Posts Tagged ‘Action Bronson’

Despot performing a new track on KEXP

Despot first came to my attention back in 2001, when Cryptic One’s Centrifugal Phorce Records released Euphony [note: if you haven’t heard it, you’re seriously missing out, there’s no compilation more indicative of the talents of Atoms Fam as a collective and their associates during that time period at the peak of their promise] an excellent and unheralded release from the days when compilation albums in underground rap were substantial releases, an important way of keeping non-vinyl purchasing fans apprised of the recent developments of independent rap artists as well as providing an avenue for rappers without financial backing to release their material without the costs of personally pressing up a 12″.  There was a Cryptic One produced track on the album called “Cynical Bastards,” which featured two relative unknowns – Despot and Aesop Rock’s darker dusted sonic cousin LoDeck.  It was a simple yet remarkable collaboration of two aspiring artists, each seemingly with a bright future, as LoDeck’s style seemed like it would create a lane somewhere between where Aesop Rock sat then, and Danny Brown sits now – an independent artist capable of painting in psychedelically inspired surrealistic strokes yet charismatic enough to draw in those who might not immediately comprehend the sense behind the veil of absurdity.  If the mainstream hadn’t provided more socially acceptable alternatives (eg Ghostface, Cam’Ron) and the nerd rap stigma hadn’t come to envelope every emcee on the roster of Def Jux, Embedded, and J23, it’s possible that LoDeck could have developed something larger and more lucrative, but as it is he’s had a respectable career along the fringe of the independent scene with releases like his debut EP Bash It just a few months after Euphony and follow-up full-lengths like Dream Dentistry, Behold a Pale Donkey, and Postcards from the Third Rock.

Despot took the second verse on the track, formally starting his career on record with the following lines:

I’m living proof that smallest figures can cast vast shadows of doubt / giving your all to everything and that’ll amount to nothing /I walk the crooked path up to my house huffing and puffing / shaking my fist in the air thinking of something /to tell kids down the block who point and laugh at my mumbling /

His opening bars on “Cynical Bastards,” are a suitable beginning for a rapper who is diminutive in stature and unassuming in person, and often mumbles almost incomprehensibly when speaking normally, but is a certified beast on the mic.  As an artist Despot is the petite white urban weisenheimer’s sardonic response to Lord Finesse and Pusha T, and his primary medium is the witty arrangement of cliches, figures of speech, conceit, and carefully narrated imagery.  The promise that he set into play with his verse on “Cynical Bastards,” began the building of a buzz on the internet – such that it was in those days – in the same places that lauded the work of the Definitive Jux family and other underground and independent rappers.  As is always the case with rappers that build a bit of momentum with an appearance or two, questions about an album began to surface to which the answer was always that he was working on it.  However, unlike LoDeck, who managed to put out several projects, Despot has had a much more tempered output over the last eleven years, something that thankfully has started to change over the last couple of years thanks to features from his Queens brethren in Das Racist and Meyhem Lauren as well as on labelmate El-P’s new album.  In fact, previous attempts by bloggers to put together a mix of his available material have generally amounted in short EP length affairs, as there literally hasn’t been enough material out there to put together a full-length set of songs from Despot.

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Listening to Troy Ave should be refreshing for any fan of New York rap.  In an era where so much of New York rap is either golden age revivalism, or a bit left of center stylistically, it’s nice to hear a New York rapper who is neither beholden to a bygone era, still trying to develop his style and skills, nor caught up in the process of re-inventing the rap wheel.  Troy manages to effectively pick up on the tenants of New York City street rap, emphasize the cocaine dealer angle, and rap over production that manages to sound both current and comfortable within the confines of the Big Apple – an admittedly tough task in today’s rap game where NYC has been removed from mainstream rap dominance for so long that most of the identifiable New York rappers, are well over 30 and frequently rap over production better suited to Jeezy, Rick Ross, or some southern flavor du jour.

Vocally Troy Ave is vaguely reminiscent of AZ, a flow similar to 50 Cent, and elements of Pusha T’s witty coke don condescension.  While he’s pushing the coke rap angle hard in his music, Troy manages, like the Clipse on Hell Hath No Fury, to integrate his lifestyle as purveyor of cocaine into a reasonably wide array of subject matter and manages to create music conveying several moods effectively.  It is in this sense that Troy comes across more dynamically than many simple drug-related mixtape rappers, who focus primarily counting 38’s, referencing appropriate slang, and breaking down the favorable economics of their profession.  Let’s be clear, Troy Ave is not motivated by the concept of blazing a new trail in terms of content or format – the listener is not going to be exposed to a truly innovative approach to rap music – what Troy does do effectively, is add a polish and nuance to the coke rap sub-genre and exhibit the range and depth to suggest he has the ability to create a solid rap album.

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