No school like the home school

Now out of high school, Crime Mob drops new album

When Crime Mob's self-titled album dropped in the fall of 2004, it seemed to attract little attention. The relatively unknown teenage group was overlooked in a year when the public's fascination with crunk music reached new heights via Usher, Lil Jon and Ludacris' "Yeah!," despite its affiliation with Lil Jon's BME Records.

But in the South, Crime Mob won a major cult audience thanks to "Knuck If You Buck," a raucous fire-starter on par with Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz's "I Don't Give a Fuck." A celebration of elbow-throwing and fist-fighting, "Knuck If You Buck" is one of the hardest songs of the era. It helped Crime Mob sell more than 200,000 copies in spite of negligible radio airplay.

The brawling aggression of "Knuck If You Buck" is an expression of Crime Mob's origins in Ellenwood. The friends formed a group in 2001 and pooled their allowance money together ("I worked at McDonald's," says group member Princess) to make copies of their tracks. By the time Lil Scrappy discovered the group, Crime Mob already had a buzz in area high schools. A teenage rapper himself and newly signed to Lil Jon's BME Recordings, Lil Scrappy invited Crime Mob to open for him at shows. Later he signed the group to his production company, Crunk Incorporated.

"Once things started taking off, we got management and all that kind of stuff. We couldn't be in school, missing all those days, so we had to be home-schooled," says Princess, who received her 11th- and 12th-grade education at home. She's sitting at a conference table with three other members of Crime Mob — Diamond, Cyco Black and Jock aka MIG — inside Warner Bros. Records' Atlanta office. A fifth member, Lil J, is in the studio. (Sixth member Killa C is missing in action because, as Princess puts it, "He's going through some legal drama right now.")

"Basically, we were coming right out of the streets. That was the life we were living," Cyco Black says of the group's early numbers. He declines to elaborate beyond saying, "We were young, being hardheaded and living off thrills. In reality, that don't get you nowhere. Instead of getting into trouble, we feel like we can make music and turn everything bad around to good." First hitting the streets while in high school, Crime Mob's members now are between the ages of 18-21.

Released on BME/Warner Bros., Crime Mob's self-titled album sounds like a bunch of teenagers just wilding out. Much like D4L's snap music template Down for Life, its strict adherence to the brawling pleasures of crunk makes for a lack of sonic variety. The group's secret weapons are Diamond and Princess. "Stiletto pumps in the club/Who ever thought that these girls would get crunk?" the two chant in loud, rowdy voices on "Stilettos (Pumps)." "We rockin' stilettos, ho!" As Diamond says, "I was taught by the boys, and they had this high expectation. You had to come just as hard as a male. ... If you're going to be part of Crime Mob, you have to come with it."

"A lot of other females think that sex sells," Princess says. "If you're real creative — and I'm not saying that other females aren't — then there's a lot more to talk about than what you can do to a male, and what a male can do to you."

The underground success of Crime Mob's debut led BME and Warner Bros. to prioritize the group's follow-up. Scheduled for release on Jan. 9, Hated on Mostly is a marked improvement. The production quality is clearer and the beats — many of them contributed by Lil J — are stronger and more diverse. On "What Is Love," Lil J samples Haddaway's dance classic "What Is Love?" for a meditation on envy. Elsewhere on the album, Princess raps at one point, "I've got the shit you need/Just like the air you breathe."

"We turned heads on the first one because we were young and competing with a lot of other mainstream artists," Diamond says. "The first time it was like, 'Oh, they're just kids.' But now, [we're] not just crunk. We actually have lyrics and stuff that [people] can actually listen to and say, 'Oh, they're really talking about something.'"

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