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P.O.D., ‘Testify’ (Atlantic)

Wigga. Derived from the nation’s naughtiest word, the term was meant to tell whities to mind their cultural boundaries. Of course, that never stopped ’90s suburban kids from exposing their boxer shorts as though they were glad to have an epithet of their own. Rap rock’s crude appropriation of hip-hop’s beats, rhymes, and baggy pants was never meant to make it this far into the new millennium. To survive, rap-rock artists capitalized on the earnestness of their audience. Linkin Park bro’d down with Jay-Z. Tourmates P.O.D., the born-again Christian SoCal foursome, made it their mission to plunder reggae and rap with a sober competence and respect.

Of course, when a band’s not in it for the nookie, one can only question its deep-down rockitude. But P.O.D. have proven their metal on that front, with both pit-churning breakdowns and soaring choruses, and mega pop producer Glenn Ballard wisely underscores the latter strength on their latest album. Testify steadies its big-tent approach (gangstas, Rastas, punks, headbangers, white hats, and born-agains all get serviced) with a pervasive melancholy that results in spots of lavish melody. “This Time,” a classic of Ballard- brand balladry, erupts gracefully into its anguished chorus. “On the Grind,” featuring Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., shapes an Akon-esque refrain and flinty rhymes concern ing “gangsta pimpin'” into a woozy, noirish pop oddity. Still, P.O.D. too often fall back on vanilla “bang boogie” and sentiments like “sticking to the street like we’re homeless”(“Lights Out”). Album opener “Roots in Stereo,” a collaboration with Hasidic reggae guy Matisyahu, sounds exactly like the reach for texture and cred that it is.

All the ‘roids have undoubtedly sapped rap rock’s sac — unfocused rage becomes rote more quickly than any other radio cliche. But P.O.D. are holding back some- thing deeper than anger; they’re fronting like thugs or Rastafarians. After all, despite the nation’s Jesusmania, Christian rock is still a slight embarrassment to middlebrow tastes; it’s as politically incorrect as rap rock and assumed to be chaste to boot. If they can articulate their struggles with G-o-d, P.O.D. might just prove how uncorny a wigga can be.

SEE ALSO: Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (Epic, 1992)