It would be easy to just blast the New Boyz, point to them as signs of everything that’s wrong with hip-hop, make a couple skinny jeans jokes and move on. Sorry, I don’t do easy. For all the hardcore hip-hop heads that saw the New Boyz surrounded by dancing teenagers on BET and launched into a frenzy of hatred, let me say this: relax. First of all, if you’re that serious about your hip-hop, what are you doing listening to the New Boyz? Go memorize the new Raekwon. Second, I hate to break this to …
DJBooth Album Review
Point is, let’s not be so quick to write off the New Boyz and their debut album Skinny Jeanz and a Mic. Unlike past one hit wonders - anyone remember who did Party Like a Rockstar? – the New Boyz are part of a larger youth-fueled movement that ironically draws on hip-hop’s early days to produce stripped down, percussively heavy beats and slowly paced rhymes. I’m not saying that the California bred duo of Ben J and Legacy are the future of hip-hop, I’m just saying that bashing Skinny Jeanz and a Mic because it isn’t Illmatic is like bashing McDonald’s for not making delicious steaks. The New Boyz are what they are: a popular teenage rap group that will either have to evolve or inevitably fade away.
If we’re talking about the New Boyz we’re really talking about You’re a Jerk. Not only was the catchy single the track that introduced the duo to the world, it’s a blueprint for their entire sound: sparse production, booming bass, sped up vocal sample for the hook and lyrics about girls and clothes. (Careful listeners will catch a surprising reference to Jim Crow laws in You’re a Jerk. Looks like someone paid attention in U.S. history class). In other words, You’re a Jerk comes complete with a dance, style and catch phrase, exactly the type of track teenagers fall in love with, then promptly forget about a year later. It’s what teenagers do – and what you did when you were a teenager too. In fact, despite its one hit wonder label, You’re a Jerk isn’t entirely an anomaly; their music is in the same ballpark as other back to basics rap from crews like The Cool Kids. The opening track Cricketz is an pre-emptive strike on naysayers with a gold rope chain worth beat that shows that Ben and Legacy are respectably skilled rappers for youngsters, and Bunz is a 2 Live Crew-esque ode to booty that is classic guilty pleasure material. Come on, admit it haters, Skinny Jeanz has its moments.
As accepting as I try to be, there are portions of Skinny Jeanz and a Mic that are completely indefensible, starting with Tie Me Down (aka “the song that god put on this earth to punish me”). First of all, there’s something creepy about Ray J appearing on a New Boyz track, like after the sex tape and the affront to humanity that is For the Love of Ray J show he shouldn’t be allowed near children, or tracks whose primary audience is minors. Regardless of Ray J, I simply can’t forgive the auto-tuned verses from the New Boyz. What’s more, while the rest of the album’s minimalistic approach to hip-hip can get monotonous, the last third of Skinny Jeanz turns into a pop-R&B fest, starting with Tie Me Down and ending with the terrible quasi-ballad One Night. Someone undoubtedly told the boys they needed to do more to attract teenage girls, but in the course of doing so they throw out everything that made them unique and become, yes, just another forgettable teen sensation.
So where does that leave us? If I had to bet, I’d say that Skinny Jeanz and a Mic will be the last time we hear from the New Boyz, but the duo show just enough skill on the album to provide a glimmer of hope. If Ben J and Legacy can put aside the lame R&B attempts and focus on making their unique brand of hip-hop, they could have some life in the game. And if they can’t, well, there’s gonna be a lot of people donating their skinny jeans to the Salvation Army in a couple years.
DJBooth Rating - 2.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 09/21/09
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"You're a Jerk" (2009)
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