Good rap-rock?

It’s easy to recognize the commercial intent of Mob Squad, the triple-billed album starring Japanese hip-hop groups Dragon Ash, Source and Mach25.

Named after the label to which all three artists are signed, the album is teaser, a showcase of what to expect from releases to come.

It’s a hard sell, plain and simple. And a pretty good one, too.

In fact, Dragon Ash delayed work on an album that would have been released in 2002 to contribute to Mob Squad. Those sessions changed the direction of the band’s own album and resulted into Harvest.

Oddly enough, Mob Squad is the stronger of the two works. Although Dragon Ash is the marquee name on Mob Squad, Source and Mach25 make a convincing argument that Japan’s rap-rock future is in pretty competent hands.

The opening title track harkens back to the insanely catchy hooks and chants of Dragon Ash’s 2001 album Lily of da Valley, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Source’s “Potential” alternates between metal muscle and punk brattiness. “Turn Up” calls to mind Missile Girl Scoot at its party-hardiest.

For the most part, Mach25 relies on the usual sampling and keyboards. “Get Your Tomorrow” and “Beats of Clapping” don’t indulge in Source’s rock grandeur or Dragon Ash’s eclecticism, but they fit in nicely with the rest of the album’s modus operandi.

Since Mob Squad pre-dated the release of Harvest by five months, it was easy to get excited by the creative turn in Dragon Ash’s style. The tracks the band contributed to Mob Squad (“Massy Evolution”, “Revive”) cast its electronica-meets-metal sound in a favorable light. It’s too bad the band couldn’t sustain that excitement for its own album.

All these bands share an affinity for cobbling together disparate genres into the span of three to four minutes. It may be simple to call Mob Squad “rap-metal”, but that would ignore the influence of reggae, punk, electronica, whatever.

(On a less charitable note, Source and Mach25 could be accused of trying to ride on Dragon Ash’s coattails.)

Still, Mob Squad does its job in selling listeners on the label’s core aesthetic. These bands are empirical proof that what passes as “rap-rock” on our side of the Pacific Ocean is far less than what the genre can really accomodate.