Let's face it, Rap-Rock gets a bad, well…rap. A shame, because it offers music fans a taste of a variety of styles, and showcases a well-rounded education on the part of the performer. Just as today's "indie" movement gives listeners an experience equal parts soul, folk and electronica, cool kids two decades prior jammed to a new sound that was a celebration of hip-hop mashed-up with jazz, funk and hard rock guitar. Now classic bands like Faith No More, Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers laid the Yellow Brick Road for this new mixed-breed in the mid-'80s, becoming founding fathers of what would become known as "alternative rock" long before Grunge showed up to the dinner table. '90s followers with a bit more iron in their blood kept the party fresh, including Rage Against the Machine and the Deftones. Then, some unruly guest brought Limp Bizkit to the potluck, and the whole thing soured into a massive suck-salad, seasoned with misogynist lyrics, remedial power cords, spastic DJs, misspelled names, and a posse of suburban white posers in their late 20s dressing like clowns and faking it like they were from the streets. You may think I'm being harsh. After all, every band has its "clones" once the sound it ushered in reaches its tipping point. But at least when Bush and Stone Temple Pilots decided to coast in Eddie Vedder's tailwind, they were still good. In the copy-cat department, Rap-Rock got hit hard with the shit stick, squeezing out the likes of Crazy Town, Saliva, Papa Roach, and a countless crap-a-palooza of other mooks whose memory makes the mind gag and ears vomit. It was an embarrassment for both the bands and their fans. Thankfully, listeners' tastes found their way in tune (or they just grew up), and now, most of this dreg can only be heard among the leper colonies of pop-culture (mainly during WWE matches). Unfortunately, the good took the fall with the bad, and the remaining fans of the better acts keep it to themselves to avoid the judgment of their peers.
Thankfully, New Orleans-based Madfro takes rap-rock back to its most elemental roots, reminding listeners why it was so good and original in the first place. Lead vocalist Slangston Hughes rhymes with a deep baritone that commands attention, and fires off a flow that keeps it all the way through. What is most striking about his style is that he delivers each song as if he is free-styling over a mixtape. The first four tracks have that free-association devil-may-care, I'm-just-having-fun attitude that Lil' Wayne brought to his underground Da Drought and Dedication releases. His flow stays playful and fresh, never getting weighed down by excessive repetition. Complimenting him is guitarist Orlando Da Silva, who finds his muse more in classic rock rather than any nu-metal predecessors. His funk-guitar rhythm is heavily Hendrix-esque, with a touch of Rage Against the Machine thrown in. On the albums' two opening tracks, he ends each with a virtuosic blues solo that would catch the ear of Jimi or Black Sabbath. The album opener, "My Glow," is the effort's funkiest - and most memorable - track. The following two songs, "Cannonball" and "…and Boom!" are more furious rockers, while "Pert Plus" has a definite RATM funk-jam to it. The closing song, "Middle of December" is a bluesy groove that would sit well alongside most of the Chili Peppers later, more acoustic work.
Madfro's I.F.W.I. offers a variety of experiences for listeners: you can dance to it, rage to it, or chill to it, depending on your mood. Best of all, you can think with it. I.F.W.I.'s combination of styles - each skillfully mastered by its players - and thoughtful execution makes it a challenging listen to the attentive ear. What it won't do is disappoint. Hopefully, Madfro can help restore so much needed dignity to rap-rock's wounded ego, and bring its funky, rockin' sound back out of hiding.