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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Royal Ruckus

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Nov
Royal Ruckus
Sounds like … a silly and catchy pop hip-hop album in the same tradition of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, only more like toby Mac and the Beastie Boys meets Barenaked Ladies and Weird Al YankovicAt a Glance … some hip-hop purists are sure to balk at Royal Ruckus, though they're not meant to be taken too seriously - this is simply a fun hip-hop album for young adults.

Rounding out an impressive year for Christian hip-hop is Royal Ruckus, a duo from Bakersfield, California comprised of longtime friends Jamey Bennett and Michael Walker. The group began five years ago, gaining enough of an independent following to be featured on Forefront Records' Coalition: The Hip-Hop Alliance compilation, as well as in 7Ball Magazine's "25 Best Bands You've Never Heard." Lots of older listeners may automatically assume hip-hop is a niche genre for inner-city African American kids. The fact of the matter is that the majority of today's hip-hop music is bought by middle-class suburban kids, white and black; Jamey cites a recent statistic from hip-hop's The Source magazine, which says white consumers purchase 70 percent of hip-hop music. With artists such as Eminem, toby Mac, KJ-52, and John Reuben to name a few, hip-hop is clearly not confined to any single ethnicity or social class. Indeed, Royal Ruckus is among the "whitest" hip-hop groups you'll ever hear, favoring clever suburban pop culture references over street talk. The fact that their self-titled national debut reflects their Christian faith only destroys the hop-hop stereotype that much more.

Unlike the majority of mainstream hip-hop, Royal Ruckus is light-hearted and silly; they're to the genre what Relient K is to pop punk. They're a lot like fellow Christian hip-hop artist John Reuben, but even more immature and goofy, along the lines of Weird Al Yankovic. Their live concerts strongly encourage interactivity, including on-stage dance contests and pre-show chicken dance performances. Consequently, a lot of hip-hop purists may frown on Royal Ruckus' music. But like Relient K, this isn't a group that's out to revolutionize their musical genre; they're simply a fun alternative for teens and young adults. "The Latte Show" is as good an example of this group's style as any, parodying the coffee shop culture while praising it as a great place for Christians to build relationships (Jamey and Michael both have worked at Starbucks as their day job). "Geeky Music 4 Kidz" recalls their elementary school experiences and describes the duo now as nerds making music for nerds; the song is ultimately a reminder to kids that being cool and popular isn't the most important goal in life. Similarly, "Wink & a Nudge" slyly advises us not to put our faith in the shallow pleasures of this world, and reminds us there's more to reality than pop culture.

Given their "goofy white kid rap" sound, it's easy to dismiss Royal Ruckus as lightweight. But it's hard to cite their lyrics without giving proper context or an explanation of the pop culture references. Despite their jesting way with words, their lyrics contain surprisingly sharp insight regarding the music business and the Christian subculture. If nothing else, read this insightful editorial by Jamey about music ministry at Relevant Magazine's site. "Check It Out," featuring Vinyl Jones of Paul Revere, rocks almost as well as toby Mac's brand of rapcore in a song encouraging Christians to reach a helping hand out to a hurting world any way we can. "Double Take" challenges us to better appreciate the people that God places in our life to love, and "Next Best Thing" raises the issue of contentment in our daily living. "B-Side Rock" is an excellent rap rock track that challenges Christian artists to be artistic trendsetters, not imitators; in order to be effective "salt and light," we must strive for relevance and excellence in our calling. Then there's "Bob Went Crazy," which tells the story of Christian legalism run amok; it's a bold and smartly worded track. Royal Ruckus even gives a concise, clever, and funny answer to the subject of illegally copying music off the Internet with "MP-Free," one of several little interludes sprinkled throughout the album.

There are some tracks on Royal Ruckus that simply don't work. The duo's most prominent attempt at singing, "My Friend," is rough to listen to – it'd be easier to take if it were obviously meant to be funny. Similarly, "Let's Start a Boy Band" parodies the culture's obsession with the teen pop craze, and the intentionally off-key girl pop vocals in the chorus are a little too abrasive to enjoy. Just as Souljahz overdid it with the horchata references on their debut this year, Royal Ruckus's constant references to their crush on Mandy Moore and their pals in L.A. Symphony get really old by the end of the album. I also find it a little annoying when hip-hop artists constantly complain about record labels doing them wrong by withholding money and editing their lyrics – either accept the responsibility of signing with a company or stick to the independent underground circuit. (Apparently, record labels don't mind too much since they leave the complaints on the albums).

Still, there's enough on Royal Ruckus to warrant a listen. Producer Josh Babyar did a nice job, and the album surprisingly is mixed quite well by Alan Shacklock (who's worked with Phil Keaggy and Russ Rosen Band – who knew he was into hip-hop?). Hip-hop fans questioning Royal Ruckus' skills should listen to the final track, "Multi-Purpose Room," the album's highlight that features several hip-hop wordsmiths, including a few members of L.A. Symphony. Though not nearly as impressive as recent efforts by KJ-52 and John Reuben, Royal Ruckus is good enough to recommend to their target audience of young adults looking for hip-hop that's both fun and meaningful.