Cultural pluralists have been extolling the possibilities inherent in rap/metal fusion since the days of Run-DMC’s “Rock Box,” but few bands have come up with a hybrid as gleefully diverse as that found on Mental Floss for the Globe, the first volley from a Holland-based five-piece that can claim responsibility (or at least prescience) for the sound of rock at the turn of the millennium. The vibrant pan-cultural quintet was formed in Amsterdam in 1987 by a rapper (who speaks both Dutch and Brooklynese), a bassist from the former Dutch colony of Surinam and three Dutchmen. Atop the rapping, funk bass, power chords and acoustic slide, DJ DNA adds the same wild-card element to Urban Dance Squad that Brian Eno provided in the original Roxy Music: the band never knows if it’s going to be accompanied by Mongolian desert music, Benny Goodman or Chuck D. And although UDS comes from a country not widely regarded for its rock heritage, these seasoned musicians have played with everyone from Jah Wobble to Rufus Thomas. And, like Fishbone and the Chili Peppers, UDS never forgets to have fun.
Noisy, funky and endlessly variegated, UDS’s debut is possibly the quintessential hip-metal (heavy-hop?) album. On tracks like “Prayer for My Demo” (predating the Pooh Sticks song of the same name) and “No Kid,” guitarist Tres Manos pulls everything from Hendrix to Ry Cooder out of his bag of tricks, while the fluid rhythm section keeps things percolating and rapper Rudeboy Remington rants atop the skronk-heavy effects assembled by DJ DNA. Country-western, raga rock, dub, free jazz — it all gets thrown into the multi-culti stew, making for a truly brain-blasting platter.
The album was originally released independently in a limited pressing, licensed to Ariola in Holland and Europe, and eventually Arista in the States — replacing copyright-offending samples (including Hendrix, the Stones and Captain Beefheart) on each edition. Arista added two hot European B-sides and dropped the a inane hip-hoppy slide-guitar blues tale “Hitchhike H.D.” The decade-later double-disc reissue adds an hour-long live set dating from 1990. Mental Relapse footnotes the album with a pair of alternate versions, “Hitchhike H.D.” and two live cuts.
After headbangers and homeboys alike responded with a collective shrug to Mental Floss‘ everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, UDS came back with a more conventional-sounding funk-metal record that downplays DNA’s wall-of-noise predilections. Life ‘n Perspectives of a Genuine Crossover has some enjoyable tracks (notably the raging “Comeback” and the easy- grooving “Routine,” a meditation on boredom in which Rudeboy contemplates “taking a bath with my toaster”), but elsewhere the band sounds like a Red Hot Chili Peppers clone. The double-disc reissue adds a live set from 1992 recorded in Tokyo.
That trend continues on Persona Non Grata, which finds DJ DNA gone and Tres Manos making like a macho guitar hero at every turn. Produced by Phil Nicolo (Cypress Hill, Urge Overkill) and one, uh, Stiff Johnson, Persona Non Grata sounds like a shameless bid for acceptance by the metal market. The stripped-down approach yields some lowbrow kicks — the lumbering riffology of “No Honestly” and “Selfsufficient Snake” would do any band of Black Sabbath worshipers proud — but the embrace of such a one-dimensional strategy is disheartening. The live appendix to the reissue was recorded in Chicago in 1995.