Sunday, April 26, 2009

April 26: 311, "Grassroots"

Artist: 311
Year: 1994
Label: Capricorn

Eras of musical exploration are also far more enjoyable than the stale, copycat eras that follow. Much like the late 1960's, the early 1990's were a time when bands were constantly combining genres to create styles that had never before been heard. Along with groups like Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Rage Against The Machine, 311 took the ethos of punk and metal and infused it with reggae and pop sensibilities. Largely responsible for creating the rap-rock genre, 311 remain one of the most important and talented groups in music history. Rapidly approaching twenty years as a band, their sophomore release, 1994's Grassroots still shines as their finest recording to date.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Grassroots is the fact that the entire record was recorded in the bands' shared house in Van Nuys, CA. Instead of the traditional style of single instrument recording, the entire band (and vocals) were all recorded simultaneously in the living room of the house. The band also recorded their debut record, Music, during these same sessions. When 311 gets intense, as on the opening track, "Homebrew," they are unrivaled for the level of sheer power in their music. However, the true brilliance of the band lays in the fact that they are able to slow things down and be just as amazing, as is exemplified in the song, "8:16am." It is this diversity that sets the band aside from both their contemporaries, as well as the bands that have attempted to duplicate their sound since the release of their equally impressive debut record in 1993.

The music of 311 is an unmatched fusion of reggae, heavy metal, and hip hop, often containing a healthy dose of psychedelia. 311 innovated a new style with the help of turntable master, S.A. Martinez. Mixing in samples and record scratching, 311 were truly the first rap/rock act. Martinez also contributes secondary vocals throughout the entire album, and the dual singer model is another aspect that forms 311's distinctive sound. The man known simply as P-Nut lays down some of the fastest, funkiest basslines ever throughout Grassroots. Whether pounding away at a thrash metal tune, or creating a tripped-out, hallucinogenic groove, P-Nut brings nothing but perfection to each song. Tim Mahoney proves that he is just as brilliant playing SKA riffs as he his taking extended, laid back solos or going all out like the best in metal. At times sounding like a 1970's Grateful Dead solo, at times resembling the early 1980's metal explosion, Mahoney is one of the most all around talented guitarists you'll find. Both guitarists use effects to make their sound more "crunchy" or simply using "wah" pedals without overdoing it, and the variance in guitar work keeps the songs fresh. Drummer Chad Sexton is nothing short of phenomenal throughout Grassroots, as he puts on a clinic on how to play nearly every style of drumming possible. From the most crushing, rapid tempos, to the laid back and funky rhythms, Sexton proves to be one of the most talented drummers of his generation.

As a band, 311 centers around the bands' founder, rhythm guitarist, and lead singer, Nick Hexum. Constantly switching between singing and rapping, Hexum was a true innovator, and his style has been copied countless times since. When rapping, the truth is, Hexum delivers faster, and more original rhymes than a majority of "true" rappers of the time. The lyrical combinations and amazing alliterations found throughout the lyrics on Grassroots are a testament to his ability to write lyrics to rival the flawless, style-shifting music played by the band. Hexum's singing voice is the perfect tone and tenor for the music over which he sings. His voice glides blissfully over the complex landscapes created by the rest of the band. Proving throughout Grassroots that he is as talented a singer as he is an emcee, Hexum remains one of the most prolific frontmen in the music scene.

311's combination of metal, funk, and hip hop is one of the most pleasantly addictive sounds in the history of music. The band pretty much created the entire genre and idea of metal-hip hop fusion, and countless "mega bands" of the current music scene owe their entire careers to this seminal band. Pulling heavy influence from the psychedelic and reggae sounds as much as the ideals of punk and heavy metal, 311's music is always original, and more importantly, always of the highest quality. The diversity in the bands' inspirations affords them to explore a wide range of musical territory, and this leads to the fact that none of their releases are anything short of "solid." However, their first three albums are absolutely amazing, with their second record, 1994's Grassroots, standing as the finest release of their career.

Standout tracks: "Homebrew," "8:16am," and "Applied Science."

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