Dom Kennedy delivers a solid project.
In recent history, there’s been a few kinds of rap albums: the long ones and the short ones, those with lots of features and those kept rather personal. A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and The Social Experiment went with longer listens peppered with tons of flavor from their friends and collaborators. Drake put out a lengthy album but the features were scarce, while Earl Sweatshirt decided a 30-minute album was the way to go.
By Dom Kennedy falls in the short and sweet category, with only one feature on the album. It’s his most concise effort to date, with only two songs breaking the 4-minute mark on the 36-minute project. Compared to 2013’s Get Home Safely, this one is almost half the length. It’s eleven songs versus seventeen, and a lean cut of meat versus a fattier slice.
When you fall in the middle-tier level of rappers that Dom Kennedy seems to reside in, this is the proper kind of release. It gives the fans what they want, but also provides an entire grouping of new tracks to turn a new listener onto your style. On Get Home Safely, there were tracks like “Tryna Find My Way,” where Dom was singing, and “A Intermission for Watts,” which was a sort-of-kind-of real song that played something like Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” but watered down. The point is, that unless you’re a diehard Dom Kennedy fan, that isn’t really what you’re trying to hear.
The new effort is focused. It’s straight-up hip hop, designed for repeat listens. It’s Dom’s bid for a classic, and while we hate to throw that term around the same week an album drops, By Dom Kennedy certainly has some of the elements that a classic has. It has a definite sound, influenced by the palm trees, ocean air, and summer breeze. The gang of producers, which is a lesser-known batch of beat makers including DJ Dahi, Jake One, LDB, and J. LBS, are all on the same tip with this selection. That may be purposeful, but more than likely that’s just Dom’s ear for curating the vibe, which may be the MC’s greatest skill.
This is the classic record for this season. “My First Reply (Til It’s Over)” is meant for blasting in the whip while you’re cruising down the freeway. It screams for you to roll the windows down and let that 50mph breeze hit your hair. “On My Hometown / Nobody Else” could be the soundtrack to your BBQs, and it makes sense since it comes from a city that can throw a block party year round. "Summer Madness" by Kool & The Gang is even sampled on the latter half of the track.
With the vibe on lock, it should be said that By Dom Kennedy doesn’t have any earth-shattering lyrics on it, but it’s a pleasant listen. Dom’s mostly bragging about some cars, food, vacations, or women in a way that most people can’t directly relate to, but instead pine for. On “Fried Lobster,” he teases about driving to Vegas as quickly as possible:
“And you know I don't give a fuck, just don't hold it against me
How fast can we get to Vegas if we do, like, 150?
We livin' like the '80s in 2015
In the mirage wit' a Roley on, type that
And my son like his father, he don't play that shit
West Side get the money, bitch, say that shit
You got one set of keys and one nigga to please
So you could be League, come on, play that shit
Uh, they ask me how I feel about the competition
I ain't seen 'em in years, uh, how you feel about 'em?”
It’s a mix of luxury rap and hustlin’ rhymes, which is sort of where Dom Kennedy has always thrived. However, he misses the opportunity to occasionally, get real on a subject. Like “Thank You Biggie” proves, he can miss the mark to break through the material exterior to get deep on a subject. This is no “I’ll Be Missing You,” as Dom doesn’t really address his debt to Biggie as an MC, but instead discusses eating shrimp and having women in England:
“Like, on a comedy about who run rap
Cause L.A. is on top now and who run that?
I've been all facts, I base my shit off that
But for sixty-five grand, y'all could switch my hat
To the Seahawks cause I'm always down for the money
And niggas always talkin' 'bout me when they strugglin'
I guess that's why my champagne always bubblin'
Two girls in the indoor pool out in London
At Dizzee Rascal flat, they sent my ass some cash
But all he do is rap, you want to hang out and relax?
Go shoppin' in Saks, hella bags in the back
And when I see her again, motherfucker, she next
I don't talk to her everyday, but we text
And when I throw that Biggie on, she don't even trip
I asked her to roll a joint and she don't even flinch
Dom K. is a pimp, you don't even need the blimp
I know you could tell I'm nasty, though my lyrics is classy
I'm not really that flashy, but I do like shrimp
Wit' some lemon butter sauce and a cold white Zinf
Somebody to talk to and share a view like this
Cause I been rollin' fashions, at least them attraction
Got dressed up for me, I do appreciate that, woah”
But no one listens to Dom Kennedy for emotional insight. In the realm of rappers that will talk about shopping over some shiny beats, this is some of the best stuff you’ll get all year. It only lacks in its inability to create real impact, or evoke meaningful conversation. I’d be surprised if anyone can really dig deep on these lyrics. Genius hasn’t yet, but then again, the record is only a few days old.
In all, By Dom Kennedy is a great summer record. With a breezy vibe and easy going vocals, it’s what a lot of people are looking for while the rest of the game is experimenting with dark, weird, psychedelic sounds. This is hip hop, straight up, influenced by the 90s, and sounding like the future. It’s easy like Sunday morning, but can bump on a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon too. Just none of that week-day work… don’t kill the high.