Blue Faces –  DopeAMean (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I’m sure if one of those early hip-hop pioneers could time travel from their 70’s South Bronx street corner to the present day, they would be amazed at how far the scene that they set in motion in those youth centres and parties has come. But that is the point isn’t it? It’s all about innovation, pushing forward and looking for the next sound to bend to your will. And DopeAMean knows all about pushing forward, he’s been around for a while and understands that though revolution gets the immediate reaction, it is evolution, the ability to learn and move forward that is what keeps you in the game.

As one third of rap crew Y.B.E. (Young Black Entrepreneurs) DopeAMean earned his strips recording music, playing live and selling CD’s on the street but the love of music that brought the three friends together is what eventually drove them apart, with DopeAMean deciding that he still had plenty to say with his music and would stay in the game. But it is an older and wiser artist who comes at us clutching Blue Faces, one who has been out in the wider world, who has lived on the edge and seen the grim realities of some of its darker places. And it is this blend of optimism and reality, hope and honesty which flavours the songs found here.

So we have a modern rapper making modern rap, well, when I say rap, there is a lot more going on than that. A lot more. Percussive trap beats provide spacious platforms here, R&B grooves drive a song along there, it takes in classic rap, southern trap sonics; wandering electronica and trippy riffs fill in the middle ground but as always it is all about the vocal delivery, the flow and the lyrical bite, the balance of eloquence and aggression. And it is in this last area that the album really stands above the competition.

Diss How It Is is an onslaught of heavy sounds and hard hitting words, skittering hi-hat beats and a pumping bass drive the pace of the song but it is the weight of the lyrics that hang in the air, claustrophobic and threatening. By contrast the title track is built on the most minimal of groove, a blend of sweet and sour rhymes, lyrical light and shade that seem to exist in their own sonic world. I’m All That is a brash and boisterous vocal attack, it struts with attitude and swaggers with confidence and Gone is a shimmering blend of almost pop accessibility and darker musical forces. The perfect blend of cultish sounds and commercial potential.

Everyone looks to the past for inspiration but the art is to take those inspirations and use them to move the music on, not to buy a nostalgia ticket to past glories but to instead write the logical next chapter for that sounds or scene, that genre or style. And that, in a nutshell is what DopeAMean does so well on Blue Faces. Welcome to the future, it starts right here!

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