The Roundup 2/5: Defacto Thezpian's Step In The Right Direction
Defacto Thezpian and Lil Bob Doe fight through some bad beats, but are a fun duo on Facts About Bob, plus new work from C. Pitt, Alex Aff and Kooley High.
It was always going to be a long shot, but we were still disappointed to see Rapsody coming home from her second Grammys without some new hardware last week. But alas, hip-hop in the Old North State must press on, and in fact, the future is very bright. Here’s some of what piqued our interest in the past few weeks, from artists old and new.
Defacto Thezpian x Lil Bob Doe - Facts About Bob EP
A longtime veteran of the Triangle hip-hop scene, Defacto Thezpian has been indisputably one of the best rappers in the area, technically speaking, for some time. Throughout that period, though, his potential has been constantly constrained by a tendency to rap over beats that ranged from decent to almost unlistenable. In that regard, Facts About Bob, his collaborative EP with Durham rapper Lil Bob Doe, both represents an encouraging step in the right direction, and also a maddening, continued loyalty to his old approach.
In rap music nationwide, the instrumental has never wielded more importance than it does at this very moment. So while a whole lot of rappers are making it big by saying nothing at all over a really catchy, infectious beat, you’d be hard-pressed to find even the most mind-bendingly talented emcees finding success with instrumentals that no one wants to listen to.
Defacto still struggles with this dynamic — on the track “Mommy,” some of my favorite bars from Defacto (and great storytelling from Bob as well) fight for airtime against a droning, monotonous horn kit that sounds eerily as if you are flatlining in a hospital bed. On “MinuteMade,” a sloppy, low-fi sample echoing in the background acts like an annoying fly that no listener can swat, no matter how hard he or she tries.
But Facts About Bob also has its production bright spots. The horn kit in “SchnozDoe” remains problematic (these sounds need to be deleted off all computers ASAP), but the bounce and energy is a fertile foundation for Defacto and Bob to go in over. And “Sweatpants,” the lone track produced by Triangle hip-hop pioneer K-Hill, is a great sound to kick off the album with.
When it comes to rapping, this also may be Defacto’s best effort to date. Typically prone to long bouts of punchline-packed paragraphs, Facts represents some of the clearest and most intentional cases yet of Defacto stretching out his words and letting empty space fill the void. Right from the album’s syncopated opening, “Back to ballin’, back to callin’ Moms, I know you need me,” we get a cadence we’ve never heard before. Similar experiments spring up throughout the album, and it’s a welcome addition to the emcee’s arsenal.
Lil Bob Doe’s presence on the interwebs is far weaker, and it’s a shame, because his voice and delivery is unlike anyone else’s in the Triangle. On Facts About Bob, he provides an impressive range of speeds, tones and flows, with witty lines to boot: “I’m sleepin’ with one eye open, them bitches think I’m Nick Fury.” Here’s hoping we get more of his larger-than-life sounds in 2018, more slowed-down Defacto bars, and please, some better beats.
Best Songs: Sweatpants, SchnozDoe
C. Pitt - “4 A.M. Freestyle”
It’s easy to see why Chad Pittier aka C. Pitt would use the slow, enchanting beat from 2 Chainz’ “4 A.M.” for his new track entitled “4 A.M. Freestyle.” Reminiscent of Schoolboy Q’s intoxicating “That Part” beat, it’s the perfect foundation for a sprawling, off-kilter unloading of various inadequacies and undignified acts. Maybe that’s why the video for “4 A.M. Freestyle” includes the Greensboro rapper dragging a presumably dead body through the woods, and rapping with his face lit from below with hellish red light.
Pitt’s voice and style is capable of standing alongside bigger acts and being taken seriously, but it would be nice to see a release like this take a few more chances. Particularly on a freestyle over a popular song, where comparisons to the original vocalists are inevitable, it would behoove the remixing artist to add a new wrinkle or two of creativity. On the original “4 A.M.,” Travis Scott’s warbly, octave-jumping vocals and 2 Chainz’ deep, slow-mo rapping provide multiple speeds and styles. On “4 A.M. Freestyle,” where singer XD sounds quite similar to C. Pitt, there’s only one speed, and the trip apparently ends with a dead body in the woods. Listeners beware.
Alex Aff - “If Life Is A Game”
Still guilty of a preternatural affinity for commonplace, unoriginal struggle bars (“Got the weight of the world on my shoulders, boy its heavy as boulders”) Alex Aff is always good for a smooth, head-nodding track with a few lines that’ll make you think, if you can pick them out from the oft-repeated rap colloquialisms.
On “If Life Is A Game,” Aff brings the vibe of J. Cole circa The Warm Up once again, with a few motivational lines that bear repeating (“They say they praise you in public for what you do in private/ Scribblin’ sonnets until I’m polished, people tellin’ me that I got it”). As usual with Aff, a few extra jolts of energy wouldn’t hurt, but the visual backdrop of a vacant CAM (Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum) is a nice, if not slightly underutilized, touch.
Kooley High - Never Come Down Trailer
From epic album artwork to the finishing touch of 9th Wonder on the boards, Kooley High is pulling out all the stops with the release of their long-awaited Never Come Down album, which releases March 30th.
The group is known to take the “High” in their name literally, including their albums names (David Thompson, Eastern Standard Time, Heights) and with music videos like “Atmosphere.” On the newly released teaser for their upcoming album, however, that affinity for heights gets taken to the next level, as the crew hovers above Raleigh in a f***ing helicopter.
Check out the trailer below, and pre-order Never Come Down now. More teaser material is sure to drop in the weeks to come.
Ryan Cocca is the founder and editor of Super Empty. He tried to quit writing about rap music a year ago, and failed. He needs help. Reach out at @youaintryan on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.