Common / Dilated Peoples / Slaine [#NerdSwag Reviews]: From Dis Town to Yo Town!
“It’s been a long time…I shouldn’t have left you.”
#NerdSwag never died– we only RESURRECTED! Damn, it’s been nearly 2-months since we had the privilege of reviewing some ill hip-hop over here at GodHatesGeeks, but, thankfully, we got plenty of fire to wash out. And I’m not talking about the wackness of, or utter occurences preceding, the VMA’s, neither. This is true hip-hop. Hip-hop music. The realness.
I wish I could say “We need this album more than ever!”
But Common‘s 10th album — spanning a mighty 23-years — just isn’t up to par with his other more recent work. The good news is that longtime hip-hop heads get to hear him and his longtime beat-making pal, No I.D., back on the boards together for their fourth Chi-town album collabo.
With the title Nobody’s Smiling (much like The Roots’ latest, And Then You Shoot Your Cousin), you’d expect the harsh realities of urban struggle and some uplifting rhymes to help push it all forward. There is that; but, there is also the Hollywood identity the 42-year old rapper/actor has grown accustomed to through his various stints on TV (Hell on Wheels, Husbands of Hollywood) and film (Terminator Salvation, Just Wright).
It wasn’t all awkward then, when Common presented last night’s VMA Award for “Best Hip-Hop Video” to the one they call Drizzy.
Nobody’s Smiling pushes through the windy Watch_Dog City with mostly throwback funk, groovy basslines, soulful guest crooners, and a mesh of sociopolitical raps and effortless flows over club politics. Yes, it’s a strange mix to come off both Public Enemy and 2 Live Crew, but — ever since his Neptunes team-up on Universal Mind Control — that’s Common nowadays in a nutshell. Raps like “jewels I could run it / for the hunted and the blunted” sound like they were just thrown together to match the keys and fellow G.O.O.D. Music labelmate Big Sean‘s champagne-slithering hook on “Diamonds.” The next pair of tracks, the snoozey “Blak Majik” and bare-bone 808s of “Speak My Piece”, offer an even less than memorable club aesthetic.
Com then lives up to the ferocity on the cover with “Hustle Harder” (although I’m not a fan of the cheesy hook), although the horrific synths on the title-track sound far too much like a leftover Tyler the Creator jawn. “Real” is the grooviest song on the album (with an unsurprising shout-out to “Jordan 3s on the feet”!), a far more fitting inclusion in the tradition of the Windy City’s finest emcee.
But perhaps the album’s finest cuts feature No I.D. at his loosest: “Rewind That” sees Com recall his mixed history with the lauded producer over some shimmering violin strings; and both “Kingdom” and “Out on Bond” (both featuring impressive up-and-comer Vince Staples) take Common back to the underground funk train he so sorely belongs. Surely, this album isn’t the attention-getter of BE — or even the emcee’s Ferguson debriefing last night on national TV — but if longtime hip-hop fans are willing to overcome the LP’s earlier hiccups, there’s plenty here to smile about.
You knew it was comin’.
Rakaa Iriscence basically made this album official when he guest-appeared at a Step Brothers show in LA back in February. There was def enough momentum from one of the year’s best projects to get heads ready for a fifth album from Dilated Peoples, and Directors of Photography, I can proudly say, lives up to that hype.
Credit Evidence, Rakaa, and DJ Babu for opening up real simple, as the Weatherman and his re-energized PNC rattle off reflections of Venice B, with the correct drum staccato support and keys.
And in eight long years since Dilated’s last album, ain’t a damn thing changed. Babu & Ev still handle the majority of the boom-bap, while guest stars Alchemist (perhaps my favorite track on the LP, “L.A. River Drive” stirs with a nice showing from Psycho Realm’s Sick Jacken), and 9th Wonder (Ev brings the heat on “The Bigger Picture”: “You know I try to chase ‘em down, no draggin’ shit / They shot a Beatle, do people still ‘Imagine’ … /I think the world could be a better place / No fam, but I still set a table and I set its grace”) provide the most melodic pair of tunes on the LP.
After a surge of sickness from longtime Alkaholiks affiliated Defari, Common’s homie Vince Staples rocks “The Dark Room” with Dilated before the R&B Soul stalwart Aloe Blacc pitches his talents to “Show Me the Way.” Somewhere, Kanye is smiling. (Just kidding, Yeezy doesn’t smile.) But the track is one ey’one and they mama can enjoy, with Jake One providing a furious fusion of trembling bass and keys. Before a pair of decent solo joints from Ev & Rakaa, Diamond D‘s chill percussion on “Let Your Thoughts Fly Away” plays like a lost track from D.I.T.C. Other tracks offer what you’re used to in terms of execution, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
These Directors of Photography might not frame the most original shots, but you can bet with the breadth of talent spread across this stage that the film is going to score big regardless. And after several years of doing their own thing, how can we not BE-ELATED to have Dilated back?
Now you know why I was crazy excited to see my man Slaine perform at a small dive bar this year, seein’ how the Masshole emcee (Special Teamz)-turned-Hollywood actor (The Town, Gone Baby Gone) was “in Tinseltown” to release his blood, sweat and tears to those more likely to rock a Dodger fitted.
I think a lot of his previous, yet stellar solo work, went out of touch with that night’s cramped-in West Hollyweird crowd, since he’s most known ’round these parts for honing his skills next to House of Pain, Ill Bill (who appears on the swirling sci-fi synths of “Children of the Revolution”), and B-Real in the super[white]group La Coka Nostra; but just check his YouTube video performances for evidence of how the fuck his shit rocks back in the Bean.
Thankfully, all that one-sided shit changes with The King of Everything Else, his fourth album that feels as much LA (“Back Against the World”) as it does Boston (“My church is full of serpents” he claims on “Dot Ave” feat. Rite Hook).
The difference between King Slaine and the previous artists we’ve reviewed in this particular #NerdSwag is…BRUTAL HONESTY. Just listen to the opener, “No Handouts.” Slaine’s stellar storytelling skill takes you right into the deepest and darkest corners of his night life, with brief sunlight reflected on his kid, Nikes, and side-broads. Drugs, greed, and other complications arise within Slaine’s world, and he has no issue revealing such info. There’s a good mixture of traditional Boston boom-bap (“The Years”, “Our Moment”) and Dre-inspired ghetto orchestra (“Destroy Everything”, “Most Dangerous Drug…”, “Defiance”). With this emcee, there’s only one way to live: Hard as fahk.
Slaine also packs a sardonic humor not too many rappers in the game pack these days. “Dopehead” sees him switch to an ol’ school Slim Shadyesque flow, between brilliant use of electric-synth effects to get the point across. “Pissed It All Away” combines Godfather strings and rapid drunken flows from a Venice gondola; while “Bobby Be Real” sees lethal jabs and cig-gravelly hooks over a big-band instrumental that sounds more fitting for Amy Winehouse or Stray Cats than any hip-hop act. Having funny emcees Tech N9ne and Madchild lend a guest a spot sure helps his cause, too.
The King of Everything Else might also be the King of Keeping All You Muthafuckas on Yo Toes. There’s a wide variety of flows, messages, beats, hooks, and a who’s who of guests/friends of Moody (Apathy! Termanology! Vinnie Paz! Jaysaun! Statik Selektah! Bishop Lamont! Reks! Checkmark!!) that any hardcore rap fan can vibe too– even if most of the topics are of only the most brutally honest. But, what didja expect from Hip-Hop’s Ray Donovan anyway?