They're Not Just Another Pretty Face.
It’s the year 2010 and out there, somewhere, a rapper is already waxing nostalgically about 2009. Following a decade of self-obsession and revisiting a rewritten history, many mistakingly assume rap’s future is in rap’s past. With technology making it increasingly easier for music to be produced and distributed, the ever-shrinking attention span of the internet-age consumer has finally seeped into that of the artist. It’s rare that anyone takes three years between releases, and even rarer that they make something as good as Rocky Dennis, the new album from Albany duo Dez and Nobs. Lucky for us, Dez and Nobs are so rare, they’re raw.
Originally titled Behemoth 2: Rocky Dennis as an intended sequel to their 2006 collaborative debut, they’ve scrapped the prefix in favor of letting this album stand on its own, and rightfully so. While their previous effort was a critical darling and the sleeper hit of the indierap world that year, Rocky Dennis makes it sounds positively average by comparison. Produced entirely by Nobs, the analog sample-based production gives the entire project a warmth long missing from the modern rap marketplace. With every beat lovingly constructed on his MPC, Nobs ensures the drums knock harder and the bass thumps louder than anything else currently available under the banner of “independent Hip-Hop.” Thanks to the record’s impeccable mixing, there’s a clarity in the griminess that just feels like how a rap record is supposed to sound. While most of his contemporaries have settled for drums that sound as hard as a fifth-grade girl’s pillowfight and bass that sounds like it’s coming from an ice cream truck three blocks away, Nobs wears his tradition on his sleeve and instead of just rehashing his favorite records, pinpoints what makes them great to make a wholly unique sound all his own.
As for the rapping, even if you’ve heard Dez before, you still have no idea what you’re in for. From the sounds of things, Daniel “Dez” Hulbert has gone through a lot over the past four years and works it all out for us over the course of this record. Using sound clips from the 1985 film Mask to navigate between subjects, Dez bulldozes through a decade of decadence by shattering the images of trendy cocaine hipsters (Don’t tell tails about the iron you clutch / listen to too much Clipse and watch “The Wire” too much – “The Product”) girls who have tattoos in place of personality (I’m about to put a stamp on this tramp / Pornographic target practice and the canvass is blank – “Kat Von D”) and anyone in this generation of lesser rappers (“Streisand Heat Rocks”) that Dez decimates with such a fervor, one has to chalk it up to natural selection. He may be a brute, but his intricate wordplay and soul-crushing storytelling makes him the most articulate barbarian to ever pillage your village.
While he has a genuine wit and sense of comedic timing that compliments his breath control perfectly, Rocky Dennis is no laughing matter. A darkly comedic affair that doesn’t resort to shock value as much as sheer desperation, the album sounds like the memoirs of the happiest tragic figure you’ll ever encounter. Despite the more depressing overtones, the album never drags as lighter moments like “Neon,” Dez’s critique of the rap’s trendy hipster sect featuring Louis Logic, alleviate the pressure and keep things moving. The album’s guest appearances (“TV Dinners” with Seez Mics, “4 Trillion 4” with Mac Lethal) are all perfectly placed to accentuate the soundscape, but the real star here is Dez.
'Cold Chillin' Like the Ice-Truck Killer.'
On “Underbelly,” the closing centerpiece (featuring P.O.S. of Doomtree/Rhymesayers), Dez declares he “ain’t never used my music just to glorify violence / went from bored and high nihilist to borderline tyrant / recorded rhymes while this kind of corporatization / of the quintessential counter-culture transforms my occupation” to describe the present state of the ever-changing role his ever-changing music plays in his life. This line also defines Rocky Dennis‘ existence. In a world where chastising ringtone rap has become passe and music is dated the second it hits the shelves, Dez and Nobs went back to basics and made a fantastic boom-bap record at a time boom-bap records don’t get made. New York Hip-Hop hasn’t thumped like this since the days of cassettes, and while this is album is anything but nostalgic, both parties march forward with tradition in one hand and your lunch money in the other. It’s the post-everything Supreme Clientele and an absolute essential purchase for anyone who still has the slightest interest in the genre. It may be ugly, but it’s a masterpiece.
We give Rocky Dennis a Five Out of Five!
Until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!