Associates are a direct reflection of the principal owner or managing partners in any organization, regardless of the size of the entity. Well, associates are supposed to be a direct reflection of high-level management, but sometimes that image becomes a muddled, unrecognizable portrait to evaluators from the outside world, as well as the people building the infrastructure.
The liability for a lack of performance by an associate may lie with either management (for not properly training the employee and for not instilling the company’s core values and mission statement to the employee), the associate (for not buying into the scope of vision for the organization’s future goals, thus creating a dearth of motivation for the individual), or it could just be a combination of both parties not living up to expectations. In Corporate industries across the planet, a sustained incongruence between an associate and high-level management will ultimately lead to the dissolution of that partnership.
In the music industry, specifically within the realm of hip-hop, a dissolution of a relationship is a more bit…awkward…and dangerous. Dangerous because, well, hip-hop wasn’t exactly built on the ideological foundation of a Pacifist (e.g. the 1990’s). Awkward because many cliques in the game start off as genuine friendships that date back to elementary school or even earlier, which then blossoms into a crew that displays their rhyming ability at the high school talent show for recognition and clout. If this hypothetical collective gains enough local support and somehow gets lucky and catches a break by getting consistent national exposure, boom; cue up “the whole squad made it” anthem by Drake ft. Soulja Boy, Kenny Powers and Stevie Janowski and have yourselves a ball (so many fixins).
When the hobby becomes lucrative, a business venture has been established. In most cases, there are usually 1 or 2 clear and convincing standouts within rap collectives with several contributing members who are solid lyricists that will absolutely destroy a guest feature (in a good way) but will fail to live up to the hype of a full project with an underwhelming execution (no bueno). Then you have those members of the group that literally make you scratch your head until the skin breaks. The value of “Picture Me Rollin’” by Tupac immensely depreciates around 1:36 of this song when (presumably) a good friend makes his appearance. It was a poor attempt from the associate to emulate the proprietor’s specialty. But how does one tell a childhood friend that they are indeed buns on the mic? The managing partners are stuck with one of two options: view the decision as a business transaction for the betterment of the company and leave the mediocre verse on the cutting room floor, or, just let it fly in order to preserve the friendship. More often than not, the latter prevails while the listener suffers for a brief 30-second period.I can’t tell you how many songs I have in my iTunes from back in the day that I’ve programmed to shut off before a particular guest feature hops on just to salvage my listening experience. It’s completely understandable as to why this decision is made. It has to be difficult to tell someone you grew up with, in life and in the music industry, that they are inadequate at their job. It’s hard for the associate not to take it personally even if the alpha dog of the group did not have malicious intent.
This is why I have trust issues with hip-hop groups. I am skeptical to check out other artists within the proximity of a white dwarf or a binary star because I am not sure whether the artist is getting “put on” because of nepotism or merit.
Dreamville does not fit the mold of nepotism in the slightest and Bas is the latest example as to why that is so.
Dreamville is the sub-label imprint under Interscope Records officially established by J. Cole in 2014. Its core members consist of Cole, Omen, Cozz, and Bas, who released his debut studio album Too High To Riot on March 4, 2016. I’ll admit, my preconceived notions about hip-hop groups were ever so present when I heard about this side management venture from Jermaine. Boy, was I wrong; I was literally sleeping on Dreamville. The mission statement for this organization is explicitly apparent with each rotation of a record: wake up and pay attention to the substance and depth of the lyrics. At initial glance, one could think Too High To Riot would be laden with marijuana references (#itslit, #legalizeitbro, #suhdude). but quite the contrary is fact. While there are a handful of references to herbal activities, the true substance and value of this album are found deep within each verse and stanza. I spoke about J. Cole with a friend this past weekend and he said something that really stuck out to me. I’m paraphrasing, but my friend said something to the effect of “every time I listen to a J Cole, I notice a killer line that I missed initially.” The same rings true for Bas and the latest project of his. This album is consistently and fundamentally solid from front to back. In a society where we consume things at such an accelerated rate due to short attention spans with limitless information at our fingertips, this 12 song, 36-minute album is a low-risk investment with a yield for a high rate of return. Sometimes, less is more, and in this particular situation, the execution of a quality condensed project will leave the listener satiated.
The line from K-Dot above sums up the essence of THTR in one of my favorite cuts from Section.80. Bas is very direct and straight forward with the lyrics and vocabulary but each bar cuts deep with the surgical precision of a biopsy specialist without needing to use the verbiage of let’s say Vinnie Paz for example. Both artists are lethal in their own respect, which makes it impossible to hold one person’s more worth over another like Michael Jordan and LeBro… let me stop before my mentions gets destroyed.
