Rap rock is easily one of the most maligned forms of heavy music ever. And deservedly so: For every Rage Against the Machine, there seems to be a thousand shitty Limp Bizkit-wigger-wannabes or crunkcore Biebers-gone-bad. Part of the reason why most rap rock sucks so much is probably because it always seems to be the rockers who are adopting the rap tropes, not the rappers (Lil Wayne, not respecting) picking up guitars and cranking the distortion—and if you can't really rap in the first place, your rap rock is pretty much destined to blow.
Texas-bred emcee Hyro Da Hero is one of the few to break the norm and make rap rock from a genuine rap perspective. His previous works have sampled heavy bands from the Refused to Circa Survive to Killswitch Engage; now with this debut full-length, he's not only teamed up with metal super-producer Ross Robinson (the man behind Korn's and Slipknot's landmark first records, as well as Sepultura's Roots, to name a few albums you might own) but also with members of At the Drive-In and the Blood Brothers, who play on select Birth School Work Death tracks and make up his touring band.
In his lyrics, Hyro name-checks the Deftones and Bad Brains while veering between somewhat standard rap braggadocio ("The World Stage," "Man in My City") and more incisive social commentary ("Ghetto Ambience," "Sleeping Giants"). Sonically, he comes across sometimes like Eminem on Slim Shady's heaviest songs; at other times, like Rage Against the Machine at their spazziest, or those Deftones in their more hip-hop-inflected moments.
In all, Birth School Work Death is definitely more rap than rock, but that's a good thing. There's a real sense of hip-hop culture in the lyrics, and there's a sophistication in the way that the rap is made rock here—in other words, this isn't just whiney frat-boy rhymes slapped on top of generic, down-tuned riffs. For open-minded rockers, Hyro Da Hero comes heavy and hard-hitting enough to justify some real headbanging; for the close-minded...well, good luck with that. BRANDON GEIST