With the meteoric rise to prominence of underground rap groups who integrate elements of punk and industrial music into their brutal brand of hip hop, such as Death Grips and clipping., more and more acts of this ilk have been coming out of the woodwork within the underground hip hop and punk scenes, just as many notorious rappers have attempted playing more towards this territory. Whether it be the distorted banjo-driven punk-rap of New York’s Show Me The Body or Kanye West’s industrial and noise-inspired undertakings on his divisive 2013 album Yeezus, all rungs of the music industry seem to have made room for this type of hardcore and hyper-aggressive expression within hip hop, accommodating for the discovery of artists like New Jersey-spawned rap duo Ho99o9 (pronounced “horror”). Having made the rounds on LA’s underground circuits off the back of two EPs and one mixtape, Ho99o9 have proven themselves to be very much cut from the same cloth as the likes of Death Grips, clipping. and perhaps even fellow New Jerseyans Dälek, whilst also placing such a heavy emphasis on their hardcore punk roots that much of their material arguably leans more towards punk than it does hip hop. With this attitude towards aggressive, anarchist punk-rap made loud and clear already, there seemed to be no reason to expect any different from the group’s full-length debut, United States Of Horror. Indeed, now with a whole long-playing record to make their message clear to the world of hip hop, the pairing of theOGM and Eaddy double-down on their strident style of pissed off, political punk-rap, and United States Of Horror meets the level of riotous ruckus that one would expect from Ho99o9 at this point in their career. However, across this album’s 17 tracks, the duo’s compelling ideas are limited to only a handful of songs, whilst many cuts in the tracklisting, rather than translating a sense of turmoil and uproar in the wild instrumentation, are put together in such a way as to come across more as awkward or haphazard than intentionally hectic. At certain points, this is only exacerbated by the two MC’s vocals, with the pair often struggling to find a rhythmic footing over these sporadic arrangements, making for a considerable amount of flows that are somewhat forgettable, purely because of how sloppily they can fit over the songs’ beats. Similarly, with Ho99o9 taking heavy cues from horrorcore, much of the duo’s lyricism across United States Of Horror is expressly tailored towards having a high shock value, but few of either vocalist’s bars stand out as being as horrifying as they intended, rather many of their sociopolitical diatribes are immature or ill-conceived to the point of being easily seen through as reactionary or deliberately inflammatory. Thankfully, the most remarkable moments from the album are especially coercive, but outside of a selection of narrow examples, much of United States Of Horror is disappointingly inefficient in conveying its relentless rage and abounding anger.
Upon first sitting down to listen to United States Of Horror, I naturally assumed a comparative mindset, in that, with Ho99o9 being another up-and-coming act to ride the zeitgeist inaugurated by hip hop outfits like Death Grips and clipping., it only makes sense that these artists should act as somewhat of a barometer by which their artistic disciples can be measured. In the case of Ho99o9, listening to United States Of Horror with this frame of mind will reveal such an overbearing influence from Death Grips that it can be difficult to overlook this, particularly as a result of the fact that neither theOGM or Eaddy are nearly as compelling as frontmen as MC Ride. The cues taken from Death Grips are made abundantly clear right from the onset with the first full song, War Is Hell, which is structured much like many of the Californian trio’s mid-tempo bangers, with the rough layers of distortion and noise constantly crescendoing until the cut reaches its climax. Of course, the aggressive, punctuated flows across the track are mostly pulled straight from the MC Ride playbook, with even part of the ad-libs between the first two verses mimicking the rapper’s widely-recognised “death yon” cry from the song Takyon (Death Yon), but they never quite ride the beat with the same fluidity that Ride manages to consistently accomplish, even when employing his most off-kilter deliveries and wild performances. Even when overlooking the blatant allusions to MC Ride’s style, like the rapid-fire “blub blub blub” vocals of Blaqq Hole that are practically identical to those of Death Grips’ Hot Head, both MCs from Ho99o9 often fall short of matching the heaviness of the instrumentation in their bellowing vocal deliveries, which, if anything, is worsened when the duo choose to lose any semblance of a rhyme scheme, as they do rather regularly. Whereas MC Ride’s booming barks consistently bolster whatever beat he finds himself rapping on, theOGM and Eaddy can sometimes leave a little to be desired, often in a way that seems as if they are hoping to convey the rough-around-the-edges attitude of punk, but ultimately comes across as being not entirely planned out or well-balanced.