The infrequent references to weed can be viewed as a coping mechanism for daily stressors heartache and pain: like the loss of an aunt for example which Abbas Hamad displayed in the highly introspective standout track “Live For”:
Mama told me you were getting sicker
Daily she’d call me say it’s my name
You were calling, I mean, I was your favorite
I was named after your father, you were the sweetest aunt
Never had kids of your own but you made me your own
Busy on the road, I couldn’t make it back home
You couldn’t make it that long, I’ll never forgive my self
I think I love just the hurting fact
I think I love when you hurt me back
Honesty and transparency should be highly valued in any walk of life. Being this open about a tragedy in his own life can be appreciated by whoever comes across his tracks. Even if the sound isn’t for everyone, the relatability of the lyrics and the transparency with which he delivers the content should be respected. Somber is not the complete running theme of THTR, life is. Regardless of whatever walk of life that we come from, we experience growth and diminishment, ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks. But you keep going. The lyrics on this album are highly motivational, delivered through anecdotal reflections to the audience. It’s like we, the audience, are the therapist listening to Bas explain his purview of the world.
Innocence lost, it’s never retained
It’s never the same, it’s never the same
Leave this world with some inspiration
I’ll take the bait before a pure of gold
Come to grips with your intuition
Hear the whispers of your soul
Steer you down the road you’re on
It’s all your own
It’s refreshing to hear such a deep, new aged, traditional, East Coast Boom Bap hip-hop CD …if that makes sense. The Dreamville in-house production from the likes of Ron Gilmore and Ogee Hands, along with TDE in-house producer Sounwave, produce a sound that is familiar to hip-hop fans from the Northeast in America, with enough semblance of an update to the overall sonic feel.
My favorite track off of the entire project, Black Owned Business, resonates with me being an African-American man in today’s society in the United States. I have not experienced overtly malicious acts of racism directly but I do experience subtle and not so subtle hints of it. Read the lyrics in this sharp and piercing verse from the perspective of a brotha living in a
Cole cold world, speaking on such a hot topic:
Hey world, your favorite movie is on, it’s called attack on n****s
The fathers that didn’t pass, they all stacked in prisons
But that s*** don’t get a pass, no that s*** don’t get a grant
Might as well go fill a bag
Ridin’ around, no tinted glass
Why I can’t have tinted glass? Cause that cause suspicion
Cops flash like cinemax, don’t lack ammunition
Might as well go get a gap, might as well go give it back
Don’t know if they’ll get it right, but I know that we’ll get it last
Might as well go spend a rack at a black owned business
Had my mind on h**s, now I’m back on business, that’s real
The subject matter from this album is grounding and uplifting at the same damn time. I was discussing and breaking down this album with a good friend of mine that dissects albums unapologetically. I professed my gripes with the album, which were very minimal and nitpicking at best. Upon telling my friend about this review, even though the album was in heavy rotation for him before I mentioned it, he gave the album a full spin and said “Dopamine (sometimes) and Housewives are the only skippable tracks on the entire album.” I disagreed; both of those songs are tight within the context of the album. As standalone tracks, the value of those tracks do depreciate but at the end of the day, they are still good songs.
This is a very good and cohesive album, but it is not perfect. The best verse of the album belongs to the proprietor of Dreamville, J. Cole for his work on “Night Job.” The way he meanders into the absolute destruction of his last verse resembles the “Too Soon Junior” scene from the Fast and Furious movie franchise. He completely left Bas in the dust. Even Bas would agree with this sentiment. Even Bas said on “Dopamine”: See Cole, he might pop in and go beast mode, and Jermaine did exactly that on “Night Job.” Not having the best verse on the entire album plays a factor in my decision for the rating, along with the immediate impact and general widespread appeal. This album is great for a specific audience, while at the same time, the impact may not be universal. I am completely hooked on this album and I catch myself humming the melody of the highly addicting “Clouds Never Get Old” on a daily basis, but it took me some time to fully appreciate the album. A perfect album, in my opinion, should consist widespread appeal without sacrificing content value along an immediate impact on the climate and culture of the music industry. This album is very good, but it’s not perfect. It takes some time for it to grow on you, but once you become hooked on it, it will be very hard to withdraw from.
We do not know what to expect from the rest of 2016 in terms of great talent in hip-hop but as the month of April comes to a close, this album should be highly regarded as one of the top projects for the first quarter, regardless of genre. I would not be surprised if this album makes several end of the year lists for one of the best hip-hop CDs for 2016.
Associates in hip-hop collectives have been increasingly better since the turn of this past decade. For the ASAP Rockys of the world, there are ASAP Fergs, ASAP Twelvys and ASAP Nasts. For the Joey Bada$$’s of the world, there are Kirk Knights, Nyck Cautions and CJ Flys (there’s only one Cap Steez though, RIP). J. Cole has instilled the company value in a proper manner for the Dreamville collective. I’m looking forward to familiarizing myself with the rest of their work. If Bas’ debut studio album is in anyway indicative to the rest of the Dreamville faction’s content, I should thoroughly enjoy what they have to offer. The sole proprietor may be on a different echelon at the moment, but watch out Jermaine, some of your Senior Associates may be soon gunning for a position as Partner.
TL;DR – IT BE GOOD.
Too High To Riot: (4/5)
By the way, it’s purely coincidental that I’m finishing this album review around this date.
Yell at me, then follow me on Twitter @eyelesssilas