One of the most delightful developments in pop music is how multihued the whole enterprise has grown in the last few years. With genre-blending so rampant, music critics can hardly describe a new band these days without a quiver full of slashes, as in: funk/punk/ska/hard bop/hip-hop. These two solo-artist debuts present a multiplicity of styles in intriguing ways.
Bronx Style Bob (Bobby Khaleel) is a transplanted New York City rapper who made his mark in L.A. as the frontman for the on-again, off-again funk posse Trulio Disgracias. His first record is a marvel of eclecticism, ranging from the wah-wah rave-up of "Freedom" to the sweet ballad "Forbidden Love" (which recalls Lenny Kravitz), to the bedouin funk of "Marrakesh Sky" to the thrash metal of "Sick Puppies."
On such songs as "Family Man," Bronx Style Bob alternates between rapping and singing, reciting the verses and crooning the choruses. Of late, lots of people have tried to blend those disciplines, but usually one or the other aspect is noticeably inferior. The real musical epiphany here is "I'll Be There 4 You." Over some slow, gently strummed guitars and a melody that recalls vintage Temptations, Bob raps a proclamation of devotion.
Grandma's Ghost (Sire) is an uneven record—both Bob's compositions and his lyrics could use a bit of tightening up)—but it sure is different.
That goes double for Me Phi Me. At times, this 21-year-old from Flint, Mich., sounds as much like a Beat Poet as he does a rapper. That's because his positivist rhymes aren't always as strictly metered as those of his hip-hop confreres.
While the verse isn't exactly free, the arrangements are certainly liberated. In One (RCA), producer Chris Cuben-Tatum has provided light, variable settings, from work chants to flamenco guitar to harps to chipper little synthesizer ditties that are reminiscent of P.M. Dawn or De La Soul.
The predominant mood, on such songs as "Dream of You" and "(Think...) Where Are You Going?"—on which Me Phi Me is joined by, of all people, Michael "Popsicle Toes" Franks—can be described only as folk music meets rap.
What will they think of next? Madrigal/speed metal/sea chantey, anyone?