Not long ago, rappers from the South and Midwest would complain to anyone within earshot about mainstream hip-hop's blatant marginalization of their scenes and heavy, seemingly insurmountable West and East Coast bias. These days, however, the Midwest and South dominate the hip-hop charts, from the conscious likes of Common and Kanye West to the ubiquitous production of Lil Jon, who has succeeded in transforming crunk from a regional form of dance music to mainstream pop. The title of the new Ying Yang Twins album, U.S.A. (United State Of Atlanta), cheekily acknowledges this new paradigm, proudly representing its home base with dirty songs straight out of the dirty South, most notably "Wait (The Whisper Song)," a perfect summer single that finds the Twins cooing lascivious single-entendres over just the faintest seductive suggestion of minimalist rubber-band bass. Like the duo's previous smash, "Salt Shaker," "Wait (The Whisper Song)" positively reeks of dirty sex, but thankfully, the Twins have a whole lot more on their minds than merely providing the soundtrack to strip clubs south of the Mason Dixon line. By its third track, "Long Time," the album has taken a huge right turn into unabashed gospel, complete with empathetic gutbucket vocals courtesy of Anthony Hamilton, Southern soul's reigning King Of Pain. Ying Yang Twins' attention unsurprisingly turns to strip clubs on the following track, "Live Again," which gets an assist from Adam Levine of Maroon 5. But instead of leering, the duo surprisingly offers a sensitive character study of a tormented stripper, suggesting a raunchier version of Kanye West's "All Falls Down."
Surprises abound on U.S.A. It contains two extraordinarily tender songs about love, but they're both about the deepest and most enduring kind of male friendship. On the bluesy "23 Hr. Lock Down," the Twins pay reverent homage to their incarcerated compatriot Pimp C alongside Bun B while simultaneously reaffirming their own bond, a theme that's developed further on "My Brother's Keeper." Granted, any album with a chorus like "I hate hoes, hoes hate me"from "Hoes," of courseisn't going to win any points from feminists, but in a subgenre where sex tends to be almost exclusively a matter of power and degradation, there's something refreshing about the album's overt acknowledgement that women can have raging libidos as well. At nearly 77 minutes, U.S.A. certainly has its rough patches, but it also boasts a surprisingly broad, rich emotional palette in addition to plenty of the expected raunchy anthems. There's never any doubt here what the duo's primary lyrical preoccupation islet's just say it begins with S and ends with Xbut for its superior first half, at least, there's a whole lot going on here.