Dave East delivers his major label debut, as he prepares for the mainstream.
As Summer 2017 draws to a close, hip-hop has been blessed with a number of dope projects, falling one after another in what seems to be some divine order. More specifically, this summer seems to be a special time for NYC hip-hop. With Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” still blasting on every block and projects popping up from HOV, A$AP 12vyy, A$AP Ferg, and now, the uptown’s very own Dave East, the city’s streets seem to be on fire.
In the midnight hours on the morning of August 18th, Harlem’s son, Dave East released his official Def Jam debut EP, “Paranoia: A True Story.” This EP, pioneered by the hit single “Perfect” featuring Chris Brown, presents a different side of the Harlem MC. East, widely known for his ability to use his uncomparable skills with the pen to paint vivid images of his episodes in trap.
Fans that are expecting the traditional animalistic side of the Dave East that made Black Rose in 2014, and bodied tracks like “30 N***az”, “Type of Time” and “Again” on his 2016 mixtape Kairi Chanel will definitely notice the change in his approach on this project. Upon pressing play, you’ll hear that although East didn’t completely sacrifice the hunger that was born in the East Harlem buildings along 1st ave, he’s clearly trying something new. This is something he’s readily admitted, in previous interviews, when he was asked about sacrificing his sound to appeal to the mainstream audience, he responded by saying that he’ll never give up his style, however, he also recognized that he’s in a “younger game” and he admitted that he ventured off a little but with his sound on this album. This is, overall, an accurate depiction of Paranoia.
East comes out the gate strong with the first track on the EP, the title track, “Paranoia” featuring Jeezy. The two hardened rappers use their verses to share stories of their experiences in the trap, and draw contrasts between the paranoiac feelings that both hustling and success might bring. Equally, it sets the “paranoid” tone of the album-- the opening song embodies that feeling, which extends to “The Hated” and “Phone Jumpin,” before veering into lighter territory.
Dave East, then, seems to be using this EP to flex his versatility, as he tries to secure a more marketable sound, especially as the haunting, gritty production turns softer and more r’n’b-laden in the latter half of the EP, on songs like “Perfect,” “Found A Way,” “Dirty Little Secret,” and the misplaced “Jazzy” interlude. These styles of instrumentals showcase Dave in a new light, and seem to have challenged the NYC lyricist to try out new flows.
Fans that have been rocking with Dave East since his No Regrets days will see the slight difference in his sound as clear as day. Even in his quest for a more mainstream sound, however, he’s remained true to that classic NYC flow. The story of Ant and Cory was beautifully detailed on the track “The Hated,” featuring drops from Nas (although disappointingly enough to most fans, no proper verse); who initially signed Dave to Mass Appeal records in 2014. On “The Hated,” Dave seamlessly weaves vivid scenes of surviving elements of the hood and dealing with real family issues.
On tracks like “Maneuver,” featuring French Montana, and produced by Harry Fraud, you can hear the essence of a radio hit but something doesn’t seem to quite click. Perhaps it’s because East isn’t accustomed to approaching tracks that are mainly carried by the hooks and adlibs, while an artist like French excels at it. Nevertheless, East’s pen game is strong enough to transcend these different sounds while still maintaining his unique and integral New York flavor atop the classic Harry Fraud sound.
If “Maneuver” didn’t fully click, then “Phone Jumpin” immediately clicked, proving to be an early stand-out from the album. East brought his Harlem swag and raw lyricism over melodic 808s and an evocative string arrangement on “Phone Jumpin” with Wiz Khalifa. The two MCs’ flows normally live on opposite sides of the spectrum, but East’s gritty fast-paced flow and young Khalifa’s mellowed out stoner vibe met in the middle on this track and gave birth to a certified hit.
On “Found A Way” East gives us a catchy hook and tale of perseverance over a piano-laden beat with a sombre bounce. Still, it’s a motivational track that illustrates the sacrifices he made to get to where he is today. This track can also be seen as an ode to the hustler mentality that’s prevalent on the streets of New York City, one which we also see Twelvyy explore heavily on his 12 album.
This EP is a courageous effort by East to secure a sound that will hopefully set him up for long-term success in the industry, without having to sacrifice the NYC flow that originally brought him recognition. Still, it’s unclear if a particular song off the EP will excel on the charts-- nonetheless it’s a step in that direction. Paranoia gives us a different side of East, and as fans, that means we’re getting to see Dave East evolve and grow through his music right before our eyes. This is an important piece in developing a fanbase which will stay by the rapper’s side, and grow with him, as he pursues longevity in the game.