Alec Luhn of the Badger Herald
It’s not just rhymes tacked on to a cookie-cutter beat; there’s a musical aspect
Independent rap music has a bad rep for being overly positive and squeaky clean, but local hip-hop group Dumate is out to change some perspectives. Their debut studio album Dumate Rite (The Known Knowns) sports a fashionable “Parental Advisory” box on the cover, and rapper Mr. Parker isn’t afraid to drop a few f-bombs.
“So what the hell do you little kids think this is? / I mean for real … sit down, shut the f-ck up and listen to this sh-t right here,” he raps on “I’m Back,” and the way he says it, you best listen up.
The members of Dumate consider themselves a “hip-hop band,” and it shows in their devotion to funky beats and catchy instrumental parts. It’s not just rhymes tacked on to a cookie-cutter beat; there’s a musical aspect to the group.
The group’s unique blend even features a little bit of reggae, courtesy of Natty Nation frontman Jah Boogie and keyboardist A2the. Although Jah Boogie plays bass in the Madison-based reggae band, he sticks mainly to drums and percussion in Dumate.
His singing is also a key part of the Dumate sound, which usually has him providing the refrains and vocal leads. Several songs feature simple but effective choruses straight out of Natty Nation-land. Boogie even shows off his vocal ability once in a while, such as on the a cappella section that caps off “Mercury Rising.”
While Jah Boogie sings the backing lines, Mr. Parker covers all of the rap duties for Dumate, and his rhymes generally have a good flow to them. His lyrics are a mix of everything from cultural critiques to political rants, with a healthy dose of rap attitude thrown in.
It’s this attitude that lets Dumate drop a message without sounding unnatural. Their independently-minded rap doesn’t sound forced or too high-and-mighty, since Mr. Parker raps about more than just abstract concepts. On the opening track “Mr. Parker,” he even manages to use “syntax” and “sex” in the same line without sounding ridiculous.
Dumate may be into intelligent, politically-charged lyrics, but they’re not above partying it up a little bit. “Eight o’clock in the morning my head is swole / smelling, the herb scent just a few hours old,” Mr. Parker recounts at the beginning of “She Wants It,” a tale of drugs and sex on the road.
But even at its raunchiest, Dumate has a thoughtful side. As if to remind the listener of the fact, a jazzy, echoing keyboard solo classes up “She Wants It” midway through.
Almost all the songs feature some sort of keyboard, organ or synth part provided by A2the — and it’s almost always a good thing. The drums and bass are tight, but it’s the keyboard melodies that give the songs direction. “Mr. Parker” even makes good use of a string section to liven things up.
Unfortunately, when the lyrics go bad, not even perfectly-calculated backing parts can save the song. This only happens once, on the overblown “Dumate Write,” which features the best chord progression but worst lyrics on the album.
As you might guess from the title, the song is about Dumate, more specifically about Dumate’s “art ridiculous” and “music with messages intricate.” Painful lyrics like this are bad enough, but the fact that the song is nothing less than three minutes of self-applied ego inflation is worse. It’s a little too much tooting Dumate’s own horn.
But when Parker’s on, he’s a master of his game. His criticisms of popular hip-hop culture are especially effective. “Carry On” is both catchy and thoughtful, with lyrics like, “Why do all my people get deep up in they troubles? / I’m not talking ‘bout guns, drugs or jail/ but the systematic extinction of black males.”
On “I’m Back,” Parker even derides Top 40 rap as a mind-control “matrix” with a psychology allusion: “Pavlov rings the bell and here they come salivating.”
Making references to classical conditioning on a rap CD is about as risky as it gets, but Dumate pulls it off. After all, this ain’t your momma’s independent rap music.
Rating: 4 out of 5