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Various Artists: Loud Rocks

Album: Loud Rocks
Label: Loud

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Once considered a novelty, the fusion of metal and hip-hop is now the rule rather than the exception. But, as big as it's become, rap-metal hasn't really evolved, instead peddling the same ham-fisted juxtaposition of rap rage and metal bluster it did during its infancy. That template is used and abused throughout Loud Rocks, a wildly uneven compilation pairing rock and metal bands with Loud Records' impressive stable of hip-hop acts for overdriven re-workings of songs from the label's back catalog. Not surprisingly, many of the acts choose to boldly go where many have gone before, replacing hip-hop's samples and loops with screaming metal guitar, overwrought sung choruses, and pounding drums. That strategy almost always works against the songs rather than for them, forcing the standout tracks on Loud Rocks to work in spite of the rap-metal treatment, not because of it. Dead Prez's mesmerizing call to arms "Hip Hop," for example, is compelling and undeniable enough to overcome Static-X's clunky new backing track, while Tha Alkaholiks' "Make Room" is funny and funky enough to more than compensate for Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath's abysmal new 311-style chorus. Most of the songs simply can't withstand the bludgeoning rap-metal treatment, particularly three Wu-Tang collaborations that replace RZA's sophisticated production with a brutal but colorless blast of metal sludge. But the nadir of Loud Rocks is Shootyz Groove's "Caribbean Connection," in which the veteran rap-metal fusionists mangle both Wyclef Jean's and Big Pun's lyrics, capturing none of the personality the rappers brought to the song. The two best songs are, not surprisingly, the tracks that radically rework their source material, throwing out the simplistic rap-metal template and creating music that isn't excessively beholden to either genre. Everlast turns Mobb Deep's "Shooked Ones Pt. II" into a haunted, countrified lament, while Butch Vig revamps M.O.P.'s "How About Some Hardcore" into an unstoppable mixture of techno, gangsta-rap, and new wave, complete with studio flourishes that wouldn't sound out of place on a Garbage album. Their contributions point the way to a subtler, more dynamic fusion of rock and hip-hop, but far too much of Loud Rocks embraces a primitivism that benefits neither side of the equation.