Hip Hop and rock ‘n’ roll have a long and storied history together,
stretching all the way back to the days when Run-DMC‘s Jam
Master Jay
first sampled a crunchy, distorted guitar riff to form the
musical foundation for Rock Box.
The you’ve-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter musical pairing exploded
internationally when the group collaborated with classic rockers Aerosmith
on a funkified update of “Walk This Way,” and
by the time Anthrax joined forces with Public Enemy to
reinvent “Bring The Noise” as a blistering
heavy metal anthem, the fusion of rebellious genres had become a full-fledged
phenomenon. Unfortunately, the late-’90s glut of mediocre rap-rock bands
clogging the airwaves (see: Limp Bizkit, Insane Clown Posse, etc.)
seemed to render the sound persona non grata, more likely to be the butt of a
joke than the object of any self-respecting Hip Hop head’s fandom. 

It’s been four years since AttenCHUN! put the boisterous Atlanta emcee
formerly known as Wayne Hardnett on the Hip Hop map, and a lot
has changed for Bone Crusher in that time. Gone is Midas touch
producer Jermaine Dupri, who originally discovered and signed
the former Lyrical Giants member to his So So Def
imprint. Gone is much of the 6’1″ heavyweight’s massive girth, which he lost
while setting a record for biggest individual weight loss on VH1’s Celebrity
Fit Club 4
. Gone is Arista, the major label muscle behind
his critically acclaimed debut. And on Free, Bone Crusher‘s
first album for his own label, Vainglorious
Entertainment
(a nod to Afrocentric Hip Hop icons X-Clan,
perhaps?), gone for the most part is the Hip Hop sound with which he made his
name.

In this time where there are real people dying overseas, there is
no way to take a gangster song seriously
,” Bone Crusher
said in a press release explaining his somewhat surprising new musical
direction. “We need something to make us smile.” To that end, Free is essentially a pure
party album extremely light on Hip Hop beats, heavy on rock guitars and full of
songs designed to make you get off your ass and jam.

The opening track, “Welcome,” sets the album’s tone,
with bubbly beats and funky vocals that sound like Outkast
fronted by George Clinton (or perhaps Cee-Lo‘s
less talented cousin fronting P-Funk). “Lovin'” and “Fat Boy Rock Star”
crank the guitars all the way up to 11, with Bone Crusher‘s
distinctive throaty growl intent on his flying his freak flag high. It’s a full
five tracks into the album, on the ’80s synth-pop of “Round and Round,”
before the man finally drops his first full-fledged rhyme, and the rest of the
album suggests he’s not likely to revert to his old sound anytime soon – which
isn’t necessarily a good thing, as the rudimentary songwriting, unimpressive
guitar riffs and limited vocal range make this a lukewarm party at best. You’ve
got to give any artist some credit for attempt to stretch his creative
boundaries, but the execution is ultimately disappointing.