It was January, 2002. Despite the slaying of Napster, file-sharing was still gaining momentum to the point where every week platforms like Kazaa, Limewire and Aimster were allowing peer-to-peer MP3s to be accessible by everyone with a working internet connection. Of course, the music industry was still doing monstrous numbers and, being that its absolute peak in 2000 had the side-effect of everyone who sneezed in the direction of a record executive getting a deal, 2002 was when we started to see a bunch of albums that should have otherwise never expected to see the light of day. Please re-read this paragraph. I reiterate this for the much needed context of the following sentence that otherwise may seem utterly baffling.
Fieldy, the bassist from KoRN, made a rap album.
Now, it’d be easy to just ridicule Fieldy’s Dreams’ Rock N Roll Gangster as any number of “Worst Albums” lists (rightfully) have. Name a few concepts, type some excerpts of the lyrics, shock us with the names of who’s involved, and report what the parties involved think of the project years later. That’s how these things tend to go, but Fieldy’s Dreams is just so out-there in terms of how bizarre its construction is, that to merely dismiss it as a “bad album” is to really not do it justice.
I’m not defending it. I’m not a Fieldy’s Dreams apologist. I’m merely someone who has heard an incalculable amount of rap projects by this point and even I struggle with figuring out exactly what this was. It emotes a feeling of such jigsawed befuddlement that not even the most envelope-pushing “avant garde” side of underground hip-hop over the past decade has come close to awakening. It transcends questions like “how good,” “how bad,” “how dope” and “how wack” and just leaves the listener with a feeling of “How?” Speaking as someone who has tremendous respect for Fieldy as a bassist and live-performer, I’m going to take myself out of the equation at this point and let this Bermuda Triangle of hip-hop hopefulness slither for itself.
At the turn of the millenium, KoRN was one of the biggest bands in all of music. At a time dominated by boy bands and Y2K bubblegum pop where MTV dictated and reflected what was connecting with teens and their disposable income, KoRN reigned supreme. For a good year they were the only rock outfit who could hold their own next to the *NSYNC/Backstreet Boys duocracy stranglehold on TRL. But their fans weren’t just fanatics for their music, but the music that they liked as KoRN directly helped launch mega-successful Nu-Metal meteors like Limp Bizkit and Orgy out into the world. KoRN were hitmakers and tastemakers, so when bassist Fieldy (who was as responsible for the group and genre’s sound as anyone else in the band) announced in 2000 that he was releasing a rap album, the news wasn’t that strange. KoRN had already ushered Ice Cube into the modern metalhead fold thanks to the Family Values Tour, and satellite relationships with Method Man and Redman, Eminem and Kid Rock helped them all sell a lot of records. The bass on most KoRN releases at that point sounded like they were mixed like the current basslines in hip-hop, so a full-fledged rap soundscape wasn’t the strangest idea. For someone that obviously listened to as much rap as Fieldly, adequate MCing should come relatively easy, right?
Listen to this, the first single “Are You Talkin’ to Me,” a love-letter duet to a personified marijuana “hotbox mama.”
That was the first single, but you do have the guest appearance from Helluva so maybe you’re not getting the full perspective of what Fieldy’s rap style really is like. Take another rip, this is “Put A Week On It” which features a verse from Sondoobiest.
Sondoobiest, part of Funkdoobiest, is a good control for how we’re analyzing Fieldy’s Dreams here. Sondoobiest, on the third verse, knows how to flow over the beat, emphasize his personality, assemble his words, basically how to rap. With Fieldy on the first two, I can’t begin to dissect his thought pattern. He clearly gets that rap involves words that rhyme at some point. From there, as much as I can look past the clear Cypress Hill influence on the vocals and traces of Snoop on the adlibs, the actual point where one rhyme ends and another rhyme begins is half-“Top O’ The Morning”-era House of Pain and half-any era Silkk the Shocker. He’s just all over the place without the clear conviction of a Kool Keith to make it work.
This came out on Epic Records.
At this point I should mention that the whole project technically *is* a concept album, a buffer that means perhaps nothing on it is to be taken seriously. The name Fieldy’s Dreams is literally taken from Fieldy dreaming what it would be like to be a rap star, hence the album’s title Rock N Roll Gangster. It’s a vanity spectacle, seemingly with the intended enjoyment relying on how much fun the listener finds Fieldy playing hip-hop cosplay over the common 2000 west coast hip-hop cliches of sex, weed and curmudgeonly anger.
I really can’t tell if there was any label micromanaging on here, or if Fieldy had complete free range. I’d like to guess it’s the latter as there are spurts of creativity which aren’t really like anything going on in rap, or nu-metal at the time. By that I mean there’s a song about MMA fighter Tito Ortiz:
But probably the most telling track isn’t “Baby Hugh Heff,” despite it being the one most of the album’s harshest critics cite:
Nor is it the collaboration with Jonathan Davis “Just For Now,” which sounds the closest to an actual KoRN song:
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It’s “Sugar Coated:”
Produced by Swedish/Los Angeles producer PolarBear (who actually does half the album and boasts credits with Coolio, RBX and Lil Rob) the track features The Pharcyde’s Slimkid Tre. According to Fieldy’s book, he and Tre are longtime friends and decided to write each others’ verse for the track. This in mind, it really shows how talented Tre is as it’s by far the record’s strongest track. Not only does Tre’s flow make Fieldy’s verse work over the track, but the words he pens for Fieldy accentuates his strengths and obscures his vocals’ shortcomings perfectly. Had the whole album been completed in such a way, it would have undoubtedly have a much different reputation.
Today, while he has his regrets about the 2002 release, Fieldy’s current involvement with a hip-hop influenced side-project is being received significantly better. His “street metal” project StillWell with Q-Unique of The Arsonists/Uncle Howie fame and P.O.D.’s drummer Wuv has much more in-common with groups like 24-7/Spyz than anything on Fieldy’s Dreams. With a well-received live show and a more polished sound, 15 years later it seems Fieldy has finally made his Rock N Roll Gangster dreams come true.