As the year of crunk draws to a close, it's amazing to consider how a music that sounds so provincial and Southern has penetrated popular consciousness. Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boys are now certifiable pop stars, and David Banner's Mississippi: The Album has made him a critic's darling of publications as august as the New York Times. Then there are veterans like Outkast, a group whose innovations have helped it outgrow the subgenre's worst excesses while still wielding considerable influence over its peers.
Most of the new Southern stars (with the notable exception of Trick Daddy) appear on Crunk and Disorderly, which was originally intended to be a Christmas-themed compilation. Four tracks remain from that initial concept, the best of which is Banner's "It's Christmas Time (Jingle Bells)." "It's Christmas time and we're broke again," Marcus and Skyy sing on the chorus to Banner's promise to steal to put food on the table.
Unapologetically both yearning and gutter, "It's Christmas Time" is the rare track on an album that usually comes off like a series of studio outtakes. Some of it is intriguing: Chyna Whyte's bizarre turn as a female pimp on "What They Want"; Pitbull's energetic collabo with Lil' Jon and Scrappy on "That's Nasty"; and Trina and Duece Poppi's "Get Loose," which is powered by a tapestry of tasty and melodic synthesizer licks. Unfortunately the album also suffers from the same topical banality that plagues mainstream hip-hop. Even Killer Mike uses his holiday number, "A Christmas Grind," to offer up uninspired boasts about how he's "gonna take what's yours/Gotta make it mine."
Conversely, Crunk and Disorderly's strength lies in its sheer breeziness and effervescence. Each song feels like it was cranked out in half an hour, giving it a breezy spontaneity similar to something a punk rock band would thrash out in between national tours in beat-up vans. Lil' Flip's "Throw Up Yo' Hood" is laid-back gangsta music perfect for riding to; T.I.'s "Turn It Up" sports a nifty beat crafted by Sanchez Holmes that incorporates a boy echoing the title over a keyboard mimicking a blues guitar. The only song that smacks of histrionics is Bone Crusher's "Guess Who's Comin to Town." With its loud overdubbing of Bone Crusher's bellowing voice and heavy-handed synthesizers, it's the only track that lacks Crunk and Disorderly'scoolly raucous energy.
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