If there’s one element of evenness across United States Of Horror, it relates to Ho99o9’s unforgivingly extreme sound that lets much of the record loose like a bull in a china shop. Whilst the duo’s gritty causticity may be enough to tide the album over for fans of Death Grips, who are looking to sink their teeth into some fresh blood from the underground rap and punk scenes, much of the cut-throat chaos of United States Of Horror plays out in a wildly inconsistent fashion, which sees plenty of interesting ideas, that are perfectly good at their core, poorly incorporated into the track on which they appear. The rumbling drones of slap bass that establish the nocturnal and nasty atmosphere of Moneymachine, for instance, are played to good effect, whereas the sung vocals that attempt to capture a similar creepy vibe are performed rather sloppily, to the point of coming across more as unintentionally silly than chilling. Fortunately, the ensuing, rattling trap beat that supports a similarly jittery rapped verse plays on top of the bassy growls as to provide a well-worked juxtaposition of tones, but the sung delivery nevertheless demonstrates how one simple misstep can put a severe damper on the mood that Ho99o9 are attempting to create. Other songs come together as such a mishmash of myriad, and often barely related, motifs that, even in spite of some compelling moments, the track as a whole is so lacking in structure — even one of a deliberately messy nature — that its overall impact suffers as a result. The initial outbreak of a surf rock guitar riff on New Jersey Devil, which bursts into a barrage of booming bass and battering blast beats, makes for one of the most explosive introductions to any cut in the tracklisting. This is only fleeting, however, with the song stopping dead in its tracks to abruptly assume an awkwardly incorporated doom metal section, with some clumsy sung vocals that, once again, attempt to be ghoulish but simply come across as somewhat goofy. By the time that another striking hardcore punk section is cut short in favour of this strange sludge metal/horrorcore hybrid, the song becomes frustratingly and jarringly volatile, to the point that the energetic eruptions of pure punk power can’t even entirely redeem it. Indeed, whether it be the awkward sung vocals over the noisy trap crossover of Hydrolics or the driving punk groove of City Rejects, which is annoyingly bogged down by the singing that is carelessly swamped in effects, a recurring theme across United States Of Horror is the frequency with which good ideas are set back either by bad ideas or through uncoordinated executions. The result is far from a bad album, rather the tracklisting is so unbalanced and capricious that the good and the bad often cancel each other out, it seems.
Indeed, United States Of Horror is quite the irregular record in its structure, with so many vastly different approaches being utilised between tracks, and with such wildly varying degrees of success. Ultimately, therefore, as much as the mechanical aggression of Face Tatt, the dynamic, 12/8 groove of Bleed War or the sinister trap tone of Splash show, quite impressively, that Ho99o9 are capable of a level of creativity that extends beyond being a mere imitation of their influences, such admirable moments are counterbalanced by the instances of miscues and unformed integrations of otherwise intriguing concepts. Of course, as much as the fact that Ho99o9 fall under the punk umbrella may tempt one to justify the pair’s underdeveloped ideas as being intentionally sloppy, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case with their debut album, in that it is often clear what the group seem to be aiming for, but certain blunders on the execution side of things hamper how well these intentions come to fruition. United States Of Horror is most definitely a bit of a mess, and whilst much of this is deliberate, Ho99o9 display a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to exploiting this to their advantage in a way that brings out the best of their palpable reverence for both punk and hip hop.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5.5/10