A Millennial Bad Brains, Minus the Brains
United States of Horror marks the long-awaited debut record from hip-hop/punk crossover duo Ho99o9. The New Jersey-based duo, made up of emcees theOGM and Eaddy, first garnered attention in 2014, landing themselves a spot on Rolling Stone’s “10 New Artists You Need to Know” and a set at Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival.
Unfortunately, these past three years have seemingly lead to limited artistic maturation.
Fans of Ho99o9 will detail the appeal of the duo’s live performance — corn flakes are showered upon the audience, the emcees don outlandish dresses and jewelry, grunge and dissonance are thoroughly celebrated. Furthermore, the band’s music videos are truly a feat in and of themselves, directed with nuance and chilling reflection on the mounting dystopia of present-day America. However, the finesse of their live performance and video output is not reflected in United States of Horror, an album that relies constantly on discordance and cliché. One gimmick follows the next, running the gamut from horror-film trope to overt punk rock caricature. From the very opening, in which a child recites an altered pledge of allegiance, to the Tyler the Creator-esque, pitch-dropped spoken vocals peppered throughout, the record feels devoid of originality or tact. The subtle is always substituted for the obtuse as grating dissonance and vocal distortion are paired with lyrics like, “You don’t know me / so I don’t owe you shit / fuck the police / death is your death wish.” And during an era in which ISIS disseminates media through the internet and FPS rules the video game industry, it takes more than curse words and distorted guitars to seize an audience’s attention.
A few moments of craft are found towards the tail end of United States of Horror, the songs “New Jersey Devil” and the titular “United States of Horror” illuminating the potential that the record could have had. Unfortunately, these are sandwiched by “Hydrolics,” a strange attempt at trap music that has nothing in common with the remainder of the album, and “Blaqq Hole,” a four-minute series of minimalistic noises and unintelligible vocals.
Hopefully, Ho99o9 will be able to translate the tact of their video output to their forthcoming music. Until then, though, United States of Horror is a testament to the fact that gimmickry is no substitution for artistry.