Hip-hop, unplugged

Maybe hip-hop really is more interesting than MTV makes it out to be.

I’ll disclose my lack of expertise in the genre right off the bat. My knowledge of hip-hop is as informed as a judicial defintion of pornography — I don’t know what it is, but I’ll know it when I hear it.

But if the guys in Dragon Ash have any say in the matter, they’re going to keep me guessing.

Steady & Co. is the latest of Japanese supergroup side projects. Furuya Kenji and DJ Bots of Dragon Ash teamed up with Ilmari of Rip Slyme and Shigeo of Skebo Kings to produce one of the most distinct rap-rock projects anywhere.

Of course, “rap-rock” is an incredibly imprecise description for Steady & Co. Unlike Dragon Ash’s seamless intergration of metallic riffs and sampled rhythms, Steady & Co. aims for a more unplugged sound on the quartet’s debut, Chambers.

Furuya, Ilmari and Shigeo are little more than window-dressing here — this is entirely DJ Bots’ show.

And Bots does a brilliant job crafting a spacious, acoustic tapestry of upright bass rhythms, six-string guitars, electric pianos and those trademark beats.

On “Sorrow”, “Stay Gold” and “Time Erases Everything”, Bots and co. expand on the balladry hinted by Dragon Ash on “Shizukana Hibi no Kaidan wo” and “Face to Face”.

Jazzy bass lines and thundering beats drive “Pass da Mic”, “Kaze Makase” and the title track, while snappy hooks stamp “Wonderland”, “Hip drop” and “Up and Down” with a singular identity.

Chambers does sound homogenic after a while, and for all of Bots’ sonic weaving, he doesn’t do much with the tempo lever on his gear. The album starts to become a blur by the end.

Still, Chambers sounds like nothing else happening in hip-hop or rock music. Steady & Co. effectively sews together hip-hop and jazz the same way Dragon Ash blur rap and rock into a whole bigger than its parts.

That’s far more than MTV would ever imagine possible.