Not everyone plays the game for the same reasons. Some rappers pick up the mic with dreams of sipping champagne on private jets, others just want a way to pay their rent that doesn’t involve a soul crushing job. Some rappers want every hot girl on seven continents to know their name (shout out to all my Antarctic women), others just want to earn the respect of their block. Thanks to the monolith that is MTV/BET/mainstream radio, we often only get one vision of what success looks like, but victory doesn’t mean the same thing …
DJBooth Album Review
Tabi Bonney is making his own rules. (By the way, the name’s pronounced like “Tab-E Bone-A.”) Born in West Africa and raised in D.C., a city whose inexplicable lack of a single major hip-hop artist we’ve explored before, Bonney isn’t waiting for the game to come to him. Without even a major label deal, something that’s becoming increasingly unimportant, Bonney’s already got a three album hip-hop trifecta in the works. The first installment of this trilogy is Dope, a minimally produced album that largely relies on his carefully paced rhyme schemes and diverse subject matter to carry the day. Will Dope make Bonney wealthy beyond belief? I’d be shocked if it did. But it will earn him some hard earned respect, and put him in position to be living comfortably for a long time. Sometimes you have to make the game come to you.
Bonney already has some buzz swirling around his reggae-esque lead single, Rich Kids. Kids uses a production style so heavily tinged with island flavor you could get a contact high just listening: synths rhythmically stutter, horns blast with surprisingly energy and percussion lazily keeps time. It’s hypnotically catchy, but if there’s a storyline or message to Kids it’s hard to decipher. Bonney drops two verses about working hard for your cash, then finishes with, “The bottom line is this, your peeps is on my dick.” Really? That’s the bottom line? I haven’t been this disappointed in an ending since the Sopranos finale. For my money I would have lead off Dope’s single list with Radio, a danceably electronic ode to the real reason we’re all hear right now - music. Radio doesn’t get too complex, just finds a groove and lives in it. For his part Bonney’s subdued vocal style works perfectly over the sparse old-school beat, hitting lines like “I crush em proper, to those who slept on me I’m handing out these fresh pajamas” with a perfect balance of comedy and seriousness. Throw in an angelic hook from Irie Li and a capable verse from Curren$y and you’ve got yourself a damn good track. Bonney keeps it simple, and while simple sometimes veers dangerously to boring, when it works, it f**king works.
Dope’s purported mission is to explore the core of hip-hop’s beginnings, a mission it achieves most obviously on the old-school soaked Duhh. (The next two albums in the trilogy, Fresh and Superstar, will likely take a slightly different approach). Duhh’s bass heavy beat and well placed scratches recalls the brilliance of Jam-Master Jay, making Bonney’s rhymes sound Slick Rick-esque in context. It’s the kind of track the hip-hop heads will trip over themselves to love, and for good reason. Still, Dope is an even better album when Bonney pushes his sound into the future instead or relying on the past. The best cut on the album is the high energy Rock Bammas, featuring the rhyming assistance of his Organized Rhyme partner Haziq. Bammas is gritty in the best way, a track that goes hard without the self-conscious posturing of the dope boys. If there are more tracks like Rock Bammas in Bonney’s future, I’m listening. But if he’s planning on building a career around joints like the monotonous Jet Setter, frankly I’m not sure if I’m interested. It could go either way. In ten years I could see him touring the country with a massive underground following like The Roots, or fading into obscurity like the hundreds of other talented rappers who never quite made it. The music industry can be a cruel game to play. Personally, I’m hoping Bonney finds a way to win.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 01/26/09
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Rich Kids" (2008)
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