Rap-rock’s current state of being mightn’t be one of resurgence, but it’s at least in a place where it’s not viewed as universally awful. And that’s certainly a good thing; every style of music has degrees of quality and it’s unfair to tar everything under a certain umbrella because of some noteworthy examples. Oxymorrons, however, have a far more arduous task at hand—to somehow wring something good from the notoriously limited palette of hip-hop-leaning US radio-rock. Yes, the title of this debut full-length might declare ‘punk’, but that’s less stylistic, and more in the notion of a band trying to strike out despite how high the odds against them are perceived to be stacked.
To be fair though, it’s not like Oxymorrons don’t have a track record already. Their 2021 EP Mohawks & Durags was pretty good in that same lane, and they at least feel in tune with both sides of their genre binary in a way that plenty in similar positions aren’t. In a style that often amounts to some nondescript meathead struggling through even the stodgiest, most basic flow, it’s nice to hear a set of performers who actually know what they’re doing. Moreover, they aren’t constrained by how nailed-on that sound’s limitations can be either. Chipping away at these particular boundaries mightn’t seem too impressive on the face of it, but at least on Melanin Punk, the effort shines rather definitively.
Though to be perfectly honest, it’s easy to attribute that to the instances where Oxymorrons will disregard their ‘radio-rock’ side altogether. They’re way more capable of letting their hip-hop colours fly on a regular basis, which leads to a more agile, surprisingly diverse take on this sort of thing, where there’s typically a deficiency of anything close to the sort. It’s most fun on Head For The Hills or Mike Shinoda Flow, where Deee and KI are allowed more chances to flow and bounce through their abundance of swagger, without being cut off at the knees by rigid hard rock boundaries. It’s even more true on the title track, the closest in embracing the punk of the album’s title with a scrappiness that, honestly, it’d be nice to see a bit more of elsewhere.
In general, Melanin Punk just feels a lot fresher than the albums in its wider (and often very broadly-sketched) genre circle. Yeah, the guitar tones and patches of US alt-metal fodder that crop up on Enemy or Insomnia might feel just the same in a bubble, but Oxymorrons are by no means reliant on them. Their flexibility does speak for itself, as they’ll dip into percussion-heavy, atmospheric alt-rock on Graveyard Words or an impossibly sticky pop-rock lode with a hook that both buoys and befits that on Moon Chasers, and it’s all completely natural. It goes without saying how much of a rarity that is, one that Oxymorrons are able to squeeze so much potential from over the course of an album that’s not even half-an-hour.
But most of all, this is just a really fun listen at the best of times. The gung-ho attitude throughout ensures that, when Oxymorrons are all about hitting hard and fast without feeling overly blunt. Their approach is the perfect median to that, particularly when their hip-hop influence can tilt more towards flash and bravado over much else. The same is true of their guest stars; Hyro The Hero is the same wealth of personality as always on Mike Shinoda Flow (even if he overdoes it with the Linkin Park references that make its title feel like so much more of a gimmick), while Kid Bookie delivers the kind of tight, fast flow on Head For The Hills that’s such an easy sell when the vibe is its main commodity. That’s partly why the lack of truly portentous weight is by no means a detriment on Melanin Punk. Nor is that reflective of a basic rap-rock gallumph either, as Oxymorrons can roll it all together with equal senses of momentum, technique and enjoyability.
And when the bottom line for the radio-rap-rock blancmange is frequently the total opposite of that, you’ve got something pretty cool in Melanin Punk. If Oxymorrons aren’t changing the game, they’re at least making their portion of it a great deal more appealing, in what feels as though they’re wearing their suite of ideas directly on their sleeve without running them dry either. There’s plenty of manoeuvrability within this sound that’s greatly appreciated, and should the spike in notoriety they’re gunning for occur, there’s likely only more to come from that. Really good stuff.
For fans of: Fever 333, Hyro The Hero, GHØSTKID
‘Melanin Punk’ by Oxymorrons is released on 20th October on Mascot Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall