Hit debut singles, as promising as they may be, are often misleading. A band’s innovation and artistry can rarely be captured in a single song, especially when that song is designed to appeal to a wide audience. R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe,” for instance, is a defining piece of American post-punk, but it only hints at the nervy beauty of the band’s first album, “Murmur,” and the stunning breadth and creativity that make up the rest of R.E.M.’s catalogue.
There are also times, of course, when a band’s first single makes it out to be more interesting than it actually is—if Art Brut’s first single “Formed A Band” suggested a postmodern version of the Strokes, the debut album “Bang Bang Rock & Roll” revealed the band to be much less satisfying. Philly duo Chiddy Bang’s breakthrough single, 2010’s MGMT-sampling “Opposite of Adults,” suggested a hip-pop group with a penchant for electro-tinged indie rock. However, as their debut album “Breakfast” shows, band members DJ Xaphoon Jones and rapper Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege just look for hooks with no regard to any particular style. Indeed, Chiddy Bang seems content to reiterate its hip-pop formula of generic rhymes over cookie-cutter beats. “Breakfast,” although occasionally catchy, is a purely disposable product, and its weak and repetitive songs fail to leave a lasting impression.
The album’s repetitive nature permeates several aspects of its production and is key to the record’s failure. Nearly every song—from opener “Breakfast” to the closing “4th Quarter”—features the same midtempo beat, making the record feel like a generic workout mix. The songs blend together to the point that the second half’s brief and seemingly random string interlude feels more like a respite than an annoyance. Similar tempos aren’t the only problem; more troubling is the fact that several of the songs have nearly identical structures. “Mind Your Manners,” “Happening,” “Out 2 Space,” and “Run It Back” all open with a chorus instead of a verse, making it seem as if Jones couldn’t be bothered to devise more than one hook per song. Indeed, with their ruthless deployment of mindless hooks, the songs on “Breakfast” may be the first hip-hop tracks to be influenced by Jock Jams.
This explicitly hook-focused structure would not be a problem if the songs were always catchy. When the album hits its stride, its bright effervescence overwhelms its flaws. This is bubblegum rap music, and the best tracks pleasantly evoke the guilty pleasures of that genre. “Handclaps & Guitars” is as uncomplicated and energizing as its minimal title suggests. Even better is the single “Mind Your Manners,” which, in sampling “Manners” by the Swedish group Icona Pop, turns a clunky schoolgirl chant into an unstoppable earworm.
Both of these songs, however, occur near the beginning of the album, making it uncomfortably front-loaded. “Handclaps and Guitars” and “Mind Your Manners” may be invigorating on their own, but their formula is not quite enough to sustain an entire album. Nowhere is this fact clearer than during the song “Happening,” which features a chant similar to the one heard in “Mind Your Manners.” However, instead of recalling that song’s charm, “Happening” comes across as nothing more than a shoddy imitation.
What makes Chiddy Bang’s monotonous sound most problematic is its distinct sense of laziness. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with beating a certain style into the ground, so long as one masters that style; the Ramones, for instance, never strayed from a three-chord formula, but the band perfected it with verve and enthusiasm. Chiddy Bang, by contrast, does not quite have the energy or wit to be considered masters of hip-pop, which makes its desperate recapitulations of a tired formula seem more lethargic than inspired.
Indeed, Chiddy Bang’s status as latecomers to the frat rap party—“Opposite of Adults” came out more than a year after Asher Roth’s debut single “I Love College”—adds greed to their laziness. Chiddy Bang’s utter lack of enthusiasm and invention on “Breakfast” implies the duo is capitalizing on a trend rather than expanding a genre. It is difficult to say whether frat rap is bad for hip-hop, but ultra-commercialized copies certainly are, especially when those copies are as uninspired as this album.
—Staff writer Petey E. Menz can be reached at email@example.com.