Music News

Bring In the Funk

Somewhere in north Tempe, tucked away behind the corrugated door of an industrial park storage space off Smith Road, Brandon Lawson, a.k.a. MC Mesi, lifts his head.

The smell of stale smoke is heavy in the rehearsal space. There are half-packs of Parliaments and Marlboros littering the floor and scattered across a few cheap coffee tables, the pressboard kind you can buy at a yard sale for four dollars. There is but a single battered ashtray in the building, and it's two rooms away, sitting beside a television set that's broadcasting The Drew Carey Show to an empty couch; all the smoke, all the activity, is in here. Empty beer cans serve as makeshift receptacles.

The whole room has the feel of a battered landscape after a war. It's not just the thick air, and it's not solely the flotsam of a thousand nights of practice just like this one -- the power cables, patch cords and DJ gear that have accumulated over time. It's the huffing and puffing of six people who have spent the last 20 minutes doing their best to blow the rehearsal space's door off its roll track.

Dislocated Styles is coming to the end of its first stretch of the night's run-through, and the band members are out of breath and perspiring. Sweating like pigs, not to put too fine a point on it. Everywhere in sight, in every conceivable space toward which one of the six players here might gravitate, there's a gallon jug of Arrowhead water. To sew up the first leg of the night's work, Lawson, visibly exhausted, calls for "Utopia," a long and surprisingly accomplished funk-soul workout that might have been lifted whole from Blue Note Records' "Blue Break Beats" series.

"Utopia" isn't on D-Styles' soon-to-be-released Roadrunner debut Pin the Tail on the Honkey; it's a reworking of an older song from the group's out-of-print full-length Elevator Music. But it nicely sums up everything about this band that's most intriguing, given the ironclad aggro mold of modern rap-metal, and it's surprisingly sweet and soulful and funked-up all at once.

Things are good right now for Phoenix-based D-Styles. The new album is set to drop on April 24, with a release party at Bash on Ash on Cinco de Mayo. They're young and they're still working day jobs to make rent, but they've got excellent label support and their music is complex enough to appeal to unreconstructed headbangers and traditional funk fans alike. That's a rare talent; it's also the reason Pin the Tail on the Honkey deserves airplay, and not just on the basis of the hometown-heroes scenario.

While the rest of Tempe goes about its business, Dislocated Styles is getting ready to check in with an album that bears more similarities to Rage Against the Machine and Parliament-Funkadelic than it does to Papa Roach. Cock your ear in the night, and you can almost hear the metal door creak against its frame.

We should get the ugly hyphenate out of the way right now, because if we make the mistake of pegging Dislocated Styles as white-boy rap-metal, we're going to miss the heart of it.

Let's say it once, and clearly: When we all go to heaven and Screamin' Jay Hawkins greets us at the gates, he's going to shake his stick at us and ask what the fuck all that Limp Bizkit horseshit was about. Isolated moments like Kid Rock's Devil Without a Cause notwithstanding, the lion's share of contemporary rap-metal crossover is a febrile mix of pose and surface-noise, a slope-browed, Neanderthal-jawed thalidomide baby of a musical subgenre, possessed of all the grace, creativity and warm humanity of a retard joke.

Dislocated Styles isn't rap-metal the way you and I are thinking. The music is rap-based, that much is clear, and the overlay of hard-rock guitar with turntables and samples is recognizable enough to modern ears to pass first muster. But there's something else at work in D-Styles' music, and if there's any justice in the universe, Pin the Tail on the Honkey might help push the whole tired genre to another, more rewarding level.

Listening to it come together at rehearsal, it's hard to peg exactly why the music kicks its way out of the boneheaded stereotypes of modern hard-rock-rap crossover, and that's not to say that D-Styles' tracks are totally devoid of macho postures. Despite being a maddeningly infectious jam, "Fire in the Hole," a mostly literate track about relationships gone wrong, slips too quickly into a bitch-done-me-wrong mode in its earliest verses. Coming as it does in the leadoff slot on Pin the Tail, it might turn off listeners who would otherwise find a wealth of enjoyment in the positive vibes of the remainder of the album.