Friday, November 26, 2010

ALBUM REVIEW: Tabi Bonney - Fresh

By no means is Tabi Bonney a new age baller. He's a talented young rapper, yes, but he's not a member of that select crew of new jacks sitting on 360 deals with prime time attention being paid. He's just as savvy and intelligent as that newest school of performers, but instead is content to be a study in craftsmanship, a true artiste attempting to craft longevity over a strategy of getting rich, buying in and selling out to an industry machine that values iconography over substance. He's a 9-5 emcee, a man who views rapping as his occupation, and in said occupation, he's easily one of the fastest rising employees in the game. On latest album Fresh, we see a rhymer busy at the art of creating a solid foundation for a lengthy career, not reinventing the wheel, but in just being a solid nuts and bolts emcee, part Jay-Z, part Special Ed, with a heaping serving of native Washingtonian understated cool. This is not a great flash in the pan of an album, neither is it a superior veteran word smith backed by top dollar producers. But in being amazingly good, and continuing in a now expected constant of solid material it ensures Tabi Bonney a professional space as an emcee. In a redefining recording industry and advanced age of hip hop where making a living wage every year as an independent is just as much of a victory as doing right and killing everything, Tabi Bonney is a success.

The gem on this record is "Nuthin' But a Hero." Breezy synths aimed at drive time radio and abbreviated half note violin chords are accentuated with a delightful, heartfelt love rap by Bonney who is quickly becoming a working class hip hop hero. In not aspiring to no hand lap dances with glasses of Moscato at the ready, he puts forth a notion that appeals to upper middle class non-pedestrian rap tastes. As a professional rhymer slotted at being an upper middle class citizen himself, the ability to aim so specifically to a fan base while still being accepted by the entirety of a population of those who appreciate great hip hop is commendable. Also of note here are his two tracks a piece with Wale and Kokayi. Kokayi, the man responsible for a number of Bonney's underground jams has really started to expand creatively as an emcee, and excels on "Winner's Tourney" and "Like a King." His understated, technically sound and cerebral flow gels quite well with Bonney's ease of rhyme. Wale is here, the jovial punchline champ an uneasy fit with Bonney's direct rhyme style which if a fan of dichotomy on a track making it better works, but a Bonney release in many ways succeeds because of a constant meter and style of production that creates a pleasant easy listening vibe. "Like a King" though is overall a fine exposition piece for the below the mainstream surface dominance of DC hip hop.

Newcomer Haziq Ali continues to show flashes of excellence on "The Slacker's Farewell," and Raheem Devaughn channels fellow DC soul crooning native Marvin Gaye to success on "Fever." Pusha T's laconic boom bap dominance underlines album opener "Make a Killin'," which while not a radio single, like most of the album is excellent for tour dates as it has an easy hook and unobtrusive production. Having seen Bonney perform live nearly 10 times in the last year, from crowds as diverse as suburban teens in opening for Shwayze to DMV hip hop diehards, and curious, appreciative hipsters at a block party, he's still at a point where without consistent mainstream media access, his growth is organic and dependent upon his accessibility as a live performer.

Tabi Bonney is a member of the first wave of DC rappers to break nationally. Falling squarely between the punchline driven populism of Wale and the backpacker adoration of Diamond District, it is his rise, driven directly at the average man, woman and child who appreciates quality lyricism, unobtrusive production and a chorus that sticks to the cerebellum like peanut butter to jelly, he's once again succeeded. Tabi Bonney is not your favorite rapper. Instead, he's a familiar voice, a comfortable musical blanket that allows the listener to drift away in peace and solitude. In a hip hop market dominated by ignorant men screaming over synths programmed like tubas and rappers speaking like toddlers about eating brains, Tabi Bonney simply wanting to be loved and respected is a welcome break and a voice of sanity in an ever ridiculous environment. Fresh, indeed.


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