Thoughts jotted on a napkin

Los Angeles and Detroit have been the hip-hop powerhouses this year but, more quietly, D.C. has been home to some deep cuts.  Diamond District and its affiliates in the Mello Music Group make slow-burning, sample-based hip-hop.  The three main members have had a stellar year – Oddisee with Rock Creek Park, XO with Monumental II,  and now, the coup de grace, yU’s The Earn.  yU’s debut, Before Taxes, was a standout from last year and The Earn picks up right where it left off.

Honest and passionate, yU’s rap is a resurrection of a craft that was once about turning one’s difficulties into poetry.  His verses almost feel anachronistic.  Rap about the difficulty of trying to make it as a struggling artist?  That’s odd.  These are golden-era themes that unfortunately are unique within what one might call the swagification of the hip-hop genre.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a little misplaced bravado every once in a while (especially if it’s done with style a la Danny Brown).  But, to my mind, this is where the real essence of rap lives.  In the stories of strife and gradual self-betterment.  Taking things a day at a time.  Writing rhymes on dirty napkins.  This is where the genre was born and its nice of yU to remind us of it.

Every day I’m going through the day to day/ melee for payday, say/ get it however you can it’s the American way

yU handles the production on The Earn alongside Slimkat78, Kev Brown, and Kokayi.  The loops are selected artfully.  “If U Down” is a fierce outpouring of yU’s frustrations with a piano line that is spooky and sharp, like a broken piece of glass.  Meanwhile, the lighter philosophical musings on “Write On” are embedded in lush jazz guitar progressions and soulful flute.  The production is fitting but, ultimately, it’s a vehicle for yU’s multi-layered manifesto.

I was recordin last night where was you at? Clubbin/ Havin fun but in the end that’s what you got from it/ not becomin…

One of my favorite verses is from Strickland in the second half of the Masta Ace song “F.A.Y”.  Strick has a great cadence but what makes the verse so memorable is that it is devoted to self-deprecation.  I got low self-esteem/ it’s like a nigga running in place/trying to chase his own selfish dream Strick raps.  On plenty of other tracks Strickland is as cocky as they come but for this moment he delves into something deeply personal and honest.  yU doesn’t necessarily touch on the same themes as Strickland (e.g. old age, failure, inadequacy) but the commitment to exploring personal pain is there.  And his rap is all the more potent for it.

We all earning our worth/ over time, inclining, putting family first/ That’s where my head is at/ we making goals till we get it done/ Frame of mind like the sun, I aint never run/

For all of the realism on The Earn there is also a heavy dose of hope.  yU is clearly confident in his talents, as he should be.  But, to my mind, there is an important distinction between rapping about the desire to better yourself, whether that be monetarily or emotionally, and bragging about how great you are.  Confidence as a foundation to work hard is commendable; arrogance as a means for becoming inordinately wealthy is deplorable.  Too often in rap the latter approach is the norm.  Some nig**as might be in Paris but the ones that are really doing something interesting are in D.C.  The Earn is unadorned hip-hop that speaks from the heart.  If your so inclined you can purchase it below; it’s a worthy cause.

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1 Comment

  1. yUthe78er

     /  March 11, 2013

    Thank you, Drew. I very much appreciate u taking the time to listen to the album..


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