Dave East brings a dose of nostalgia along with his new mixtape, "Karma."
Carrying the mantle of Nas’ protégé is no easy task, yet Dave East seems unconcerned with the pressure. After releasing a well-received EP, Paranoia, this summer, East has executed the ascension from obscure mixtape rapper to the guy you should already know about. Hailing from Harlem, East becomes possessed with the spirit of his historical hood and delivers a nostalgic New York mixtape with his latest release, Karma. Hosted by DJ Holiday, Karma is reminiscent of an early Diplomats mixtape. It is no coincidence too, as East raps on the intro “Legendary,” “I’m up in Harlem with all of my diamonds on feeling like Killa Cam.” With a nod to the past, and his eyes firmly set on the future, East delivers an energetic and fun mixtape that lacks in substance, but bangs none the less.
Ride or die Dave East fans will be satisfied yet underwhelmed with Karma. It isn’t a lyrical masterpiece, but it isn’t a pure street tape either. East compromises and finds comfort somewhere in the middle, juggling his more manicured mainstream sound with a return to the sound that first propelled him to underground fame. “Bentley Truck” featuring Chris Brown & Kap G has a beat that will rattle club walls, and an infectious chorus that persuades listeners to get buck. “Devil On Me” is an immaculately executed banger in East’s catalog of hood anthems. It is the opposite of anything you would imagine hearing on the radio, a pure mixtape track. East lays down aggravated bars that paint a picture of a haunting past (“drunk sleeping in the park, couldn’t pay rent”) while still maintaining a flow that keeps your head knocking.
“Checc” featuring the recently Grammy-nominated Offset of Migos is exactly what you would expect from a collaboration between these two artists. It’s braggadocios trap rap over an addictive and hypnotic beat where both East and Offset employ the overused “Versace” flow. The entertainment value is there, but it fails to stand out among the multitude of popular trap records that are available to stream right now, some of which also feature the coveted Offset verse. “Cut Throat,” a mesmerizing and catchy track about stunting, sounds like all it’s missing is the patented Juelz Santana “Aye” in the background. Money is the motive on this track, and East makes that viciously clear. The lack of substance is disappointing, yet embracing the guilty pleasure of East’s perfected flows and clever bars makes up for it.
There are a number of songs about spending money and stunting, but “Hate Being Broke” is a standout track about the mindset that inspires East. He smoothly presents his argument, which is a mix of animosity for the conditions he was raised in, and thankfulness for his come up. The beat is absolutely gorgeous, and once again it's reminiscent of something you might hear Juelz Santana if it were still the early 00s. “Hate Being Broke” is a stand-out track on Karma, because it peels back the layers of what would otherwise be a shallow mixtape. After rapping about spending large amounts of money on track after track, it's enlightening to hear East articulate one of his biggest fears, returning to a life of poverty. With that in mind, it makes sense why East spends so much time on Karma showcasing his lavish living. If you’re looking for depth and artistic growth, Karma probably isn't for you. If you’re feeling nostalgic, as it seems East was, for that early 00’s Harlem sound, infused with a modern trap twist, this is the tape you’ve been waiting for.