From the musical wizardry of Earth, Wind, & Fire and the timelessness of the Temptations to Jodeci’s, um, “jodeciness” and Boyz II Men’s uncensurable everyman appeal, the history of R&B is filled with iconic all-male groups; standard-bearing pioneers who’ve inspired, entertained, and enlightened. Yet, despite this storied past, the aughts have largely been defined by a too conspicuous void of notable male groups. Save for a couple contrived and floundering (and usually Diddy-helmed) “collaborations,” we enter 2011 with the “all male R&B group” looking to replace the leatherback sea turtle on the critically endangered species list.

Enter The Maintenance Men.

Combining the hood-tinged pragmatism of Jagged Edge with a primal otherworldliness usually only seen with Blaxploitation flick protagonists and mega-church preachers, The Maintenance Men – front man Hugo Atwood, his half-brother Palek Atwood Jr., and their childhood neighbors, albino step-brothers Tyler and T’amos Jenkins – step into the game poised to push the R&B envelope. Their debut album, the aptly titled “Light Your Pilot Light,” has been the talk at barbershops, basketball courts, and beer distributers across the country; 16 tracks of, to quote Jungle Tunes Mag senior music editor Sarah Russell, “…soulfully harmonious depravity.”

Lead single “Screw Your Bed Post” is an example of this genius sexual deviance. Produced by 21 year old wunderkind Beat Beaterz, “Screw Your Bed Post” is a throwback, a melodic ode to the days when men didn’t have to worry about restraining orders and no meaning no. “I don’t care what you say, my manhood’s getting close/ hands on your toes, I’m a screw your bed post” croons Hugo Atwood in a tone reminiscent of what probably could have been heard in the back of one of Frankie Lymon’s tour buses.

Other standout tracks include “Between The Skeets”— an updated version of the Isley Brothers’ classic, “Toiletry” – an ode to anal sex, “Meatloaf and Ketchup” – an ode to period sex, the male break-up anthem “Changing Yo Lock…Bitch,” and the club-banger “Sink Pipes,” a track which features a standout verse from an especially (and surprisingly) nihilistic Diggy Simmons.

Although relative newcomers to the scene, The Maintenance Men are no stranger to controversy. Their explicit themes and unusual attire — they wear full space suits (helmet included) whenever making a public appearance — have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Also, in the last four months alone, their sexually charged lyrics have been blamed as the main impetus behind at least seven female-on-male rapes. But, in what might be their most prominent source of critique, the X-rated video accompanying “Hot, Wet Furnace” – which features a scene where Tyler and T’amos graphically finger-cuff an uncredited aboriginal actress – is the first piece of media that’s ever been completely banned from the internet. “I don’t know where the hell these people came from” said White House Decency Secretary Robert Tomlin when asked about this video, “But, for the sake of the American people, they need to go the hell back.”

Yet, as Palek Atwood Jr. expressed during a rare interview from their private 300 acre compound off the coast of Lake Huron, they don’t want their eccentricity to overshadow their talent. “Barack Obama. Kurt Cobain. Spud Webb. Annette Bening. That swole nigga from Spawn. 100 years from now, when historians look back, our names are gonna be right along side those. We on some new galaxy shit”.

Indeed, Palek. Indeed.

When he’s not profiling fledging R&B acts, Damon Young can be found at VerySmartBrothas.com. His book, “Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Dating, Mating, and Fighting Crime” can be purchased at Amazon.com

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