AudioDope, the debut full-length for Arizona band Dropout Kings, is a sort of neo-nu-metal that blends the full aggression of the original style of the 90s with the kind of rap sounds heard on the radio today. This is a fantastic combination because, let’s face it, some of the rap elements of those early 90s bands tend to sound a tad cheesy, at least to our contemporary ears. Lyrical topics were of a fairly standard variety, ranging from getting high to social commentary on issues such as class separation in America.
The blend of genres was very nicely done; in fact, the rap turned out to be the strongest part of the whole album, making quick work of Eminem-esque multi-syllable rhyme structures throughout the ten tracks of the album. The instrumentation all sounded good; however it was a bit redundant, and I recognise the influences of modern-day hip-hop here. Just as Kendrick Lamar might rap over the same piano sample on loop for four minutes in ‘Humble’, the Dropout Kings rap over pretty much the same instrumental, albeit strongly metal influenced, ostinato patterns for just about the entire thirty-five minutes of the album. The drumset, in particular, could do with a few extra spices to throw in the skillet. None of the drumming on the record was bad by any stretch; it all supported the rest of the band well. It just became boring after a bit, and if this were a pop album, I’d be completely okay with that. However, this is nu-metal, and some very aggressive, hard-hitting nu-metal at that. It needed some excitement from time to time.
The first track, ‘Something Awful’, begins with a very hip-hop style electronic beat, with delay-heavy dissonant guitar chords on top to make sure it didn’t sound too mainstream. For the first 1:40, the track slowly builds in dynamic, dissonant guitars galore adding tension, while the vocalist raps a ruthless verse until it finally hits on a very energetic breakdown – the first moment on the album that is pretty much straight metal (although the hip-hop beat continued underneath). The sudden absence of the dissonant guitars here gave a stable feeling to this part of the song, as though a major conflict was resolved after all the tension built up in the first verse, which I thought was a wonderful touch. The second verse was punctuated with strong synchronised hits by drop-tuned guitars and kick drum, while the rap was given the added power of scream vocals to push it to the top of the mix. After a very high energy and creatively dynamic first track, I was very excited to hear what more they had to offer with the rest of the album.
The next three tracks are ‘Burn1’, a jocular track about marijuana (‘You can smell it through the bag/ Damn right, I brought some for the whole class!’), which leaned more on the hip-hop side; followed by ‘Going Rogue’ and ‘Bad Day’, which were both more reminiscent of the nu-metal style of ‘Something Awful’. While ‘Burn1’ has some clever lyrics and a nice melodic chorus, it was during the fourth track ‘Bad Day’ when I started to notice how all four of the songs I’d heard up to that point had been more similar to each other than I’d prefer. Through four tracks, there hadn’t been anything special aside from the strong rapping. The band had functioned as an ostinato beneath the vocals, and I hoped for some kind of instrumental hook or anything else really to break the monotony.
At the start of ‘503’ I was relieved to hear a guitar riff for the first time in the album, and it was a good one too! Drop-tuned and palm-muted with a very angry hook exclaimed over the top of it; I had high hopes for some more intricate guitar work. As it turned out, that guitar riff was the only guitar riff to be heard for a while. ‘503’ ended with very angry punctuation that reiterated once and for all the emotion of the song when a heavy breakdown followed a staged 911 call. The next song ‘Nvm’ contained an impressive excerpt of rapid rapping in the chorus (did I catch a reference to the ‘You know I had to do it to ‘em?’ meme), punctuated by a crunchy sounding kick drum. Other than this, both tracks were pretty similar to the rest of the album.
I really enjoyed ‘Scratch _ Claw’. Not only did it start with an actual melody, which was very refreshing as the album doesn’t have much, even for a metal album; but the melody introduced a new strings section and, for the first time in all seven songs heard thus far, there was an actual chord progression. The intro dropped seamlessly into a much softer, more hip-hop than metal verse, and then back up into a chorus with a catchy melody that retained the grit of the Dropout Kings sound. This was the easiest track to follow structurally, with a clear verse-chorus-verse-chorus-breakdown-chorus-chorus format. I wasn’t crazy about the double chorus at the end because it was that repetition that made me realise the melody in the chorus only contained two notes that went back and forth. It explains why the track is catchy, but it just made it a little obnoxious to listen to once I’d noticed it.
The back part of the album kicked off with the anthemic ’20 Heads’, which served as a pretty good slingshot into the last three songs (although the momentum did wear off soon). Another heavy guitar riff and we’re into the song, which talks about being a band like Dropout Kings building an audience in an urban music scene. I liked the halftime chorus at the end, which brought in some good full band hits, a sound that has always been a favourite of mine.
The following track ‘Street Sharks’ touched on class division, and was one of the heavier on the album, with a guitar riff so drop-tuned it was hard to tell what notes he was playing, and pissed off exclamations like ‘Why we living off of pizza and ramen?’. The vocal saturation sounded great from an engineering standpoint, and I laughed out loud when I heard the sassy little full band break after the line ‘pizza and ramen?’. To end the song, the band transported the listener straight back into the 90s when they finished by yelling ‘What?!’ on every other beat over a heavy breakdown punctuated by the final lyric ‘Don’t give no fucks!’.
The title track had a harmonically dense piano sample that would feel good to any jazz lover. A melodic chorus with delicate vocals juxtaposed against the standard full band roar that characterises most of the album, and an impressive passage of rap on fast triplet syllables, all made for a pretty strong ending to the album.
Overall, I really loved the album; I just wanted to hear more variance between songs, and more active instrumentation (not busy – a lot of metal bands play way too many notes – I just want a little more active). I would be excited to hear any of these songs shuffle play on a playlist, but when they’re all played back to back it does start to get old. However, I am very excited to hear what Dropout Kings will come out with next, and how their music will evolve with the next few years!