopy-ballad. The wide musical palette never settles for merely generic when it can pastiche over a whole period instead, a clever trick to help you ignore the Boyz’ limited-but-not-bad rhyming skills. It all leads up to “World on Fire,” an ending so rousing you actively cheer for these guys to beat the one-hit-wonder odds. With creeping “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It” whistles, wind-up toy drumrolls, and another rockstar guitar riff all leading up to a “And now they can’t get us! And now they can’t get us!” chorus, “World on Fire,” typifies why novelty acts aren’t always worth dismissing… If their gimmick’s as good as these guys’ anyway. T-t-totally, dude!
Reviewed by: Dan Weiss
Reviewed on: 2007-07-03